Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Katherine Langrish was talking

about Victorian working women over on "The History Girls" yesterday. It was fascinating to read about her discovery of how many women actually ran a business in Victorian London - and, no doubt, elsewhere. 
There is a perception that, in Victorian times, there were upper class women who lived a life of leisure and women who were servants. The women in the middle get forgotten but, if we think about it, many of them must have worked. Not everyone had a husband to support them. Women were widowed and left with children to care for and support too. Divorce was almost unheard of but women were sometimes left unsupported by errant husbands too.
The situation was no different in Australia. Many women worked.  My paternal grandfather employed more than thirty people in his tailoring business, all but two of them were women. Most of them were married. Their husbands were often at sea and they did not always bring much - if any - money home.
What fascinated me about Katherine's post though was the fact that she had discovered a great deal by looking at an old Ordnance Survey map of an area of London. It showed not only the streets and the houses but the names of the occupants and their occupations.
There are old "directories" of sorts available that detail these things too but they are not quite the same for me. My grandfather's business appears year after year in the business directory for this state but, while it gives the address, it does not show the location of his shop on a map. There is no way of knowing that he was in a stone's throw of the busiest wharf in the state. 
I once had to go to Government House and I was shown my grandfather's signature on any number of pages in the Visitor's Book. He made uniforms for many of the Governors of the state but it had come about because much of his business was to do with making uniforms for sea captains - something rather more complex than making a man's suit.  My grandfather made kilts too, another specialist piece of tailoring. My father has, and still wears, the Harris Tweed jacket his father made him almost 65 years ago. It has been relined more than once and it now looks very worn but it can still be worn.
Reading Katherine's post I thought about all this. If I had been looking at the sort of map she found and seen a name and an occupation there what would I have thought? Would I have guessed who this man tailored for? Would I have noticed the close proximity of the wharf and realised how busy it was?
As it is I spent the best five years of my childhood not far from there. We almost never went to my grandfather's place of business but we knew it was there and he was so well known that even now some people know me as his granddaughter. The wharves were still very busy then. He still made suits for the Governors. The fishermen knew he would stop by on Fridays to pick up fish for my grandmother.
It is all gone now.
There are maps. Although they are not quite Katherine's sort of maps if I put a map and an old directory together I can still learn a great deal.


Katherine Langrish said...

Cat - how wonderful that your father still has the very jacket your grandfather made!

Was he Scottish? Just wondering, from the Harris tweed plus the kilt-making, which as you say must be a specialist area of tailoring!

catdownunder said...

Katherine, My great-grandparents came to Australia from Caithness - we are very conscious (and proud) of our Scottish heritage!