‘We must make haste, for when we home are come, We find again our work has just begun’

Today we welcome a fellow writer for Pen & Sword, the lovely Dr Sara Read, a lecturer in English at Loughborough University and a contributing editor for earlymodernmedicine.com.

Sara has recently published a book entitled Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives, 1540-1740. In this post she looks at the role of working class women, whose work never seemed to end, which fits in so well with our previous articles that have looked at the roles of those employed to work ‘below stairs’, the housemaid, the laundrymaid and the the cook.


In an article in the Guardian on 22 October 2014, Jessica Valenti commented on the recently announced gender gap figure to come from US research. The research found that women are apparently still doing significantly more housework and childcare than their partners.

However, the fact that this disparity of labour is now lessening would have been music to the ears of women like Mary Collier, a Georgian washer woman and labourer from Petersfield, Hampshire.

In 1739 a verse letter by her entitled ‘A Woman’s Labour: An Epistle to Mr Stephen Duck’ was published in London.

attributed to Christian Richter, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, circa 1740
Stephen Duck attributed to Christian Richter, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, circa 1740

The poem was a riposte to Duck’s 1730 poem ‘The Thresher’s Labour’ which claimed that men did the bulk of the hard work in labouring.

Mary Collier Epistle

Not only did Mary take issue with this but as the line in the title of this post suggests, Mary described how when she finished her working day she’d stagger home, babe in arms:  ‘Our Corn we carry, and our Infant too’ only to have to begin work all over again:

our House in order set;
Bacon and Dumpling in the Pot we boil,
Our Beds we make, our Swine we feed the while;
Then wait at Door to see you coming Home,
And set the Table out against you come:
Early next Morning we on you attend;
Our Children dress and feed, their Clothes we mend;
And in the Field our daily Task renew.

She described doing the housework and cooking the evening meal, then waiting for her husband to come home to his hot meal. He then took his supper and went off to a good night’s sleep while she was awakened regularly by the infant children.

Mary then described getting the children up, dressed and fed the next morning before going to work in the fields. Elsewhere in the poem she mentioned having the children with her in the fields helping: ‘Our Children that are able, bear a Share / In gleaning Corn, such is our frugal Care’.

Mary Collier was in the bottom tier of society as a manual labourer in the fields seasonally and also worked as a washer woman. She described how she had to walk to work though all weathers, hours before dawn, to the house where she was employed in the laundry of an upper class household:

But when from wind and weather we get in,
Briskly with courage we our work begin;

For several hours here we work and slave,
Before we can one glimpse of day-light have;
We labour hard before the morning’s past,
Because we fear the time runs on too fast.

The life described by Mary Collier is one of unrelenting work and exploitation. She ends her poem by comparing herself to a worker bee:

 SO the industrious Bees do hourly strive
To bring their Loads of Honey to the Hive ;
Their sordid Owners always reap the Gains,
And poorly recompense their Toil and Pains.

To read more about the daily lives of women of all ranks see Sara Read’s new popular history book: Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives, 1540-1740 which is available directly from Pen & Sword or from Amazon as a hardback or Kindle

Pen and Sword Books

Amazon UK

US Kindle version






A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Grace Dalrymple Elliott – New book due out January 2016

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.

Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely a fashion icon and the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.

As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too; our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and is available for pre-order from this summer.

If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.

Merry Christmas, a Happy & Prosperous New Year

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

Christmas greetings
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We really do appreciate all the wonderful comments we have received on our blog articles and do hope that you have enjoyed reading our posts. This year has been a very exciting one for us as, with help from Katie Bohdanowicz, we have recently signed a contract with Pen and Sword Books to publish our biography ‘An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott and as such we now have a very busy 2015 planned while we finish off our research and writing. We will still keep writing new blog articles too though, and will also regularly update our readers on the progress of our book.

We have had over 50,000 views on our blog this year, and our top five most popular posts have been:

1. Bums, Tums and Downy Calves

2. Grace Dalrymple Elliott: Inventor of the Bellona Cap or Helmet, 1786 

3. What a spectacle!  

4. A Miscellany of Christmas Pies, Puddings and Cakes

5. ‘The Whole Duty of a Woman’ in 1737      

We would also like to thank our three wonderful guest authors, Sue Wilkes, Lally A Brown and Professor Chris Stephens, we hope you enjoyed reading their articles as much as we did and a big ‘Thank You‘ to the lovely Madame Gilflurt for asking us to write a  guest blog for her website!

We would also like to say a massive ‘Thank You’ to all our friends and followers on both Twitter & Facebook who are too numerous to mention by name for their amazing support during the year.  If you’re not already following us on Twitter and would like to we’re @sarahmurden & @joannemajor3 and on Facebook we can be found at AllThingsGeorgian.

Finally, we would like to thank all the other wonderful websites and blogs out there who have supported us and included our blog as a link on their sites. We really do appreciate each and every one of you and there are too many to include them all here, but we would like to highlight a few to return the favour. Please check out their sites too over the Christmas period and if you want more then check out our ‘Blogs I Follow’ section.







We are going to take a short break from posting here in order to enjoy the Christmas period with our families but rest assured we will be back with some new articles for you to read at the beginning of next year.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

Sarah and Jo