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How the 'angel' managing a top aristocrat's country house in Staffordshire became a 'devil' overnight

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: June 29, 2014

  • Trentham Hall gardens.

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THE stately figure of a woman employed in a country house just outside Stone in the 19th century was one which harboured a terrible dilemma - dare she tell her employer of her problem with the hope of some understanding ? The shoulders of Dorothy Doar carried a terrible burden while beneath her black bombazine dress her belly was swelling despite all efforts to hide her seven-month secret using stiff silk skirts, billowing sleeves and biting whalebone stays. The truth is that Dorothy Doar was pregnant and as a housekeeper to the Marquis of Stafford and his wife at Trentham Hall - one of five owed by the wealthy couple - she knew the penalty paid for a woman of her seniority being with child. But Dorothy was already unusual among housekeepers . . . she was a mother to a young daughter and, what is more, she was married, not to a fellow servant but to a feckless husband who lived in a cottage at nearby Handford. In 1832, she was a senior management figure responsible for every detail in the smooth running of the luxurious lifestyle lived by her employer, the Marquis of Stafford, George Granville Leveson Gower (pronounced Looshun Gore - don’t ask!), soon to become the Duke of Sutherland and reckoned second only in wealth to the royal family. They were, according to author Tessa Boase, “obscenely wealthy” and Dorothy Doar was a vital cog in an enormous machine servicing the richest, most powerful and probably most disliked family of her day. The marquis had an income of more than £200,000 a year, equivalent to £10 million in today’s money, and his wife Elizabeth had the ownership of more than a million acres of Scottish land where she - with the supervision of land agent James Loch - conducted the wicked Highland Clearances. Dorothy had charge of eight female staff whose lives were spent killing time, according to Boase in her book The Housekeeper’s Tale, the staff at each of the Staffords’ five country houses holding their breath as their wealthy employers skittered from one house to another at their own particular whim. She had to ensure that Trentham Hall looked its best for the arrival of the future Duke and Duchess, even though they spent only six weeks there each year. No sheets on furniture, fresh flowers in all vases, writing paper and ink in the bedrooms, beds well-aired, linen freshly ironed and every fireplace gleaming with brushes, black lead, emery paper and cloth. With a new baby on the way, a husband who was unemployed and a child to educate, Dorothy could only hope that she might cling to her existing job with its salary ranging between £31 and £65 a year. And then there was her status to consider . . . not far from Trentham Hall’s brick walls lay Stoke-on-Trent with its blackened bottle ovens, grim skies and slag heaps contrasting with soft woodland and Trentham’s lake. The future would look bleak for the young baby born on the edge of the city where a third of all children didn’t live past the age of five, victims of measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria and bowel disease - their Potteries-employed parents likely to suffer from lead poisoning or Potter's Rot - silicosis of the lungs Mrs Doar was by all accounts a single woman, her husband tending the needs of their daughter and hardly seeing his wife who was “married” to the needs of the Marquis of Stafford and his wife. It was Dorothy who had responsibility for the housekeeper's store cupboard and a filing system which noted every item ranging from brushes to beeswax and blacklead to china cloths. Dorothy wrote a letter to her ladyship and the Trentham agent William Lewis received a response from his senior, James Loch, reporting that “a housekeeper who has maids to look after should not be bearing children even to their husbands”. Dorothy’s response was to beg his lordship to think again or perhaps consider offering her vacant premises in Newcastle under Lyme where she might sell groceries and confectionery? At this stage it was discovered that Mrs Doar had packed eight dozen bottles of sweet wine to be sent off to her new premises. Suspicions were aroused in the mind of James Loch who immediately ordered that her room at Trentham “be well scoured”. When boxes and parcels were be opened, they displayed “a disgraceful scene of robbery”. Within hours, the pregnant Mrs Doar was removed from Trentham Hall and heading for friends said to be living in the North . . . and there the trail goes cold. Did she emigrate or enter the workhouse? Did she give birth? Either way within a few weeks of being ”an angel”, she became a devil. How dare this woman believe that she could have a baby without her world being turned upside down?

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