Victorian London - Professions and Trades - Service Industry - Servants - Nursery-Maid



    Anyone may undertake the place of a nursery-maid. As every female has, when a girl, been in the habit of carrying, letting fall, snubbing and slapping either her own or some one else's little brothers and sisters, it is easy to say you have been accustomed to children. 
    Supposing that you enter service as a nursery-maid, there will, perhaps, be an upper nurse, who will be, in fact, your mistress. Your care at home will be to wait on her; and when walking out, you will have to keep the children at a convenient distance while she flirts with her beau, who will probably be one of the British soldiery. This will be very tantalising to you at first; but you must recollect that your own time will come, if you wait patiently. 
    Some places are very different from others. You may go into a wealthy ; family where the children are kept up stairs, like live lumber, in the nursery, and are only brought out now and then for show, like the horses of the state carriage, or the best tea-set. If you curb their spirits that they may be docile on those occasions, and turn them out to the best advantage as far as appearance is concerned, you will be a favourite with your mistress. In some places you will be what is called "assisted" by the mother; or, in other words, interfered with, just enough to destroy all your attempts at discipline. In this case, your mistress will doubtless tell you, that i~ you cannot manage the children, she must find some one who can, and will give you warning accordingly.
    It is not necessary to give you any particular directions about your dress, for the penny Belle Assemblée will furnish you with all the latest fashions; and you have only to do in cottons and stuffs, what your mistress is doing in silks and satins. You should bear in mind, that you are not obliged to make yourself a dowdy to please any one; for nature has doubtless given you a pretty face, and the gifts of nature ought to be made the most of. Besides, if you are a servant at home, you are a lady out of doors; and you may even keep a parasol at the greengrocer's, to be ready for you when you take a holiday.
    When you go to a new place, your mistress will, perhaps, tell you the character of each child, that you may know how to manage their different tempers; but you will, of course, use your own discretion. If one is pointed out as a high-spirited little fellow, you may be sure that he is fond of killing flies, tying toys to the dog's tail, striking you, and crying, as if you bad struck him, when he hears his mamma coming. If you are told that one of the dear boys has a turn for finding out how everything is made, and he must not be checked, as his papa intends him for a civil-engineer, you may be sure that the juvenile spirit of inquiry will be shown in pulling your work-box to pieces, unless you turn his attention to the furniture, which he should be encouraged to dissect in preference to any of your property.
    When you have a baby to take care of, some say you should be particular in its food; but if the child cries you have no time for this, and you must stop its mouth with anything that comes handiest. Indiscriminate feeding is said to lay the foundation of diseases which remain with the child through life; but as you do not remain with the child so long, this is not your business. A nurse who knows thoroughly what she is about will keep a little Godfrey's Cordial, or some other opiate, always at hand-but quite out of sight-to soothe the infant; for nothing is so distressing to the mother, or such a nuisance to yourself, as to hear a child continually crying. When there is only one infant these soothing syrups must be cautiously applied, lest the necessity for a nurse should terminate altogether, and you are thrown out of your situation.
    An infant sometimes requires example before it will take to its food, and, as it is very nice, you may as well eat one half of it first, to encourage the infant to eat the other. Use sugar in children's food very sparingly, and, lest the infant be tempted to want some of the sugar that is saved out of the quantity allowed, lose no time in locking it up out of sight in your own tea-caddy. If you wish to save your beer-money, recollect that milk is heavy for children, unless mixed copiously with water. As nothing ought to be wasted, you can drink what remains, instead of beer, at your dinner.
    There are many very troublesome duties that Borne nurses undertake in order to amuse the child; but as Nature is acknowledged to be the best nurse, you had better let Nature try her hand at all the hard work, while you confine yourself to that which is easy.
    When a child reaches a certain age it will begin to want amusement, when, if there are no toys, you may give it the poker and tongs, or set it down on the floor before the coal-scuttle. Opening and shutting a box is also an amusement; and as it involves occasionally the shutting in of the child's own fingers, the operation combines instruction also. As a child may be troublesome while being washed, give it the powder-puff; and as every thing goes to the mouth, the dear little thing will commence sucking the powder-puff, which will keep it quiet. 
    A very interesting age in children is when they begin "to take notice." When taking a walk with the children it cannot be expected that you can always have your eyes on them, and you must therefore accustom them to take care of themselves as much as possible. Besides self-preservation is the first law of Nature, and a child cannot too soon be taught to follow it. Thus if you are looking about you and the children get into the road,, while a carriage is passing, you will probably not be aware of their danger till it is past, when you will begin slapping and scolding your little charges that they may know better for the future.
    It is a very fine thing to encourage generosity in children, and yen should therefore talk a great deal about the presents you have received on birth-days and on other occasions from the little dears in the place where you last lived. This will of course give your mistress a hint as to what she ought to do. For the children will naturally ask to be allowed to make you presents, and the parents not liking to check the amiable feeling, and desirous of not being thought shabby in comparison with your former employers, will no doubt give - through the hands of the children - what you may have occasion for.
    If you have nephews and nieces you may supply them with many little articles of dress that are pronounced to be "past mending." if your mistress notices that the stock of children's things diminish, you can suggest that "things won't wear for ever," which often passes as an apology for a sensible diminution in the number of socks and pinafores. You may observe that Master So-and-so is such "a spirited little fellow, that he does wear his things out very fast," and your mistress will be satisfied if she thinks her child's spirit has caused half his wardrobe to evaporate.
    If you follow all these instructions to the letter you will make as good a Nursery-Maid as the best of them.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1845

Lower down on the opposite side was a public-house, and here I made my one and only appearance at the public bar. I must have been very, very small, not more than three or four, but I recollect it precisely, the smell of the mingled beer and sawdust, the loud raucous voices, and presently the angry manner in which we were snatched out of the place, the long-clothes infant grabbed out of the nurse's arms, and our flight up Albany Street, pursued by the nurse, who was kept at bay by a policeman, and our indignant mother waving her back whenever she dared to approach the sacred infant.
     I do not believe either I or my sister had ever been taken to that house before, but a kindly neighbour had warned my mother of the nurse's proclivities who, acting on the warning, had caught the nurse in the act; and oh! how thankful we were to see her go. I have an idea she was Irish. I know her name was Mary, and I recollect how she used to curdle our blood with the most awful and hideous nightmare tales, which made us most fearsome cowards in the dark, and caused us agonies which took us years and years to outgrow.
    Nowadays the modern nurse does not believe in fairies, which are pronounced by her to be absurd, and not to be credited for one moment. I think of the two specimens I prefer Mary, banshees, night hags, public-house and all. There was a fearful joy in listening to her, there can be none at all in hearkening to the modern nurse, who, attired in hospital garb, minces along, immersed in a half-penny novelette, pushing her charge in an elegant vehicle over any one she comes near, and taking no notice of anything until she reaches the park or wherever may be her destination, where she finishes her novelette or else confides to all the rest of the nurses her love affairs, and also the affairs, or what she thinks are the affairs, of those whose money she takes with one hand, while she deprives the at the same time of every shred of character the might possess.
    All the same Mary's departure was a vast relief to us then, and she was succeeded by the daintiest, kindest of women, the young widow of a Dorset shire sailor. She lived with us fifteen years, when to the children's rage and despair she married again, an omnibus conductor, who bought a little bake-house in Hertfordshire, where she lived until she died at a vast age.

Mrs. Panton, Leaves from a Life, 1908