The Life of a Female Servant
This account was collected by the Poor Law Commissioners looking into the apprenticeship system in Devon. It is by Mary Puddicombe in the Report of 1843.
My father was a farm-labourer at Bridford. I am 41. I cannot read or write. I was apprenticed to Matthew Coleridge of Bridford when I was 9 years old. My master died when I was 14; I was not apprenticed afterwards. When I first went, there were two boys and a girl apprentices; when my master died, there were three girls and four boys apprentices. The girls slept in our master's daughter's room, the boys in another room. We had to go through the boys' room to our room. Three of us slept in one bed; the four boys slept in one bed.
The family got their dinner all together and supper too. There was no difference in the meat, and we always had wheaten pudding. There was wheaten bread ready, if anybody came in. I lived much better there than I should have done at home. We might go to the bread and cheese whenever we liked, any of us. We were not clothed very well, I didn't go to church for a long time, not for three years, and then because the clergyman interfered; then we got better clothes for Sunday. We were never taught to read prayers and we never said our catechism; people were not so strict in those days as now. It is a good thing for children now that they are brought up to education. It is a good thing for children to read and write; it keeps them out of mischief.Most all my children go to school.
I used to be employed when I was apprenticed in driving bullocks to field and fetching them up again; cleaning out their houses, and bedding them up; washing potatoes and boiling them for pigs; milking; in the fields leading horses or bullocks to plough; maidens would not like that work now. Then I was employed in mixing lime and earth to spread, digging potatoes, digging and pulling turnips, and anything that came to hand, like a boy. I reaped a little, not much; loaded pack-horses; went out with horses for furze. I got up at five or six, except on market morning twice a week, and then at three. I went to bed at half-past nine.
I worked more in the fields than in the house. When my master died, I went as a servant at Blackiston for two years. I was treated very bad there; the people beat their servants. I used to be beat black and blue. The servants beat me; my master used to bang me. I never was much hurt. I never complained to a magistrate. I told my father and mother, and they told me to be a better maiden next time. Apprentices were treated worse; two, without fathers to look after them, were beat with a stick for anything that happened. One maiden had her arm cut to the bone with a stick the young master cut out of the hedge at the time, for not harrowing right, for not leaving enough harrow to go back again. That went to a Justice: master was fined £5 and had to pay the doctor's bill. The fine was given away in bread to the poor. The parish did not bind any apprentices after that.