Ada Marion Jefferis (1884-1981): Home and Family

Home and Family is a key theme in ‘The Memories of Ada Marion Jefferis’, which you can read in full here, transcribed by myself. 

“In Sutton Courtenay our house was in the village, but now we were isolated in the gardens.” (15)

Home and Family are significant themes that are prominent within Ada’s memoir. She uses places and people to help navigate her way through her dictation and to ensure her narrative is chronological from childhood to adulthood. Although Ada’s memoir is firmly rooted in the home, it feels as though we are never invited inside. We are told about the neighbours, the garden and even the distance it is to the town but never are we told about the décor or how many rooms the house has. This privacy that she demonstrates may be unintentional, but it makes it difficult to imagine the family dynamics within the home. From 53 Bill Hill Garden Cottage to Red Rice in Andover, Colonel Churchill’s estate in Longham to High Street Sutton Courtenay, and then Bozedown House in Whitchurch; they are all similarly described with little detail.

Ada’s childhood home – 53 Bill Hill Garden Cottage on Bill Hill Estate

Ada does however discuss the importance of a community and represents this as another family. Her employer’s neighbours are introduced one by one such as Sir Max Beerbohm, Mr Asquith and Colonel Lindsey. When Ada and her husband move to Bozedown House with their children Arthur and Elsie, she emphasises that “the move from Sutton Courtenay was very good from my husband’s point of view” (14). However, Ada believes that “socially we lost quite a lot” (15), and that it took them “several years to become integrated into the village life” (15). As a family, they felt alienated and “the people were not very friendly and really treated us as foreigners, even the children eyed us with suspicion” (15). This seemed to mark the “demise of village community life” (16), as travel was made a lot easier by local bus services which meant that “villages that had been completely isolated now found themselves able to visit the neighbouring towns with ease” (16). The younger people “liked the bright lights of the town” (16), whereas the town folk began to “infiltrate into the village to enjoy the peace” (16). Therefore, a different community emerged. 

It is not just Ada’s life we are told about, but her relationship with other people too. As Emma Griffin suggests, “left to their own devices, people will talk about their families, not because they cannot see the big picture, but because this is precisely the way that individuals can make sense of the big picture” (301). From the beginning, we are invited into her family of five and told quickly about the loss of her two brothers before she was born. She expresses a strong bond with her older brother Walter and older sister Elsie, and it is her sister, a head housemaid for a family in Clapham, who gets Ada a job as a maid under her. 

Ada presents her mother as a kind woman who is often pictured shopping or cooking: “Most Saturdays we went into Wokingham to do our weekly shopping. Whilst mother did this, she would leave us two girls to watch the Marionettes” (3). Often the stories that Ada dictates include her mother such as Ada’s first memory which was in her childhood home: “My earliest memory is of sitting in front of the fire playing with a box of buttons and I can just remember the consternation when my mother thought I had swallowed one” (1). Also, another fond memory of Ada’s was Harvesting which was “a great time” (5). After the harvest the children would go leasing, which meant that they would go into the fields and pick up any corn that was left behind. Her mother would take this corn to the baker, who would take it to the miller and “provide her with flour that lasted quite a long time” (5).

The Young Gleaners – Children leasing

Gender roles are specified from the beginning through Ada’s parents job roles. Ada’s mother is established as the housewife from the outset, carrying out domestic duties. Once married, it was unusual for women to work as “only 10% of married women in 1911 [were] in some form of paid work (Rose, 1992, 80). This is demonstrated through her father John, who is the primary breadwinner of the family, her brother’s efforts to find work in Canada and her sister working until she dies young without a husband. The garden is presented as her father’s which suggests that it is a masculine space: “My father had a large garden and provided us with vegetables all year round” (5). Julie-Marie Strange finds that “the vast majority of authors focused on anecdotes about their fathers rather than recounting their feelings for them” (2015, p.15). Ada does this often such as when her father walked her to the train station after her visit: “My father was with me but he was not allowed on to the station as there was a large detachment of troops on their way to France” (13). This shows that he was a caring man and would ensure that Ada was safe at all times. 

Red Rice Andover – Ada and Walter’s first home as a married couple

It is implied that homes are shaped by gender and although it goes unmentioned, Ada’s husband Walter, challenges these stereotypes. I get the impression that he is an involved father who values his family and not one who avoids the household and domestic duties. Whilst living in Andover, they “learned to love the joys of the countryside” (10), after being “petrified” (10), of the quietness. From then on, Ada and Walter spent a lot of their time cycling, going motorbike riding and visiting different parts of the villages surrounding their houses. He appears to want to spend time with his wife and he is happy to retire and live with his daughter before his untimely death.

Although Ada mentions the death of her mother in 1915 and sister in 1913 which was a “tragedy” (11) and she goes on to name her daughter Elsie after her sister (although this is unmentioned), she pays a special tribute to her brother Walter when he dies in 1955. After hearing of their adventures together and Ada’s excitement to see him when he comes home from Canada, it almost brings a tear to your eye when Ada states: “He had hoped to come and settle in England the following year but unhappily he died before this was achieved” (18). He was the only family she had left other than her son and daughter and her 12 great grandchildren. It’s interesting how after the death of her brother where she reflects on their happy memories, she goes on to discuss the present day where she mentions telephones and wireless connection. She states how “photography is another thing that has advanced enormously” (19), where memories are captured with ease. Ada inhabits a sense of wishing these technological advancements had been created earlier to see and speak to her brother more as well as having these memories in physical copy.

There are a number of aspects of family life that aren’t spoken about and “the historian finds himself asking many more questions than the autobiographers are prepared to answer” (Vincent, 1980, 226). Such as what was the illness that caused her sister Elsie’s death? How did she meet her husband? When did her father die? Why does she not tell us her son and daughters names? But most of all, Ada’s day-to-day routine is never discussed, and we are never told the duties expected of her as a wife but perhaps this would be too mundane for her to share or “improper or unnecessary to write at length” (227). 

Primary Sources:

  • 1:379 JEFFERIS, Ada Marion, ‘The Memoirs of a.M. Jefferis. Written by her Daughter’, TS, pp. 1-19 (c.7,000 words). Brunel University Library.
  • Jefferis, Ada Marion. ‘The Memoirs of A.M. Jefferis. Written by her Daughter.’ Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:379.

Secondary Sources:

  • Griffin, E. (2020). Bread Winner: An Intimate History of the Victorian Economy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
  • Rose, S. (1992). Limited Livelihoods: Gender and Class in Nineteenth-century England. California: University of California Press. 
  • Strange, JM. (2015). Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Vincent, D. (1980). Love and Death and the Nineteenth-Century Working Class. Social History, 5:2, pp. 223-247.


  • Featured Image – Victorian Family. Retrieved from:
  • Image 1 – Bill Hill Park. Retrieved from: [Accessed 29 April 2021].
  • Image 2 – The Young Gleaners. Retrieved from: [Accessed 29 April 2021].
  • Image 3 – Red Rice, Andover. Retrieved from: [Accessed 29 April 2021].

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