Today we will take a brief look at the role of one of the most important jobs within a household during the Georgian Era, that of the nursery nurse or nursery maid. When this guidance was produced for parents and for nurses alike and set out advice for them as to the role she should occupy and what tasks should be completed to ensure that their proteges were cared for.
Of paramount importance was that the person be of a lively and cheerful disposition, good tempered, and clean and neat in her habits and person. She would need to be experienced in the care and management of young children as her role was of vital importance to the family as she would be in charge of a child from infancy until old enough to have a governess or to go to school. Potential employers took great care when recruiting this person and often used word of mouth for recommendations or would place an advert in the newspaper. Potential employees would naturally have been able to provide excellent references.
The morning would begin with the children being carefully washed and dressed, then once ready they would have breakfast, the children being placed for their meal quietly and in an orderly manner. After breakfast, if the weather was fine they would be taken out by the assistant nurse or nursery maid for fresh air and exercise for an hour or two, but not too long for fear of over-tiring them. On return their hands and feet would be washed if dirty, children would then have lessons until midday at which time they would be fed and then taken outside again for more fresh air, a light supper and then bed. As it is today, fresh air was seen as vitally important.
It was the nurses role to ensure that the child was kept safe at all times and particular care should be taken that a child did not climb on the furniture so as to avoid them damaging their limbs, nor to go near the fire in case their clothes catch fire, there were a surprising number of instances where this had happened, so clearly advice was necessary.
Young child were to be given plain food and drink, yet some nurses apparently gave them wine, spirits spices and sugar – none of which were believed to be good for the child.
The sleeping room of the nursery should be spacious, dry and well ventilated, with a fire being made up if a cold or damp day and the room was not be inhabited during the day. Servants were not permitted to sleep in the same room as the child as nothing should be done to contaminate the air.
Beds should not be placed close to the ground as the air was fresher high up. In cities, children should not be kept in hot rooms, but have as much air as possible and given as much exercise as possible, as lack of exercise was the cause of rickets, weak joints and lung disease.
When putting the child to sleep it should be placed on the right side rather than on the left. When awake an infant, should be laid on its back so that it can move its legs and arms with freedom. Sleep promotes a more calm and uniform circulation of the blood and also facilitates absorption of the nutriments received. The horizontal posture, likewise, is the most favourable to the growth and bodily development of the infant. Sleep ought to be in proportion to the age of the infant.
After the age of six months, the periods of sleep, may, in some degree should be regulated ; yet, even then, a child should sleep through the night, and several hours both in the morning and afternoon. Nurses should endeavour to accustom infants, from the time of their birth, to sleep in the night in preference to the day. Children should not be woken suddenly or moved from a dark room into bright light as this can cause weak eyes from early infancy.
Clothing should be very light, and not too long, so that it is easy to get the child’s legs out with ease during the day in order to rub them with a warm hand, or flannel as this would promote the circulation of the blood. However, a nurse should hold the child as little as possible to avoid the legs being cramped and to ensure that its toes didn’t turn inwards.
During the day children should be dressed in light and loose fitting clothes, and at night it may be a shirt, a blanket to tie on, and a thin gown to tie over the blanket. Pins should never be used in an infant’s clothes and every string should be so loosely tied, that two fingers may be introduced under it.
The child’s skin was to be kept perfectly clean by washing its limbs morning and evening, and likewise its neck and ears, beginning with warm water until eventually getting the child used to cold water.
After carefully drying the whole body, head, and limbs, a second dry soft cloth, somewhat warmed, should be gently used, to take all the damp from the wrinkles or soft parts of the body. Then the limbs should be rubbed. If the skin became irritated, then hair-powder should be used (today we would use talcum powder). The utmost tenderness is necessary in drying the head ; and a small, soft, brush, lightly applied, is safer than a comb.
*** For those with an interest in Dido Elizabeth Belle, do keep an eye out for next week’s blog ***
The Complete Servant: Being a Practical Guide to the Peculiar Duties and Business of All Descriptions of Servants
Morland, George, 1763-1804; A Visit to the Boarding School