Ada Marion Jefferis (1884-1981): An Introduction

‘People talk of the “Good Old Days.” In some ways they were. But in many ways we live in a better society today.’ (18)


St. Paul’s Church Wokingham, 1900 – Ada was christened here

Ada Marion Jefferis, born 10th July 1884, grew up as the fifth member of the Knight family in the parish of All Saints Wokingham, Berkshire. Though two of her brothers died before she was born, the image of a close-knit nuclear family is portrayed from the outset of her memoir. Ada’s parents, John and Emma Knight, are represented as loving, down to earth people. Her father worked on Bill Hill Estate which was owned by Captain Leveson Gower and her mother was a housewife. As a lady’s maid, Ada didn’t enter at the bottom of the big house hierarchy for servants, which would have been a kitchen maid or skivvy. Therefore, it seems her parents had prepared Ada well to get a ‘good place’ and this is one of the reasons, perhaps, that her future family life was secure and comfortable. This illustrates that Ada, like many of the autobiographers on this site who were born to semi-skilled fathers, “remained within the same vocational bracket” (Rogers and Cuming, 2019, p.191). Servant families were often looked after well by good employers who saw them as part of their own household/family in some senses.

Ada and her family appear to have lived a relatively untroubled life, where hardship was non-existent in the constrains of their comfortable working-class lifestyle. When Ada was promoted to lady’s maid for a family in Clapham after it being discovered that she “was quite clever with [the] needle” (7), the only complaint she made is that the lady of the house was “very fussy about the temperature of the rooms” (7) and that she found this “very difficult” (7). This portrays Ada’s easy-going personality. However, in comparison to other author blogs on this site, written on servants, Ada was treated well and was often taken to Ramsgate beach.

A Victorian Lady’s Maid

Poverty is briefly brushed over when Ada describes the “Gentlemen of the Road” (5), as “Tramps” (5), who were “very dirty and ragged” (5) and would carry around “their worldy goods” (5). She later suggests that although there is still poverty in today’s society, there is “not so much dire distress as in the days when there was nothing but the workhouse facing the poor” (18). This again represents her advantaged position in society and her reflection on what life used to be like.

Ada is one of 45 women who documented their whole life from childhood to adulthood in Burnett’s Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies. We are taken on a journey where we are introduced to Ada going to school at six years old, to the end of her life when she was living with her daughter in Oxford at ninety-six. The close relationship between Ada and her brother, Walter, is clearly shown throughout and you can see how much she values him. It’s interesting how their relationship progresses from page 1: “I was very fortunate that my big brother was often available to give me a pick-a-back when I got tired”, to page 18: “His return to Canada came all too quickly I was very sad to see him go…and he had left me with happy memories.” The bond demonstrates the importance of family to Ada and brings the memoir to a full cycle. 

There is a contrast between the main themes of the memoir, where light-heartedness is placed next to historical life-changing events An example of this would be the growing popularity of bicycles and the frequent visibility of aeroplanes, intertwined with the theme of war. Ada shares her love for London and how she loved to go sight-seeing and shopping, as well as walking on top of the Tower Bridge. Moving houses is a recurring theme throughout where Ada uses this time to share the connections that she has had with the Royal family. Her husband worked for the Duke and Duchess of Teck (parents of Queen Mary) when he was engaged to Ada and, later on, they moved to Sutton Courtenay where both Edward the Seventh and Edward the Eighth were frequent visitors of their neighbours.

Sutton Courtenay High Street – Old Photo Postcard 1905-1910

Although the memoir is written by Ada’s daughter, Elsie Lock (who is unnamed throughout), you can really sense Ada’s tone of voice whilst she dictates her memories. It almost feels like you are sat in the room with them on a Sunday afternoon, reminiscing over a “cup of tea” (3) with a “lardy cake” (3). Other than me sharing the same birth date as Ada (10th July), it is her conversational tone and her outlook on life that has attracted me the most. It is apparent that things are purposefully left out as she fails to mention any negative aspects of her life and she admits that there are many things that she forgot to talk about, but this leaves room for the reader to determine the purpose of the memoir and the intended audience. 

Whilst this is a short memoir sitting at 7000 words covering 19 pages of handwritten text, the simple title embodies the content of the autobiography and the life represented by Ada Marion Jefferis. Although the account may be fragmented where Ada jumps from one story to the next, her reflections provide an invitation into the past and the life of a servant and eventually a servant’s wife. 

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.

Images:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *