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Edith’s Predicament

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posted by alias raaen99 on Sunday 4th of September 2022 07:37:03 AM

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients. Today we are in the little maid’s room off the Cavendish Mews kitchen, which serves as Edith, Lettice’s maid’s, bedroom. The room is very comfortable and more spacious than the attic she shared with her friend and fellow maid, Hilda, in her last position. The room is papered with floral sprigged wallpaper, and whilst there is no carpet, unlike Lettice’s bedroom, there are rugs laid over the stained floorboards. The room is big enough for Edith to have a comfortable armchair and tea table as well as her bed, a chest of drawers and a small wardrobe. Best of all, the room has central heating, so it is always warm and cosy on cold nights. Friends of Lettice, newlyweds Margot and Dickie Channon, have been gifted a Recency country “cottage residence” called ‘Chi an Treth’ (Cornish for ‘beach house’) in Penzance as a wedding gift by the groom’s father, the Marquess of Taunton. Margot in her desire to turn ‘Chi an Treth’ from a dark Regency house to a more modern country house flooded with light, has commissioned Lettice to help redecorate some of the rooms in a lighter and more modern style, befitting a modern couple like the Channons. Lettice has decamped to Penzance for a week where she is overseeing the painting and papering of ‘Chi an Treth’s’ drawing room, dining room and main reception room, before fitting it out with a lorryload of new and repurposed furnishings, artwork and objets d’arte that she has had sent down weeks prior to her arrival. In her mistress’ absence, Edith has more free time on her hands, and so she is spending the morning pleasurably laying out some new fabric that she recently bought from a haberdasher’s in Whitechapel and cutting out the pieces for a new frock she has been wanting to make for a few weeks, but hasn’t had the time to do so before now owing to Lettice having her future sister-in-law as a houseguest. Today is Tuesday and on Tuesdays, every third Thursday of the month and occasionally after a big party, Mrs. Boothby, Lettice’s charwoman*, comes from her home in Poplar to do all the hard jobs. Edith is so emersed in running her hands joyfully over the soft cotton fabric featuring sprigs of pretty blue flowers that she doesn’t hear the familiar sounds of Mrs. Boothby as she climbs the service stairs of Cavendish Mews: her footfall in her low heeled shoes that she proudly tells Edith came ‘practically new from Petticoat Lane**’, nor the fruity cough that comes from deep within her wiry little body. “Morning dearie!” Mrs. Boothby calls cheerily as she comes through the servants’ entrance door into the kitchen. “Oh, morning Mrs. Boothby,” Edith calls in reply through her bedroom door. “I’m in here.” The old Cockney woman’s head appears around the doorframe, her wiry grey hair hidden beneath a dark blue cloche hat, another purchase from Petticoat Lane, which frames her heavily wrinkled face. “Aye! Aye!” she says good naturedly with a cheery smile. “What ‘ave we ‘ere then? Whilst the cat’s away.” Edith’s face flushes with embarrassment at Mrs. Boothby’s remark. “Oh I’m only teasin’, dearie!” the old woman laughs, emitting another fruity cough from deep within her lungs as she does so. “What’s that what you’re doin’ then?” “Well, with Miss Lettice being away,” Edith replies a little coyly. “I have a bit more free time, so I thought I’d make the most of it and cut out the pattern for a new frock I’m making. I was hoping to have it finished in time for summer, for when Frank and I went walking in Hyde Park, but I suppose Autumn is as good as summer for a new frock.” “Course it is, dearie!” Mrs. Boothby concurs. She bends down with a groan and picks up a copy of Weldon’s*** Dressmaker magazine off the floor by the foot of Lettice’s armchair and looks at the four smart outfits on the front cover. “Any time’s the perfect time for a new frock if you ask me – ‘specially when someone is as pretty as you! What a picture you’ll look steppin’ out with Frank Ledbetter in that pretty pattern.” She scruitinises the fabric, admiring the blue flowers interwoven with stems and leaves in olive green on a cream background. “That come from Mrs. Minkin’s then?” “It does, Mrs. Boothby,” beams Edith. “I can’t thank you enough for telling me about her. She’s a much better haberdasher than the old one I used to use in Holborn.” “I should fink she would be,” Mrs. Boothby replies loftily with an appreciative nod. “We East Enders know better ‘n anyone ‘bout how to sew and patch a dress, and turn a silk purse from a sow’s ear, ‘cause that’s all we get.” “Mrs. Minkin is so generous. Look. She gave me these buttons as a gift.” She withdraws a card of six faceted Art Deco glass buttons and wafts them in front of the old charwoman. “Aye. She’s a gooden, that one. Not all Russian Yids**** is like that Golda Friedman what goes round my rookery***** wiv ‘er nose in the air like she was the Queen of Russia ‘erself. Mrs. Minkin’s taken a shine to you, that’s for certain. Tried to marry you off to one of her sons yet, ‘as she?” Edith blushes again. “Well, she did, until I explained to her that I was stepping out with Frank.” “Well, them Yids tend to marry uvver Yids anyways, so I s’pose it don’t matter that much. She’ll still treat you like ‘er surrogate daughter ‘til one of ‘em marries, and even then, she’ll probably still treat you special ‘cause youse so nice to ‘er, ‘cause you’re such a good girl.” “Oh I don’t know about that, Mrs. Boothby,” Edith scoffs. “I just treat people as I’d like to be treated. Isn’t that what we all learned in Sunday School.” “I’m not much of a church goer myself, but that’s one rule I do know and agree wiv, dearie. Nah, thinkin’ of treatin’ folk, I ain’t ‘alf parched after me trip up from Poplar this mornin!” “Was the traffic bad again, Mrs. Boothby?” “Bad? You should’ve seen the traffic at Tottenham Court Road, dearie! Quite bunged up it was! Nah, ‘ow about a nice reviving cup of Rosie-Lee*****, eh?” “Oh, of course, Mrs. Boothby.” Edith says cheerily, pushing herself up off her knees and standing up. A short while later, Edith and Mrs. Boothby are seated around Edith’s deal table which dominates the floorspace of the Cavendish Mews kitchen. “Ta!” Mrs Boothby says. “Lovely.” She accepts the cup of tea proffered to her by Edith, and sticks a biscuit from the Hunley and Palmers******* tin on the table between her teeth and then starts fossicking through her capacious beaded bag before withdrawing her cigarette papers, Swan Vestas and tin of Player’s Navy Cut. Rolling herself a cigarette she reaches over to the deal dresser and grabs the black pottery ash tray Edith keeps for her. Lighting her cigarette with a satisfied sigh and one more of her fruity coughs, Mrs. Boothby settles back happily in the Windsor chair she sits in with her cigarette in one hand and the biscuit in the other. Edith shudders almost imperceptibly. She hates the older woman’s habit of smoking indoors. When she lived with her parents, neither smoked in the house. Her mother didn’t smoke at all: it would have been unladylike to do so, and her father only smoked a pipe when he went down to the local pub. Nevertheless, she knows this is Mrs. Boothby’s morning ritual, and for all the hard work that the old woman does around the flat, Edith cannot deny her one of her few pleasures. “I do like a nice ‘Untley and Palmer******* breakfast biscuit to go wiv me Rosie-Lee?” Mrs. Boothby sighs as she munches loudly on the biscuit, spilling a shower of golden brown crumbs into her lap as she speaks. “I’m glad Mrs. Boothby,” Edith replies genuinely pleased as she pours herself a cup of tea. “So dearie,” Mrs. Boothby queries. “Gonna whip your frock up on the sewin’ machine this afternoon are you?” “This afternoon?” Edith looks questioning at Mrs. Boothby. “Yes dearie, nah that you ‘ave the time on your ‘ands. Are you gonna stitch it up on your sewin’ machine?” “Oh, I don’t have a sewing machine, Mrs. Boothby.” Edith adds sugar and milk to her tea and stirs her cup. “Not got a sewin’ machine, dearie?” Mrs. Boothby draws deeply on her cigarette. “No, Mrs. Boothby. There has never been one here, ever since I came to Cavendish Mews. No, I’ll take the cut pieces down to Mum’s when I visit her later in the week. She has a little Singer******** treadle that I can use.” “Can you buy yourself one?” “At forty pounds? I hardly think so!” “You could get one through hire purchase********.” “If I can’t afford one of Mrs. Minkin’s dressed hats, how can I possibly afford a sewing machine, even on hire purchase, Mrs. Boothby?” “Well, can’t Miss Lettice buy you one then, dearie?” A plume of bluish grey smoke bursts forth in a tumbling cloud from the old woman’s mouth as she speaks. Edith shakes her head as she selects a biscuit from the tin. “There’s no call for it, Mrs. Boothby. I seldom have to do any mending. Miss Lettice has Mr. Bruton mend any clothes for her. If she tears one of her stockings she simply goes and orders a new pair. The same can be said for any other article of clothing Mr. Bruton doesn’t make for her.” “Lawd, to be that rich that I could toss a torn pair of stockings in the dustbin and buy a new pair wivvout thinkin’ twice!” “I know. It seems like a wicked extravagance to me too, but I suppose Miss Lettice has always lived her life like that.” “Yes,” Mrs. Boothby nods sagely as she slurps her tea loudly. “The ‘aves and ‘ave nots.” “And any repairs required to the linen are done by the commercial laundry we use. No, I’ll take the pieces down to Mum’s and I can spend the afternoon there and sew it up then. She won’t mind.” “Course she won’t mind, dearie. I just fink it’s a shame you don’t ‘ave your own sewin’ machine to make your own frocks on.” “I get by well enough Mrs. Boothby, and Mum knows that if she ever wants to give up using it, I’ll have her Singer.” The old charwoman nods and contemplates as she looks at Edith over the top of her own tea cup through the curtain of blueish grey cigarette smoke as she sips her tea. An hour and a half later when Mrs. Boothby has finished scrubbing the bathroom, washing the kitchen linoleum and polishing the drawing room and dining room floors, she pops her head around Edith’s bedroom door again, where the young maid kneels laying out crisp white tissue paper patterns that she pins to the fabric before cutting them out with her shears. “Well, I’ll be off then, Edith dearie! I’ll see you Thursday.” Edith looks up, her shears clasped in her right hand. “Yes, see you Thursday Mrs. Boothby. Even if I go down to Mum’s on Thursday, I’ll still be here in the morning to let you in.” “Alright dearie. I’ll do Miss Lettice’s bedroom floor and the ‘allways on Thursday, and I’ll do the black leading. I’ll ‘elp you turn Miss Lettice’s mattress too, like we talked about.” “Very good Mrs. Boothby.” Mrs. Boothby looks down across Edith’s little chamber and takes in the Weldon’s and Lady’s World Fancy Workbook********** magazines scattered across the floor, Edith’s precious lacquered sewing box, a gift from her mother, from which spill knitting needles, spools of thread, pins and a tape measure, cards of buttons from Mrs, Minkin’s Haberdashery, her shears and the patterns for several fashionable frocks. The old Cockney sighs. “Is anything wrong Mrs. Boothby?” Edith asks, her own face filling with concern as she stares up into the thought filled face of the older woman. “Well, I was just thinkin’ dearie.” She squeezes her pointy chin between her thumb and index finger thoughtfully. “Yes, Mrs. Boothby?” “’Ow long is Miss Lettice away for?” “At least until mid next week. She’s gone to redecorate Mr. and Mrs. Channon’s house down in Penzance and she is staying for an extra day or two afterwards to gauge their happiness with her designs and organise any changes. I think Mr. Bruton will be going down too at the end, as he is supposed to be bringing her back up to London in his motor.” “So she’ll still be gone on Friday?” “I certainly expect so. Why do you ask, Mrs. Boothby.” “Well, I was just thinkin’ dearie, that I might ‘ave a solution for your sewin’ machine problem. Can you come dahn to my ‘ouse in Poplar on Friday afternoon when I finish work about midday?” “I suppose so, Mrs. Boothby.” the young girl replies, rather perplexed. “But why?” “Oh, never you mind nah, dearie. Give me a few days to see if I can’t sort somethin’ out. I’ll come pick you up about ‘alf twelve from ‘ere. Alright dearie?” She smiles broadly at Edith, showing her badly nicotine stained teeth, but the smile is a kindly one. “Very well, Mrs. Boothby.” Edith replies with her own bemused smile. “I’ll be ready. What do I need to bring.” “Oh just yourself, dearie. Nuffink more. Well, ta-ta then dearie. Till Friday.” And the old woman shuffles out, her familiar footfall announcing her departure. *A charwoman, chargirl, or char, jokingly charlady, is an old-fashioned occupational term, referring to a paid part-time worker who comes into a house or other building to clean it for a few hours of a day or week, as opposed to a maid, who usually lives as part of the household within the structure of domestic service. In the 1920s, chars usually did all the hard graft work that paid live-in domestics would no longer do as they looked for excuses to leave domestic service for better paying work in offices and factories. **Petticoat Lane Market is a fashion and clothing market in Spitalfields, London. It consists of two adjacent street markets. Wentworth Street Market and Middlesex Street Market. Originally populated by Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Spitalfields became a center for weaving, embroidery and dying. From 1882, a wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in eastern Europe settled in the area and Spitalfields then became the true heart of the clothing manufacturing district of London. 'The Lane' was always renowned for the 'patter' and showmanship of the market traders. It was also known for being a haven for the unsavoury characters of London’s underworld and was rife with prostitutes during the late Victorian era. Unpopular with the authorities, as it was largely unregulated and in some sense illegal, as recently as the 1930s, police cars and fire engines were driven down ‘The Lane’, with alarm bells ringing, to disrupt the market. ***Created by British industrial chemist and journalist Walter Weldon Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal was the first ‘home weeklies’ magazine which supplied dressmaking patterns. Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal was first published in 1875 and continued until 1954 when it ceased publication. ****The word Yid is a Jewish ethnonym of Yiddish origin. It is used as an autonym within the Ashkenazi Jewish community, and also used as slang. When pronounced in such a way that it rhymes with did by non-Jews, it is commonly intended as a pejorative term. It is used as a derogatory epithet, and as an alternative to, the English word 'Jew'. It is uncertain when the word began to be used in a pejorative sense by non-Jews, but some believe it started in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century when there was a large population of Jews and Yiddish speakers concentrated in East London, gaining popularity in the 1930s when Oswald Mosley developed a strong following in the East End of London. *****A rookery is a dense collection of housing, especially in a slum area. The rookeries created in Victorian times in London’s East End were notorious for their cheapness, filth and for being overcrowded. ******Rosie-Lee is Cockney slang for tea, and it is one of the most well-known of all Cockney rhyming slang. *******Huntley and Palmers is a British firm of biscuit makers originally based in Reading, Berkshire. The company created one of the world’s first global brands and ran what was once the world’s largest biscuit factory. Over the years, the company was also known as J. Huntley and Son and Huntley and Palmer. Huntley and Palmer were renown for their ‘superior reading biscuits’ which they promoted in different varieties for different occasions, including at breakfast time. ********The Singer Corporation is an American manufacturer of consumer sewing machines, first established as I. M. Singer & Co. in 1851 by Isaac M. Singer with New York lawyer Edward C. Clark. Best known for its sewing machines, it was renamed Singer Manufacturing Company in 1865, then the Singer Company in 1963. In 1867, the Singer Company decided that the demand for their sewing machines in the United Kingdom was sufficiently high to open a local factory in Glasgow on John Street. The Vice President of Singer, George Ross McKenzie selected Glasgow because of its iron making industries, cheap labour, and shipping capabilities. Demand for sewing machines outstripped production at the new plant and by 1873, a new larger factory was completed on James Street, Bridgeton. By that point, Singer employed over two thousand people in Scotland, but they still could not produce enough machines. In 1882 the company purchased forty-six acres of farmland in Clydebank and built an even bigger factory. With nearly a million square feet of space and almost seven thousand employees, it was possible to produce on average 13,000 machines a week, making it the largest sewing machine factory in the world. The Clydebank factory was so productive that in 1905, the U.S. Singer Company set up and registered the Singer Manufacturing Company Ltd. in the United Kingdom. *********The hire purchase agreement was developed in Britain in the Nineteenth Century to allow customers with a cash shortage to make an expensive purchase they otherwise would have to delay or forgo. These contracts are most commonly used for items such as automobiles and high-value electrical goods where the purchasers are unable to pay for the goods directly. However in the 1920s and 1930s, they were also available for furnishings such as lounge suites and bedroom suites. **********Published by Horace Marshall and Son of London since the 1850s, the Lady’s World Fancy Work Book, like Weldon’s, was a magazine which supplied dressmaking knitting, crochet and embroidery patterns. It was published quarterly on the first of the month in January, April, July and October. This cheerful and busy domestic scene is not all it seems to be at first glance, for it is made up of part of my 1:12 size dollhouse miniatures collection. Fun things to look for in this tableau include: The copies of Weldon’s Dressmaker and the Lady’s World Fancy Work Book are 1:12 size miniatures made by the British miniature artisan Ken Blythe. Most of the books I own that he has made may be opened to reveal authentic printed interiors. In some cases, you can even read the words, depending upon the size of the print! I have quite a large representation of Ken Blythe’s work in my collection, but so little of his real artistry is seen because the books that he specialised in making are usually closed, sitting on shelves or closed on desks and table surfaces. In this case, the magazines are non-opening, however what might amaze you is that all Ken Blythe’s books and magazines are authentically replicated 1:12 scale miniatures of real volumes. To create something so authentic to the original in such detail and so clearly, really does make this a miniature artisan piece. Ken Blythe’s work is highly sought after by miniaturists around the world today and command high prices at auction for such tiny pieces, particularly now that he is no longer alive. I was fortunate enough to acquire pieces from Ken Blythe prior to his death about four years ago, as well as through his estate via his daughter and son-in-law. His legacy will live on with me and in my photography which I hope will please his daughter. I hope that you enjoy this peek at just one of hundreds of his books that I own, and that it makes you smile with its sheer whimsy! The Superior Quality buttons on cards are in truth tiny beads. They, along with the spool of cotton in the foreground, the sewing box, the spools of cottons pincushion, tape measure, silver embroidery scissors and the knitting needles in it all come from various online shops who sell dollhouse miniatures. The patterns for three afternoon dresses are genuine 1922 modes and come from Chic Parisien Beaux-Arts de Modes and are modes 386, 387 and 388. The shears with black handles on the fabric open and close. Made of metal, they came from Doreen Jeffries’ Small Wonders Miniature Shop in the United Kingdom. The fabric is real, and is a small corner of a few metres I acquired to have made into a shirt. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the pattern. The corner of Edith’s armchair that can be seen in the top of the photo is upholstered in blue chintz, and is made to the highest quality standards by J.B.M. Miniatures. The back and seat cushions come off the body of the armchair, just like a real piece of furniture. The floorboards are a print of a photo taken of some floorboards that I scaled to 1:12 size to try and maintain a realistic look.

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