The Twickenham Museum
Exhibitions : People at Work

Female Employment
The sheer hard work and repetitive nature of Domestic duties, as required then, is nowadays difficult to appreciate.

The occupations of women in 1871, extracted from the Census and relating to employment in Twickenham and Whitton can be divided into various categories. The main category was Domestic Service, which accounted for 80% of employment. It included cooks, charwomen, laundresses and kitchen, scullery, parlour and ladies' maids. The next category is Manufacture at 10%, with 9 out of 10 being dressmakers. The remaining categories are Dealing (basically shop working, particularly relating to dress, food and hotels), 5%, and Public Service and Professional (mainly teachers, governesses and medicine including nursing), also at 5%.
Nurses at St John's Hospital, Twickenham

The sheer hard work and repetitive nature of “Domestic” duties, as required then, is nowadays difficult to appreciate. A glimpse is given below relating to life in Hampton in the 1920's: “A door from the kitchen led into the scullery, in one corner of which was a big, brick surrounded, copper in which all the washing water was heated and all the “whites” and “fast-coloureds” were boiled… The copper had to be filled each time with buckets of water obtained from the tap and carried across the scullery to the copper. Filling the copper was the first task after which a fire had to be lit in the fireplace underneath…The fire was then stoked up and all the clothes suitable for boiling were poked, one by one, with a wooden copper stick into the soapy water” The process then continues with rinsing [three times], mangling [twice], before hanging out to dry. After that there was bailing and then cleaning out of the copper, fireplace and surrounding area. Later in the day flat irons had to be heated to iron everything.

It was only with the advent of the First World War, when women were called upon to do work that had not been available to them before, that the range of work available began to widen.

back to top