Working Women In Victorian Britain

These photos are from a book by Michael Hiley. They show Victorian women in their working clothes. We owe many of these fascinating photos, sketches, and detailed descriptions of Victorian working women to Arthur Munby, who interviewed many, and collected their photographs as well as their stories.

Housemaids, early 1860’s. They are dressed in their best for the photographer, but look at their hands. From Victorian Working Women.

South Wales Mine Tip Girls, 1865. From Victorian Working Women.

London Milkwomen in 1864 and 1872. From Victorian Working Women.

Women mine workers in trousers at Wigan, 1860s. From Victorian Working Women.

Yorkshire girls collecting limpets and other fishbait; 1860. From Victorian Working Women. Their skirts and petticoats appear to be tucked up into their belts in back.

Arthur Munby standing beside Ellen Grounds, a “pit wench” at Wigan. 1866. Right, a photo of Ellen Grounds in her “Sunday best.” Munby stood next to Ellen in this photograph to show how tall she was.

A Strange Romance.

The story of Arthur Munby, barrister, Cambridge M.A., civil servant, diarist, poet, friend of many other writers and of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, popular in high society, and obsessed with Victorian working women, is almost incredible. Utterly middle-class, but not wealthy enough to cut loose from the conventions of society, Munby fell in love with a “maid of all work” — about the lowest form of domestic servant — named Hannah Cullwick. They were both in their twenties. After a chaste courtship of almost twenty years, they married in 1873, but — as much by her wish as by his — she continued to pretend to be his servant.
Hannah Cullwick, maid of all work; at right, Hannah “in her dirt.” from Victorian Working Women. She was strong enough to lift her husband off the ground and carry him around. He liked it.

36 thoughts on “Working Women In Victorian Britain

  1. (1) Those housemaids have modern ones beaten hands down.
    (2) Grunge girls.
    (3) Would ya look at those milk jugs?
    (4) Pants and pans. #ShovelReadyJob
    (5) The Incredible Mr. Limpet has a mind to bait those girls.
    (6) A pit wench doesn’t have a pinch o’ wit.
    (7) Hannah Cullwick lifted Arthur Munby off the ground because she didn’t want him standing “in her dirt.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would have to say not. But then again, men are not as tough as those who fought in two world wars either. We have all had it too easy since the 1960s, in my opinion.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Women have worked in lots of places that seem incredible to believe, although those were working-class women, of course. As you say, children and women worked in the narrower parts of mines, where men wouldn’t easily reach, the same as children worked in factories because they could get in between the machinery. Munby and his wife sound fascinating. Thanks, Pete!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Women worked actually deep down inside mines at one time, and female children too. That was changed by law, because of their habit of being ‘barely dressed and shamefully exposed’ in the hot dusty conditions. The women shown here are working at the top of the mine, outside. They sorted coal using sieves, and also worked on the slag-heaps.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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