1841 Devon, England

On the sixth of June, 1841 we find Mary Harvey living with her mother Jane Edwards in what was probably a lodging house in Mill Street, Stoke Damerell (now known as Plymouth)

What was it like for a common woman in Devon England in 1841?

The Victorian Era had hardly just begun, Victoria had been the Queen for only three and a half years, she was barely 22 years old. Not the iconic dour old woman of modern interpretation, she ascended the throne at the age of 18 and was young and beautiful, in stark contrast to her predecessors. Only just previous year, she had married her one true love, Prince Albert, inventing the white wedding. She had survived the first of eight attempted assassinations. [1]

A professional police force, across Devon and Cornwall, was but five years old. As a city, the Chief Constable in Devon held the rank of Superintendent. The force was governed by a Police watch committee, the equivalent of the current Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC.) This replaced the system of unpaid parish constables that had existed since 1285. [2]

Britain was only just beginning to evolve the national rail system that would eventually overtake the canal system as the principle method of industrial transport. The Exeter Street St David’s Railway Station was another three years away, perhaps in now the planning stage. It would be a single sided station on the side nearest the town, convenient for passengers arriving in Exeter, at least until the South Devon Railway opened a line to Plymouth. A double sided platform was later opened on the west side of the line. [3]

The “Poor Law” system was in full swing, having been enacted some seven years earlier. It had established a system of workhouses. These were intended to ensure that the poor were clothed and fed and that their children were given some education. They were hated and feared by the poor, and some contemporary citizens spoke out against them, likening them to prisons for the poor. [4]

It is easy to find examples of Victorian fashions but what did ordinary working women wear in 1841? This children’s book site has some photographs and information about this. Follow this link (link is external) [5]

References and Credits

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