By Imogen Russell, Searchroom Assistant
Alice, one of our Social media fairies, posted images of this document at the beginning of lockdown. Click here for the original post on Facebook. I managed to gain copies before beginning to work from home, allowing me to write about the subject of this week’s blog post – The Little Pretty Housewife (Add Mss 2330).
Add Mss 2330 is a charming colourful children’s book known as The Little Pretty Housewife. Published in 1771 by E Tringham of 36 Hosier Street London, it remarks on the day in the life of an 18th Century housewife, adding a moral for goodness at the end of each task listed in the transcript below. Not much is known about the publisher, but we are aware that he had done other children’s etchings such as the Lottery engraving of Street sellers, some of which are available to view online via the British Museums website if you click this link.
It reads as follows:
1.To Market with a bull of fare,
The little housewife, see’ repair
A wholesome Dinner to provide
That hunger maybe satisfied
Moral – All such as diligent are deemed
Are by the worthy mind esteemed’
2. her utmost care is here exprest
To get the cheapest and the best
She always wholesome food will buy
A decent table to supply.
Moral – how many dainties god hath given,
then think what goodness reigns in heaven.
3. While household cares employ her mind
She’s still to charity inclin’d
A beggar’s boy for hunger cries
She money gives; he wipes his eyes.
Moral – The greatest Virtue that can be
Is heaven descended charity.
4. To cook requires no little wit
A dainty fowl behold her spit
When drest, you may with all my heart
Firstly, say your grace then eat a part
Moral – sence [since] care show prudence and good sense, her care will meet its recompense
5. Our maiden in the laundry see
Who washes clean as clean can be
Of work, she never was afraid
But tries to merit what she’s paid
Moral – Can I more useful pray be seen,
than she who works to keep us clean
6. Tired with her labour and her toil
She lays down to sleep awhile
For by the wife it is exprest
That nature always will have rest
Moral – sleep which the bad will discompose
the goodness gives Calm repose
7. A fricassee she makes with ease
That will the nicest palate please
Delicious hams are hung on high
Would please the tastes of you or I
Moral – Heaven for the good will ever carve
the good, the best of things deserve.
8. You see our housewife has taste
to make a pye and raise up paste
The oven will quickly be prepared
and then our preference maybe spared
Moral – her skill in all has wonder raised
the skilful ever will be praised
9. You know rough linen is uncouth
By ironing they make it smooth
This makes it look with decency
A decent little girls should be
Moral – a decent look and temper sweet
with love from ev’ry person meet
10. You see in everything she’s Arch;
Knows how to wash and how to starch
For starching does the thing completer
And makes the linen look much neater
Moral – the girl who always neat is seen,
is equal to the greatest queen
11. She’s still at work, she’s got the broom
And spares no pains, to sweep the room
The Little fairy king and queen
regard her with a look serene
Moral – the lazy may say what they will
but diligence gains notice still
12. In pleasing dreams her thoughts are drown’d
Her labour with reward is crowned
The fairy to good housewives true
Drop each a sixpence in her shoe
Moral – rewards the diligent attend
and goodness always find a friend.
We know it’s a children’s book because of the information listed on the first page which states where it is sold – at ‘most of ye booksellers, stationers and toy shops of Great Britain and Ireland’. The fact that it was bought 17 years after the original publication may be a sign of its popularity or equally the presence of second-hand book shops.
The Little Pretty Housewife we know was given to or bought by Judith Bennett of Bosham at the city of Wells, Somerset on 14th May 1788; presumably as a gift or souvenir of a visit to the city. Assuming that she was a child when the book was bought, the most likely Judith Bennett was – according to Ancestry – baptised in Bosham, 15th January 1779, to parents William and Molly (as I’m working from home, I do not have access to the Bosham Parish Registers to confirm). Ancestry also suggest that she married a James Kerwood on 27th December 1796 at St Mary’s Church Portsea. In the 1840s and 1850s we see James and Judith in Bosham at Church Farm, with a whole host of family members. No doubt putting the advice in this book to good use. She and her family are buried at Holy Trinity Church, Bosham.
The cost of this book coloured was 1 shilling, new. And you therefore must wonder about the wealth and income of those who had the money and the time to visit Wells, including Judith’s family. Some documents in our archives suggest that a William Bennett of Bosham was a Yeoman (Gentleman Farmer), so its possible that he took his family to visit the markets, while he was trading. In addition, the time it would have taken to get there and back would mean at least four days (two days either side). Google suggests that it takes 14 hours to travel 100 miles by a single horse. Wells is 113 miles today, via the A303. Add Mss 2330 therefore asks questions about economic stability and infrastructure in 18th Century. Would William Bennett have travelled so far for trade? Were the family staying at Bath (only 45 minutes from Wells today)?
The book also asks questions about the education of children in the eighteenth century. The fact Judith had this book means that she was in some way literate. It therefore begs the question of how she was educated. Reading was taught to both boys and girls primarily to promote moral education. And ideally it would take up to year to learn to how to read and write. The National school in Bosham was established in the 1890s and when Judith was growing up there was no form of national formal education. Prior to 1850 most children from working class and poor families were educated haphazardly if at all. In elite and middle-class homes daughters were taught by their mothers, female kin or governesses, sent to dame schools or attended day, charity or Sunday schools. However, some girls – even aristocratic ones – received little or no schooling. Consequently, female literacy rates were lower than male. Judith it seems was one of the ones privy to an education.
As well as extolling the virtues of being a good housewife and asking questions about 18th Century society – the images used give an idea of the kind of dress Women would have worn, during the 1770’s. Take notice of the shoes on the first page. Here we see that the housewife is wearing a Clog or Pattern which would have protected the shoe from any unpaved muddy streets. Equally her style of dress is either the Polonaise style which features a shorter hemline and drawn-up over-dress or the simpler Robe a la’ Anglaise, consisting of a fitted bodice cut in one piece with an overskirt that was often parted in front to reveal the petticoat.