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Mary Anne, Cook, 1839

Mary Anne was baptised in 1839. Her father was recorded as being Muttoo Manga. However, Muttoo and Manga are Tamil names. Muttoo is a man’s name and Manga a woman’s name. This tells us that these were the names of Mary Anne’s parents and gives us clues to Mary Anne’s cultural background in India.

What follows would be a typical working day for a cook in an early Victorian house.






A Large House in Hoxton Square

Servant

My name is Mary Anne. It is August 1839, and I am 25 years old. I work as a cook in a house in Hoxton Square. This is my day.

It is 6 o’clock in the morning. I share a bed with Grace in the attic. Grace is the ‘tweenie’ (that is, the ‘between maid’ who does all the odd jobs and cleaning). And she snores.
We have to be in the kitchen by 6.30. It’s in the basement, down six flights of stairs.
I’ve put the kettle on for the mistress’s tea; Grace has lit the kitchen fire, and is lighting the one in the morning room.

Servant
Servant

I have to make tea and toast for the mistress, and porridge and coffee for the master, and take them up to their bedrooms. My Mistress’ bedroom is beautiful. It has a huge mahogany four-poster bedstead with down pillows and white dimity furniture, and a Kidderminster carpet on the floor, and a japanned dressing table with an urn and tea caddy and a spice box.

Early nineteenth century bedroom
Early nineteenth century bedroom

The kitchen is as big as the dining room, with a fireplace all along one wall with ovens on either side of it. In the middle of the room is a huge wooden table, about twice the size of my bed, I have to scrub every day. Then it’ll be time to wash up the breakfast things, clean the knives and sweep the kitchen, and clean the hearth, and the cast iron stove.
It’s ten, so, I’m starting to cook lunch.

Kitchen
Kitchen

My mother, Manga, taught me to cook when I was growing up in Madras. When I was 14 I began working for a merchant of the East India Company, a gentleman called Sharp who had travelled from London in England to India… to make his fortune, so he said. The Company had many such men and their families, come to Madras. Some days the harbour was full of sails, East India ships stacked high with cotton and silks, spices and tea.

When his family returned to England, I sailed with them on one of those ships to look after the memsahib and her little boys. They promised that they would send me straight back with a different family who were travelling out to make their fortune. But when we arrived, they had already gone, and Mr Sharp decided he didn’t need me any more.

At first I stayed in Aldgate, sharing a room with six other women, also looking for a way to earn their passage back to India. I cried every day - we all did, because I missed home. And then I found work as a cook with this family who used to live in Bombay.

Lascars
Lascars

When I first arrived here in London, I thought I might find my father, Muttoo. He was a boatman in Madras. Then he went to work as a ‘lascar’ – a sailor - for the East India Company and we didn’t see him again. So many men didn’t come back, and then those who did told of how they had been beaten, or starved, or left in foreign ports and then robbed, and the Company who employed them and promised to look after them wouldn’t do anything. So I thought I might find Muttoo, my father here - but London is so big….

Tonight there are guests for dinner, so I am even busier than usual. I’m making a consommé soup, that’s already finished; filets of sole, - can’t do them till the last minute; oh and rice with veal and tomatoes, a dish of lamb and another of roast duck, a green salad, and a rhubarb tart and a jelly for pudding.

We’ll have to wait until the dinner is finished, because Grace and I have to wash all the dishes before we can go to bed. The big copper pans will need scouring with a mixture of soap and sand, or soda…in the morning, the skin on my hands will be so dry it cracks.

Dinner party
Dinner party

Tonight, Grace is doing the donkeying – that is to serve at table; but if there are guests who have been to India, the master will ask me to cook curry and serve it myself. (The master and mistress were in India themselves for five years). I have to put on a clean apron and go up. I hate to serve at table, I am so nervous I’m sure I will drop something.

Last time, one of the gentleman said something to me in Tamil, but his accent was so bad I couldn’t understand him – so I smiled and said that he spoke very well and then ran back downstairs before he realised I didn’t understand. When I came back upstairs, he was telling my mistress that there was no point in trying to make curry in England as the spices weren’t fresh enough.

Market scene
Market scene

Tomorrow, the master and mistress are going out for dinner, so I can go to dinner with some Indian friends. We eat rice usually, because it is cheaper than bread and more filling. If I can afford it, I’ll buy fresh fish - herring or mackerel, and we’ll cook it with onion and curry powder. Usually though, I can’t afford fish. The master says that Indian servants should be paid Indian wages, but everything is so much more expensive here than in India.

Map of India
Map of India

Grace and I take it in turns to have Sundays off. It’s a shame, because we would like to go to church together. Grace did come with me when I was baptised though. Mostly, I meet up with other friends, and we go to church. Last month, I met a woman had just arrived from Madras. She says the part of town that my parents, Muttoo and Manga came from, has been bought up by the whites, and the Indian houses have been knocked down, and English mansions put in their place. I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again now. I must go – it’s nearly time to start serving dinner.

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