Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Elms, Market Harborough: Training young women for domestic service in Australia

Earlier this week Paul Walter drew our attention to the British Pathe website and some of its Liberal footage. Passing his discovery on, I mentioned a video of Sir Archibald Sinclair.

I have been exploring the Pathe website and, naturally, searched for films on Market Harborough.

I found film of the 1958 floods in the town.

I found film of Jack Gardner from 1950. Gardner was the British and Empire heavyweight boxing champion and, until the advent of Martin Johnson, the town's most celebrated sporting son.

I found priceless coverage of the first Inland Waterways Association rally, held at Market Harborough canal basin in 1950.

And I found footage of the Duchess of York (later to be Queen Elizabeth and then the Queen Mother) visiting the town in 1927 to open a "training hostel for women household workers for Australia".

Which sent me off to do some research...

The Duchess may not have been there to open the establishment, as an Australian government website suggests:
British women and girls were encouraged to migrate to Australia to support its development as domestic servants and as wives and mothers – between 1926 and 1930 the Australian and British governments jointly funded a specialised centre, the first of its kind, at Market Harborough, England, to train women for domestic service prior to migration to Australia.

You can even see pictures of the place towards then of this PDF of the pamphlet Australia invites the British domestic girl from 1929.

But the establishment did not close in 1930. A Commons written answer from 1931 reveals that there were five government-run establishments for training domestic servants. They included The Elms, Market Harborough.

Today The Elms is known as Brooke House and occupied by a college that specialises in giving overseas teenagers British qualifications. We called it a "crammer" when I was at school up the road, but that may have been unfair.

When I was a councillor in the 1980s one of my fellow Liberals reported canvassing an old lady who mentioned disparagingly that one of the Tory candidates has attended an establishment in the town that trained girls to be servants. It must have been The Elms.

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