Curator Talk Podcast: Episode 4, The Nanny Diaries, Part 1 Transcript
Hello, my name is Heather Stracey and I am the Collections, Archives & Local Studies Officer at The Amelia. Welcome to part one of The Nanny Diaries: Edith Beadle in Mandatory Palestine., I’ll be talking you through a series of letters written in the 1920s and 1930s by a local lady called Edith Rose Beadle. The letters were donated to our institution in 2016 by Edith Beadle’s niece, Cythia Anne. We are incredibly lucky that Edith’s family held on to her letters all that time. Little did she know that we would be sharing her amazing story with you over 90 years later.
Firstly, let me tell you a bit about who Edith Beadle was. Edith was born on 10 July 1895 in Reigate in Surrey. She had four siblings: two brothers (Jim and Son) and two sisters (Monnie and May), all whom she mentions in her letters. Most of the letters that Edith wrote were addressed to her mother and father (Florence and Edward Beadle), who lived in Rusthall in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Other letters were addressed to her siblings or close friends.
So, how did Edith end up in Palestine? Well, in April 1925 Edith, aged 30, boarded the ‘Narkunda’ and set sail for Jerusalem, waving goodbye to England and her beloved family. The reason for this big adventure was Edith’s employer, Lieutenant Colonel William Hudson. He was a Postmaster and was sent to manage a Post Office in Jerusalem.
Edith’s boarding pass states that she was a ‘Nurse’. Edith was not a medical nurse (as many would associate her being today). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a nanny was often referred to as a nurse. Nurses were typically female and were often found in higher income homes. In some cases, nurses were senior members of staff and managed their own area of the household. In Edith’s case she managed a suite of rooms called the nursery. Edith’s post involved caring for and educating the Hudson’s daughter, Felicity (affectionately known as Tootie or Baby). She is mentioned frequently in Edith’s letters. The Hudsons were well prepared for Tootie’s birth and employed Edith prior to her arrival. Therefore, Edith was already in Jerusalem when she was born on 24 June 1925 and began caring for Tootie the minute she and Mrs Hudson arrived home from hospital.
Whilst in Jerusalem, Edith wrote regularly to her family, at times every other day. Her letters shed light on her relationship with the Hudsons, the political situation in Palestine, and her day-to-day life there.
This podcast has three parts. You are currently listening to part one, in which I am going to talk you through Edith’s relationship with the Hudsons. I will cover the political situation in Palestine and her day to day life there in parts two and three.
So, what was Edith’s relationship with the Hudsons like and how did it differ from most other nurse/ employer relationships?
Edith’s relationship with Mr Hudson and his wife Joan was interesting to say the least. Life for a nurse in the early twentieth century was often full of emotional and social tensions, and this often led to the nurses leaving their post. However, this was not the case for Edith. She did leave the Hudson family eventually, but for a very different reason.
Life for a nurse in the early twentieth century was often emotionally and socially tense. One of the main reasons for this was nurses acted as surrogate mothers but had no children of their own.
In Edith’s case, Tootie treated her like a surrogate mother, and it is evident in Edith’s letters that this sometimes caused tension with Mrs Hudson. Mrs Hudson, being Tootie’s biological mother, felt at times that she was missing out on Tootie’s development. Tootie was very attached to Edith and occasionally Edith worried that Mrs Hudson felt that Tootie preferred Edith to her. On 21 May 1927, Edith wrote ‘she [Tootie] can’t bear me out of her sight […] if she misses me she hunts all around the rooms and this morning finished up hammering on the lavatory door calling Nanna until I came out’. Although Mrs Hudson felt envious at times, which led to her spending more time with Felicity as time went on (for example, taking her to parties instead of Edith), she did not begrudge Edith. She had employed Edith to look after Tootie after all. Edith was simply doing her job.
Furthermore, in a couple of her letters Edith rants to her mother about Mrs Hudson’s attempts to cut her nights-out short. On 11 January 1930 Edith wrote to her family about a Christmas party she had attended. Her letter reads ‘well I rolled in at a quarter to twelve […] They were in bed with their door open and Mrs H said, oh we telephoned through to the Rev. Maxwell about a quarter of an hour ago as it was getting so late and he said you had all just left for this direction. I felt furious and she knew it too, that’s the third time she’s done that sort of thing’. Edith perceived Mrs Hudson’s need to check up on her as intrusive, however, it can also be seen that Mrs Hudson cared about Edith a lot. Mrs Hudson worried about Edith when she was out late at night, just like a mother worries about a daughter. It is likely that Mrs Hudson was just making sure Edith was safe.
It is clear from Edith’s letters that Mrs Hudson thought very highly of her, and any feelings of envy never lasted long. Mrs Hudson was very affectionate towards Edith. She personally looked after Edith whenever she felt ill (and vice versa). Mrs Hudson always wrote to Edith’s mother Florence Beadle to update her on Edith’s state of health. She permitted Edith to have friends or guests over for tea whenever she and Mr Hudson were away. She also gave Edith dresses and clothes that no longer fit her, like a sister/mother passing her clothes down to a sister/daughter. The clothes were often new or expensive. On 31 October 1931 Edith wrote ‘Mrs Hudson gave me such a pretty blue dress yesterday, its one she had made last winter but is too tight for her’. Mrs Hudson trusted Edith completely. Edith mentions in her letters that Mrs Hudson allowed her to take Felicity away on mini holidays, just the two of them. Edith was also left in charge of the household whenever Mr and Mrs Hudson were not there.
The Hudsons were always showing Edith how much they appreciated her, primarily by giving her gifts or time off. For example, on 18 March 1927 Edith wrote to her family about a play she was going to see called “The Gondoliers”. The Hudsons bought Edith a ticket to say thank you for all her hard work. Not only did they buy Edith a ticket, but they also bought an extra ticket so that Edith could take a friend, and a big bag of chocolates for her to enjoy during the play.
Mr Hudson was also very fond of Edith. Because he worked long hours he is not mentioned as frequently as Mrs Hudson in Edith’s letters, but it is obvious from what Edith wrote about him that he treated Edith very well (like a daughter), and Edith respected him.
Edith made the decision to leave the Hudson family in 1932. She wrote to her mother on 19 March 1932 admitting “I’m looking forward ever so much to coming home but hate to think of leaving Tootie at the same time”. It is important to mention that Edith did not decide to leave the Hudsons because she was unhappy working for them. She left because she missed England and her family. Furthermore, whilst in Jerusalem she often fell ill and being so far from home frightened her. Mrs Hudson was heartbroken when Edith announced that she was resigning. On 7 May 1932, Edith wrote ‘Mrs H is worrying a lot because I have decided not to come back to Jerusalem and she can’t bear the thoughts of anybody else [employing a new nurse]. Mrs Hudson tried to persuade Edith to continue working for her in Jerusalem on more than one occasion. It is evident that Mrs Hudson cared for Edith and relied on her a great deal.
As mentioned earlier nannies traditionally worked as servants in large, typically aristocratic households and usually reported directly to the lady of the house. They existed in a space between the family and the domestic staff, and oftentimes were not accepted by either class. It was often a lonely life. Many British nannies were mistreated and ended up leaving their post or marrying and escaping their post.
However, the opposite was true for Edith. it is clear from the collection of letters that she was extremely happy in her role. She worked for the Hudsons for eight years. When she finally left the family in 1933, she went to work for Mrs Hudson’s sister, Miss Blanche Badcock, and visited the Hudson’s whenever they came back to England. Edith and Felicity remained close right up to Felicity’s death in December 1977.
Sign up to our newsletter
Follow all the updates from The Amelia, sign up today