Monday, June 13, 2016
Eating Rice Pudding Under the Fig Tree. Bachelor Girl's Accommodation in London
Young teacher Molly Vivian (who later became the famous Molly Hughes) was tired of sharing cold mutton with her friend each night in their dreary London flat. As soon as she became the head of training at Bedford College, she decided to move. She dreamed of 'being free of landladies and being able to eat our own rice pudding under our own fig tree!' She and her friend soon obtained accommodation in a Ladies' Residential Chamber nearby, but it didn't live up to this vision.
They found themselves in a top-floor flat with two rooms and a tiny kitchen/scullery. They prepared their own breakfasts but shared dinner in the communal dining room. It couldn't have been much fun to go to the one bathroom on their floor on a cold night. Walking up the six flights of stairs must have been tiring as well! However, they did have their own keys so they did have some freedom and privacy. They had to pay a considerable rent for this uncomfortable-sounding accommodation, surprisingly.
Molly Vivian and her friend were just two of the many thousands of 'New Women' in the Edwardian era. These single working women included professionals, such as teachers and librarians, and working-class women such as typists and clerical workers. There were increasing worries about these women having to live in nasty lodgings and falling into danger, so many organisations and philanthropists started to build suitable women's residences. These included the Chenies Street residence opened in 1889, Sloane Garden's House, Waterlow Court and the Ada Lewis House.
The Chenies Street Residential Chambers was built by the Ladies Dwelling Company, whose founders included the Garrett sisters, one of whom was the doctor, Elisabeth Garrett.
This consisted of purpose-built flats with two or three rooms, often with private bathrooms. It was intended for middle-class professional women and servant's quarters were added, so that they could hire help. Although there were gorgeous 'Persian tiles' in the dining room to inspire the young women, unfortunately, the cooking must have ruined the effect. There were so many complaints that the cooks had to be sent to classes!
Waterlow Court in luxurious Hampstead would be my choice. This consisted of fifty flats for professional women around a beautifully green English lawn. There was also a central dining room here, as well as a common room and a kitchen. A servant's hall and annex were added later.
Sloane Garden's House was another possibility. This was made up of bed-sits with a shared kitchen or cubicles on the upper floors. There were also cleaning services and linen change. The elegant building included a music room and a library. Unfortunately, according to Work and Leisure, the residence was not within the means of 'working gentlewomen with no fixed income'.
Ada Lewis House, founded by a wealthy Jewish philanthropist, was opened by Princess Louise of Argyll in 1913. This was more suitable for working women who could not afford high rents. This consisted mainly of single rooms with some double bedrooms. There was also a sewing room, a library and a reading room. The women could wash their clothes in the shared laundry and the drying room was famous for drying garments within a few hours. The decorations of the House also included colourful glazed tiles.
Although some of this accommodation sounds uncomfortable, the lives of young women had vastly improved since they lived at home until they got married. Molly Vivian and her friend certainly enjoyed their new-found freedom!
I also intend to write a post about residences built for Edwardian bachelor girls in New York.