Fanny Peters, Housekeeper to Sir Frederick Howard
by Linda Ayres
Fanny Peters was born in 1864 in the small town of Storrington, Sussex. She moved to Bedford in 1890 to take up the parlour maid position to Lady Elizabeth Howard and her husband, Sir Frederick Howard, a well-known Industrialist and co-owner of the Britannia Works. Lady Elizabeth and Sir Frederick lived in the impressive sixteen-roomed Abbey House on Cardington Road, Bedford.
Victorian England was a man’s world and Lady Elizabeth Howard, as the mistress of the house, would have been expected to live a life centred on her husband and children, whilst managing and organising the running of the household. Sir Frederick and Lady Howard employed two parlour maids, including Fanny, a housemaid, and a cook. In the Victorian period, domestic service was Britain’s second employment after farm work. Housework was highly labour-intensive in those days, and Edwardian and Victorian servants worked long hours.
When Lady Howard died aged 78 on 30 May 1901, Fanny was promoted to housekeeper in charge of two servants and a cook. She no longer shared her bedroom with the other servants and lived in her own room in Abbey House. Her accommodation would be better than when she was a housemaid. Her room probably had a carpet, an easy chair, and a desk (her room was also a place of work), and she most likely had home comforts like pictures on the wall and a shelf of books.
Fanny’s duties as a Housekeeper
Managing a Victorian household was not easy. Fanny’s work hours were up to fourteen hours a day, with all her meals provided, for a wage of £15 a year. She was in entire charge of the house, which is what her name signifies – keeper of the house. She looked after everything that happened during the daily running of the household and ensured all work was carried out to the highest standard. She had keys to all the doors and the keys hung from the chains of her chatelaine; (a decorative belt hook worn at the waist.) Suspended from each chain and her keys were other valuable items such as a thimble, watch, vinaigrette, scissors, and household seals.
Fanny’s day began at six o’clock every morning, and she would start by ensuring the three servants under her charge had carried out their tasks, and that the breakfast table was laid with the correct china and linen. She would carefully plan and organise her daily duties; it was essential for the house to run smoothly, efficiently, and economically. She expected high standards from the servants; they needed to understand that every household could only be well managed with cleanliness, punctuality, order, and method.
After breakfast, she inspected the household linen, repaired it and replaced it if necessary. She ensured that the furniture was polished correctly; checked the china cupboard; replaced writing paper and soap in the bedrooms and ensured the rooms were clean and in good order. She presided over the servant’s hall dinner, arranged dessert for dinner, made tea in the afternoon, and made coffee for dinner. She oversaw making pickles, jams, liquor, and salting or smoking meat.
Usually, her evenings were spent in her room making up lists for the grocer and menus for the next day’s lunch and dinner. She had to keep accounts of the daily expenses in a ledger, paying off the bills and filing receipts. Her accounts would be checked once a month by Sir Frederick Howard.
Fanny was happy and genial, a church worker at Howard Congregational Church and a Sunday School Teacher. She was very fond of children and in the Sunday school her class of boys were devoted to her as well as the members of the Band of Hope.
Unfortunately, Fanny became very ill and underwent an operation, and although she made a good recovery she sadly died having suffered a sudden relapse. Fanny died at Abbey Close, Bedford, on 29th January 1912.
Many friends and the Howard family, including Sir Frederick Howard, attended Fanny’s funeral at the Howard Congregational Church. The grave was lined with evergreens at the cemetery, and many beautiful wreaths included “With sorrowful regret, from Sir Frederick Howard.” Grave Reference D4. 62.
On 6th January 1915, Sir Frederick Howard died. In around 1928, Abbey House became a Barnardo’s Home, providing care for children with learning difficulties; it finally closed in August 1969. The Bedford Girls’ School now occupies the premises.
Researched by Linda Ayres
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 2 February 1912
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