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Dirty, Dishonest and Badly Behaved: Sophia Jarvis, Victorian Maid

Social class in England during the Victorian era had much less to do with wealth than with your assigned station at birth -upward mobility was as rare as hen's teeth. Sophia Jarvis was a working class orphan who was sent to a workhouse and later an industrial school to learn the skills of a servant. Mrs. Mary Langton Thomas enjoyed a middle class life as the wife of a banker, although when he died she was left with nine children and a lower income. She could only afford one servant, Sophia Jarvis, from the industrial school. Jarvis did all the housework for the family of ten plus a lodger, for which she received the equivalent of £6 a week in modern money, a windowless attic room, and what food she was allowed to eat ...which became less and less over time. Mrs. Thomas accused Jarvis of theft, and punished her by withholding food, beating, and pouring water over her in the cold outdoors. Jarvis escaped to her former school, and later pressed charges against Thomas, which was quite unusual for the time. However, there was evidence backed up by the doctor who treated Jarvis after her escape.

Sophia, brought up since infancy in the care of the parish authorities of St George the Martyr, cut a sorry figure.  She had been accused of stealing forty stamps, two sacks of potatoes, cake, a 2lb lump of sugar, port and sherry—although her mistress admitted that she had not been able to smell alcohol on the girl.  Strangely, there was no suggestion that any of the Thomas children, or the lodger, might possibly have helped themselves.  After Mr Cockerel’s visit she was beaten almost daily with a stick, a rolling pin or a fishing rod, and had not been allowed to leave the house unless accompanying one of the children to church.

Not only had Sophia been physically abused, but Mrs Thomas had only given her a month’s pay in all the time she had worked there.  The rest of the money was kept to pay for the clothes she needed for her job.

The description of her physical state is distressing.  Dr Broad, the medical attendant to the Industrial School, described her emaciated condition, her sunken face and swollen fingers, her nails black with dried blood, her bruised back and elbows.  When he saw her on 20th December, her right eye had been black, and she had a wound on her head.  This was backed up by Thomas Evans, the police doctor.

Mrs. Thomas had the backing of prominent character witnesses, while Jarvis was a nobody. Who would the jury believe? Read the story of Sophia Jarvis and her quest for justice at London Overlooked.       
 -via Strange Company

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