Updated 19 Aug 2015

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Photo 643


Governess at Wirksworth Hall

Miss Mary Emma PIPER was the Governess at Wirksworth Hall to Elizabeth WOOD, surviving daughter of Nicholas and Agnes WOOD. She probably started after Elizabeth's sister Mary Agnes died of diptheria in 1862 (Elizabeth was 7), and would be there when the watercolour was painted in 1875 (Elizabeth was 20). By 1881 she had retired and was living with her brother George (a solicitor) in Herefordshire. Her duties and environment as a Victorian governess are interesting.

The WOOD family bought and moved into Wirksworth Hall in 1858. They only had two children, both girls. Agnes Eleanor's father was Nathan HUBBERSTEY (1767-1828), who was Vicar of Wirksworth and Head of Wirksworth Grammar School (also a stone's throw from Wirksworth Hall).

The Governess came from a fairly well-to-do family. She retired to live with her brother, who was Solicitor Of The Supreme Court and F.G.S. She, her sister and brother were all "Living On their Own Means". But Mary Emma never married, and may have lived to be 95.
| Family trees | Census | Governess' duties | emails |

Other aspects of Wirksworth Hall
can be seen at:
  • Wirksworth Hall
  • Last Lady of Wirksworth Hall
  • Problems at Wirksworth Hall
  • Governess at Wirksworth Hall
  • Gates from Wirksworth Hall
  • Wirksworth Hall Lease 1894
  • Wirksworth Hall Sale 1903
  • Watercolour by Miss Mary Emma Piper
    Inscribed "Wirksworth Church. 1875. M.E.Piper"
    Wirksworth Church was a stone's throw from Wirksworth Hall,
    where Mary Emma was Governess to Elizabeth WOOD.

    Old Wirksworth Grammar School
    Agnes Eleanor WOOD's father was headmaster of the school.

    Family tree

      1810           1812
      Nicholas       Agnes                  1786            1791
      Price          Eleanor                George  1817?   Jane
      WOOD=====v=====HUBBERSTY              PIPER=====v=====X
      1868     |     1892                             |
               |                                      |
         |-----|-----|                     |------|---|---|------|
         |           |                     |      |       |      |
        1850        1855                  1832   1819    1826   1829
        Mary        Elizabeth             Mary   George  Fanny  Hannah
        Agnes       Marianne ..govness... Emma
        1862        1931                  PIPER


    1841 Census for
    1851 Census for
    1861 Census for Blackway, Eggleton, Herefordshire
    PIPER, Jane K Head Widow F 70 1791 Widow Of Saint Royal Navy St James, Middlesex   
    PIPER, Hannah M F Daughter Unmarried F 32 1829 Gentlewoman ..., Middlesex
    PIPER, Mary E Daughter Unmarried F 29 1832 Gentlewoman Castle Frome, Herefordshire
    PHILLIPS, Sarah Boarder Unmarried F 65 1796 Gentlewoman St James, Middlesex   
    OCKWELL, Mary A Servant Unmarried F 17 1844 House Servant Cricklade, Wiltshire   
    1861 Census for Wirksworth Hall, Coldwell St
    #34---The Hall---[Wirksworth]---
    W034a Agnes Elean  WOOD     Wife    M 48  F                Wirksworth
    W034b Mary Agnes   WOOD     Dau     - 11  F  Scholar       Audley STS
    W034c Elizabeth M  WOOD     Dau     - 5   F  Scholar       Audley STS         Marianne
    W034d Octavia      EDWARDS  Govern  U 27  F  Governess     Tutbury STS
    W034e Mary         CORK     Servant U 29  F  Nurse         Chesterton STS
    W034f Ann          TOWNSEND Servant U 32  F  Cook          Witherley LEI
    W034g Sarah        ASHMORE  Servant U 24  F  House servant Talk 'oth Hill STS
    W034h Rosanna      AULT     Servant U 18  F  House servant Derby
    W034i Anne         CLARK    Servant - 15  F  House servant Wirksworth
    W034j Simon Peter  CARTER   Servant - 15  M  House servant Audley STS
    1871 Census for Coldwell St, Wirksworth
    #3---Coldwell St---[Wirksworth]---
    W003a  Agnes Eleanr WOOD      Head    W 58 F Landed Proprietor             Wirksworth
    W003b  Elizabeth M  WOOD      Dau       15 F Scholar                       Audley STS    Miriam
    W003c  Reginald N   WOOD      Nephew  U 29 M Agent                         Latimer BKM   Newcome
    W003d  John W       YULES     Cousin    35 M Captain, N Somerset Yeomanry  Bathford SOM  Wedgwood
    W003e  Mary Emma    PIPER     Governs M 39 F Governess                     Castle Frome HEF
    W003f  Mary         COOK      Servant U 38 F Ladys Maid                    Chesterton STS
    W003g  Elizabeth    COOK      Servant U 35 F Laundry maid                  Chesterton STS
    W003h  Eliza        STEEPLES  Servant U 31 F Cook                          Shottle
    W003i  Selina       HOON      Servant U 28 F Housemaid                     Kirk Ireton
    W003j  Mary         GRIFFITH  Servant U 26 F Housemaid                     Taywing? GLS
    W003k  Catherine    OGDEN     Servant U 23 F Kitchen Maid                  Wirksworth
    W003l  John         BRADSHAW  Servant U 17 M Page                          Atlow
    1881 Census for Southend Street, Ledbury HEF
    PIPER, George H Head Single M 62 1819 Solicitor F.G.S. Marylebone, Middlesex
    PIPER, Mary E Sister Single F 49 1832 Spinster Castlefroome, Herefordshire
    OVERTON, Agnes Servant Single F 23 1858 Cook Domestic Serv Aston Ingham, Herefordshire   
    PRICE, Eliza Servant Single F 21 1860 Housemaid Domestic Serv Cradley, Herefordshire   
    1891 Census for The Court House, Southend Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire
    PIPER, George H Head Single M 71 1820 Solicitor Of The Supreme Court St Mary Abbotts, Middlesex
    PIPER, Mary E Sister Single F 59 1832 Living On Her Own Means Castle?, Herefordshire
    GRUBHAM, Alice Servant Single F 51 1840 Cook Domestic Martley, Worcestershire   
    DEEM, Emily Servant Single F 20 1871 Housemaid Stretton Grandison, Herefordshire   
    B 1892dec12 WOOD Agnes Eleanor(Wirksworth)[80],#1290
    1901 Census for 2, South Cliff Street, Tenby St Mary In Liberty, Tenby 
    GARDENER, Esther E Head Single F 57 1844 Lodging House Keeper Knighteste, Warwickshire   
    PIPER, Fanny S Boarder Single F 75 1826 Living On Own Means Marylebone, London
    PIPER, Mary E Boarder Single F 69 1832 Living On Own Means Castle Frome, Herefordshire
    1911 Census for Stoneleigh Alexandra Road North Malvern
    PIPER, Mary Emma Head Single F 79 1832 Private Means Castle Froom Hereford
    WILLSHIRE, Abi Elizabeth Servant Single F 47 1864 General Servant Domestic Sernd Wilts   

    What a Victorian Governess did.

    A governess is a girl or woman employed to teach and train children in a private household. In contrast to a nanny (formerly called a nurse) or a babysitter, she concentrates on teaching children, not on meeting their physical needs. Her charges are of school age, not babies.

    The position is rarer now, except within large and wealthy households such as those of the Saudi royal family and in remote regions such as outback Australia. It was common in well-off European families before World War I, especially in the countryside where no suitable school existed nearby. Parents' preference to educate their children at home - rather than send them away to boarding school for months at a time - varied across time and countries. Governesses were usually in charge of girls and younger boys; when a boy was old enough, he left his governess for a tutor or a school.

    There has been a recent resurgence amongst families worldwide to employ governesses or full-time tutors. This has been for a number of reasons including personal security, the benefits of a tailored education and the flexibility to travel or live in multiple locations.

    Modern governesses occupy a slightly different role to their traditional counterparts. They are highly-educated individuals who fill the role of both teacher and academic mentor for the children. They structure an education for their pupils which usually offers greater breadth and a higher standard than a school education can.

    Traditionally, governesses taught "The three Rs" to young children. They also taught the "accomplishments" expected of middle class women to the young ladies under their care, such as French or another language, the piano or another musical instrument, and often painting (usually the more ladylike watercolours rather than oils) or poetry. It was also possible for other teachers (usually male) with specialist knowledge and skills to be brought in, such as, a drawing master or dancing master.

    The governess occupied an awkward position in the Victorian household, because she was neither quite a servant nor a member of the host family. A governess had a middle-class background and education, but was paid for her services. As a sign of this social limbo she frequently ate on her own, away from the rest of the family and servants. Not surprisingly, the lifestyle of the typical Victorian governess was often one of social isolation and loneliness. The fact that her presence in the household was underpinned by an employment contract emphasised that she could never truly be part of the host family. However, being a governess was one of the few legitimate ways by which an unmarried middle class woman could support herself in Victorian society. Her position was often depicted as one to be pitied, and the only likely way out of it was to marry. Once her charges grew up, she had to seek a new position, or, exceptionally, might be retained by the grown-up daughter as a paid companion.


    ----Anyone with more details for publication on this webpage, please email ----
    15/04/2013 10:48
    Celia Renshaw

    Hi John,
    I'm no expert but I believe that governesses taught whatever they had skills and knowledge of themselves, so it varied one to another. They might be teaching young children primary level stuff, preparing boys for public school, helping young girls become accomplished young women, it all depended.

    The reason they ate alone was because they were technically not servants, they were professionals on contract - often they were from genteel levels of society themselves, perhaps fallen on hard times, which is why they were considered suitable to teach the children of well-off folks. They were between upstairs and downstairs in a role of their own. As with most jobs at the time that were open to women, the door shut fast the moment they married, because it was then considered their job was looking after husband, home and children. The fact that many women still had to do paid work as well to help the family make ends meet wasn't the point - their paid work was often invisible, seldom mentioned in censuses etc.

    I can still remember that it was the norm when I was young for female teachers to leave their jobs when they married, or if not then, certainly once they started to have children, and it was only a decade or two before that when female teachers would automatically lose their jobs when they married, as was the case in other professions too.

    Celia Renshaw
    in Chesterfield UK

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