by Carolyn Newman
LONDON: IN THE PAST AND FAR AWAY — The maid gave a soft knock on my bedroom door. I knew I had to draw myself out of the warm bed and face the cold room or I would not have hot water for washing.
The pitcher of hot water was waiting outside the door. I poured the hot water into the china basin, and then the wash water into the slop bucket.
So began each morning of my teaching day.
This was 1955 London and the History Detective was stepping into the past to experience a Victorian English boarding school, although it was actually a century later, ten years after the horrible World War II bombing of London.
I lived, taught, and shivered for a year in Babington House School, living in one Victorian house, teaching in another one, and sometimes supervising the girls in the third house.
With only one bathroom for the teaching staff, the hot water delivery was one way of coping. And for the necessary scheduling of baths – two a week. Don’t get the wrong idea about the maids – they were not personal maids but Italian maids of all work. Cleaning the rooms, doing the laundry, serving three meals a day. No lingering for conversation after supper; the maids needed to finish their chores so they could get to bed on the third floor.
As a teacher (of English grammar, composition, and literature to English girls), I also had rotating duties – supervising baths (from outside the door), walking the girls to the church or to the park, lunch duty with the youngest ones, study hall, and tea duty. Note: Fill the tea cups of the youngest with half milk!
There were compensations. A half day off each week, a month off at Christmas, and another week off at Easter plus six weeks in the summer. But that was nothing compared to the great thrill of living in one of the greatest historic cities of the world, with access by train to all parts of the country.
Trains were a luxury however. My salary of $800 per year did not stretch far, so this American girl took up hitchhiking. To be continued next week.
The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society. The Huerfano Heritage Center, 114 W. Sixth, Walsenburg, is open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons with John Van Keuren to help you locate family information, to use yearbooks and old telephone books, to look at old photos and much more. 719-738-2346.