Edith Bundy: a servant’s life in Clarence Road

Edith Bundy was one of around 400 live-in servants employed in Pittville in the census year of 1841. Servants were everywhere in Pittville: as well as the live-in servants, many other people from Fairview, Mount Pleasant, and elsewhere in Cheltenham would have been employed as dailies or occasional staff in Pittville. Edith worked in one of the smaller houses, No 3 Clarence Road, next to what is now the Holst Birthplace Museum – in a row that was originally called “Pittville Terrace”. Her duties would have been wide-ranging, as she had only fifteen-year-old Mary Bullingham to help her keep the house clean, prepare the meals, and generally “do” for the six ladies of independent means (aged themselves from 15 to 65) who occupied the “upstairs” of the house.

No 3 Clarence Road

Edith was only in Pittville for a short while. Servants’ contracts were often for a year, after which time they might be renewed – or they might not. Sometimes the relationship between employer and servant lasted for many years, but the life of a servant was often precarious, and short contracts and periods of unemployment were common. Edith’s own life illustrates starkly the ups and downs of life “below stairs”.

She was born Edith Gardner, the illegitimate daughter of Martha Gardner of Corse, near Gloucester, and was baptised at St Nicholas, Gloucester on 23 May 1819 along with her brother (perhaps twin) Cornelius. Within two years her mother had married a stonemason called George Bundy, and Edith and her brother adopted their stepfather’s surname and lived with the steadily growing Bundy family.

At the time of the 1841 census Edith Bundy was twenty, and had left home and entered service at 3 Clarence Road, the home of Hannah Osborne and her family. Edith’s mother Martha, her brother Cornelius, and her four half-siblings were still living at Corse.

[Right: Detail from “The Outcast” by Richard Redgrave (1851) (Public domain)]

Life did not proceed along happy lines for Edith. While working at 3 Clarence Road she became pregnant.  As happened with so many young women in this situation, she found herself without employment and unable to support herself. In July 1843 she sought help from the parish of Cheltenham, but Cheltenham refused to offer her any more than emergency support. The Cheltenham magistrates deemed that the parish where she was born, St Nicholas, Gloucester, was responsible for providing her parish relief.

No 3 Clarence Road, Pittville, on the Old Town Survey of 1855-7
Edith’s daughter Harriet was born in Cheltenham in the summer of 1843 and on 11 August she was baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church, Cheltenham. At the time both she and her mother were inmates of the Workhouse on the site of what is now St Paul’s Medical Centre in Swindon Road. This must have been a dreadful time for Edith.

Buildings (now demolished) which formed part of the old Cheltenham Workhouse on Swindon Road, photographed in 1978. Reproduced by kind permission: Steven Blake

In line with Poor Law policy, Edith would have been removed as soon as possible after the birth of her baby back to her own birth parish of St Nicholas, Gloucester. We know that she was sent back there, because sadly her baby daughter Harriet was buried there, aged eleven months, on 5 July 1844.

We have no record of Edith working in Cheltenham again. With no real ties to the area, she took work in domestic service where she could find it. By 1851 she was a dairymaid in Upton Bishop, near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, and in 1861 – now aged 42 – she was a house servant to a stockbroker in Friern Barnet in Middlesex. Ten years later, in her fifties and still unmarried, Edith had returned to Corse, where she lived as a dressmaker, looking after her half-brother Samuel’s daughter. She died in Corse in 1880, at the age of 62, after a life of disappointment, change, but perhaps eventually some stability and happiness.

John Simpson

The Chapel, which dates from the 1880s, is the only remaining vestige
of the workhouse on what is now the site of St Paul’s medical centre