Lucy’s home-life following her childhood in the workhouse offers an insight into the hardships and instability facing many working-class people and families in the Victorian period. When moving into the first house outside of the workhouse, Lucy explains how it was the job of the relieving officer to find a home for workhouse children but: “the relieving officer had found us a drunkards home (4).” The role of a relieving officer proved essential during the Victorian era, as their job often included visiting the homes of the sick and the poor in order to provide them with relief, whether indoor or outside the workhouse. The first family home where Lucy was placed with another pauper girl was the home of Mr and Mrs D., a tailor and his wife: “Mr and Mrs D. lived a most awful life, drinking, swearing and quarreling. The son and daughter led us two girls a most wretched life. We never had enough to eat (4).” The neglect that Lucy experienced in the home of the D family reflects the lack of care for pauper child apprentices. Lucy’s presence within a home that is not her own family’s is particularly interesting when reading her memoir, as her reflection on such events is from an outside perspective, someone who is a part of a family home but very much on the periphery. Lucy’s tone when conveying her opinion is one that separates herself from the life that her guardians were living even though she is present.
Lucy attributes her placement in such a home to her father: “I was a drunkard’s child, and the relieving officer had found us a drunkard’s home (4).” The impact the her father’s alcoholism had on Lucy is something that she blames for her placement into a series of bad homes: “remember I was never put to a decent place to begin with (9).” Lucy’s consistently bad home life and its impact on her is something that she wants to draw the reader’s attention to.
Throughout her young adult life Lucy was placed in homes that are filled with abuse, including physical abuse, alcohol abuse and verbal abuse. A particularly difficult part of her memoir is her move to the home of an unnamed married couple. Lucy’s residence in this particular home is one that presents the severity of domestic abuse suffered by women in the nineteenth century: “the master was one of the worst to walk God’s earth. Always fighting with his wife; the pots and glasses would go flying through the windows, and he would beat that woman shamefully (7).” This section of Lucy’s memoir highlights the extent to which domestic violence was present within the homes of the Victorian working-classes. Emma Foyster explains why domestic violence was so prominent in the Victorian era: “the marriages of those below the social elite were given little attention (Foyster,2005,5).” Foyster argues violence within the homes of the working-classes was largely ignored due to their social status. Lucy’s experience within this particular home reveals her strength of character: “one Sunday night I had my new mourning dress torn from my back, through trying to part them when fighting (7).” Lucy’s bravery in attempting to separate a fight along with her empathy for her mistress is a testament to her character.
Lucy’s many misfortunes in finding a safe and supportive home eventually ended upon meeting her husband William Luck but the married couple also had to start over a number of times. At first William’s “master had a cottage to let at two shillings a week. So he took it… and got as much furniture as he could afford (12).” There is a real sense of make do with what you have when Lucy talks about her husbands purchasing of furniture and her pride in making a home: “I could not have thought more of it if it had been a palace…we got along very well, adding a little more to our home when we could” (11,12). Lucy’s appreciation of having a home to call her own gives the reader a shared pride in witnessing Lucy’s hardships on her journey to stability and happiness.
Nevertheless, Lucy experienced the heartache of losing her third child, just as her own mother and so many Victorian women lost one of more infants : “I had three little girls the third one died at eight months and a fortnight old. That was a great blow/ she was buried in the chapel grounds at a village called Breachwood Green’ (see photograph of this Baptist chapel). In her memoir, written shortly before her death in 1922, Lucy recalled how her infant had been buried with one of the rituals that had since died out: “It would be strange to see a burial like that now, for we had six little girls to carry her to the grave” (13.)
After the birth of Lucy’s first born son, a ‘delicate child’, the family found themselves struggling once more, when the farm labourers, like William, in the Luton area began ‘agitation’ for a raise of a shilling a week. “Most of the farmers had agreed to give their men a little more; but not so with the farmer where we were. My husband’s money was only thirteen shillings a week, and out of that two shillings went for rent, leaving eleven shillings, with three little children to keep. So he asked for a rise, as other farmers were giving, but the master soon told him if he were not satisfied, he had better take a month’s notice and go. He did so, which meant getting out of the cottage as well” . Once again the Luck family were homeless.
Migration from rural to urban areas in search of work was a common experience for working people. As J.A. Banks writes, “the movement into the towns was a direct response to some feature of town life which was attractive to the rural population of the nineteenth century. Economic opportunities clearly there must have been (Banks,1968,280).” Although Lucy’s move was not out of choice, London provided her with the opportunity of work as a skilled straw plait worker, a new residence, and a further 4 children.
The end of Lucy’s memoir is deeply enshrouded with her love for her home and her family: “I have had my troubles with them, as any mother would have with a large family, but not one of them have brought us any sorrow or disgrace” (15). Lucy’s decision to end her memoir with this statement about the pride she had for her family epitomises Lucy Luck as an author. She has an honesty about her children’s imperfections but will always pride herself on who they have become. To read of Lucy’s final happiness at the end of her memoir is a journey that offers a catharsis for the reader. At last Lucy Luck appears to have made for herself something she never had as a child–a stable home and a strong family unit
Banks, J.A. Population Change and the Victorian City. Victorian Studies Vol. 11, No. 3, Symposium on the Victorian City (1) (Mar., 1968), pp. 277-289
Foyster, Elizabeth. Marital Violence: An English Family History 1660-1857. Cambridge University Press. (2005).
456 LUCK, Lucy, ‘A Little of My Life’, edited by J. C. Squire, London Mercury, Vol. xiii, No.76, Nov 1925-Apr 1926, pp.354-73. Extract in J. Burnett (ed.), Useful Toil. Autobiographies of working people from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1974), pp.68-77.
Image of Church Street, Missenden
Firth, Francis. Francis Firth collection. (2021)
Image of Breachwood Green Chapel.
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The Newsroom. Leagrave’s 18th Century Thatched Cottages Now At Museum. Dunstable Today: Dunstable Gazette and Herald Post. (2014).