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Hannah Cullwick

Hannah Cullwick (1833-1909) was a Victorian era diarist and domestic servant. She is known for her unusual relationship with Arthur Munby, which they both documented in diaries, letters and photographs.

Early life

Hannah was born on 26th May 1833 and raised in Shifnal, Shropshire. Her surname is pronounced as Cullwick, not Cullick. Hannah came from solid Salopian yeoman stock, not the working class origins sometimes claimed. Her father was Charles Fox Cullwick (1803-1847), a Master Saddler of Shifnal and a Burgess (Parliamentary voter) of Bridgnorth. The Cullwicks had been voters in Bridgnorth since 1630, usually voting in the Whitmore interest. And the Cullwick family had been Master Saddlers in Shropshire since the great great grandfather of Charles - Richard Cullwick of Newport (1648-c1720)- set up his saddlery business in about 1670.

Hannah's mother was Martha Owen (1800-1847), who had been a Lady's Maid to the aristocratic Mrs Eyton, the wife of Rev John Eyton, Rector of Wellington, Salop. Martha's elder brother was Richard Owen (1791-1864), a schoolmaster in Shifnal who was also parish clerk. Her two sisters - Sarah Smallman (1805-aft 1881) and Eleanor Morris (1803-1863) - were both married to farmers, Charles Skelton Smallman(1799-1877)and John Morris (1796-1885) of The Firs, Flashbrook, Adbaston.

Hannah had more than a dozen uncles and aunts and over 50 first cousins. All of them were literate and most of them were in business - as farmers, publicans and saddlers.

Charles, Hannah's father, appears to have suffered business losses and the family were subsequently very poor. There were 5 children. James (1830-1915) was the oldest. Then Hannah. Then Dick (1836-1887). Then Ellen (1839-1919). And lastly Polly (1844-1924). James was a master wheelwright and owned houses latterly. Dick was a master saddler and became a harness maker in London. Ellen married William Cook, the Registrar for Poplar in London. And Polly owned a large haberdashery store in the Ipswich Buttermarket.

All 5 children received a rudimentary schooling. Hannah was fortunate to be sent for a couple of years to the Bluecoat Charity school in Shifnal. However, money was so short that Hannah had to contribute to the family purse from the age of 8. Firstly, in the home of solicitor's wife Mrs Andrew Phillips, a friend and neighbour of the Cullwicks. Then Hannah worked in the inn next door before embarking on her long career in service.

When she was fourteen, she became sole nursemaid to the large family of Rev Robert Eyton (son of Rev John Eyton) at Ryton Rectory. That year her mother died suddenly of an infection aged 47, and her employer in the Eyton household refused to let her travel the three miles to visit her family for fear that the fever would spread to Ryton. A fortnight later her father Charles died, aged 44, leaving the 5 children (aged 16 down to 3) as orphans. James was already in a wheelwright apprenticeship with Richard Pointon in Shifnal, and Hannah was in service at Ryton Rectory. But the three youngest children needed to be housed. Dick was placed in a saddlery apprenticeship in Horsely Fields, Wolverhampton with his Uncle William Cullwick (1781-1853); Ellen lived with Aunt Small(nee Sarah Owen)on their large farm in Westbury near Albrighton; and Polly went to live with her spinster Aunt Elizabeth Cullwick (1789-1866) in Haughton, Shifnal.

Meeting with Munby

When Hannah was seventeen, she worked as under-housemaid for Lady Boughey at Aqualate Hall, Forton but was dismissed after only eight months because her mistress saw her (as she later recorded) "playing as we was cleaning our kettles."

She then obtained a position with Lady Louisa Cotes (1814-1887), wife of John Cotes of Wooodcote, Sherriffhales (1799-1874). Louisa Harriet Cotes was the daughter of Charles Cecil Cope Jenkinson, 3rd Earl of Liverpool and half brother of Robert Banks Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool and Prime Minister from 1812-1827. Lady Cotes took her to London. There, in 1854, Cullwick met Arthur Munby on one of his regular urban expeditions to investigate working women. Munby was struck by her size (5' 7-1/2", 161 lbs) and strength, combined with the nobility of character he claimed to see in working women. Cullwick saw him as an idealized gentlemen who celebrated the intense labor she did as a maid of all work. In order to be near Munby, she began to work in various middle-class households in London, including an upholsterer, a beer merchant, and widow with several daughters, as well as in lodging houses (which gave her more freedom from supervision). The two formed a lasting relationship that led to a secret marriage in 1873.

Before she met Munby, Cullwick saw a lavish musical called The Death of Sardanapalus, on the first time she had been to the theatre in her life. The musical, based on the play by Lord Byron, told of an ancient, pacifist king who loved one of his slave girls. The slave, Myrrha, loved the king, but also had her own democratic and republican desires. Cullwick identified strongly with the play's heroine.

Aspects of the relationship

Cullwick proudly referred to herself as Munby's "drudge and slave", and called him "Massa", an example of a Master/slave relationship. For much of her life, she wore a leather strap around her right wrist and a locking chain around her neck, to which Munby had a key. She wrote letters almost daily to him, describing her long hours of work in great detail. She would arrange to visit him "in my dirt", showing the results of a full day of cleaning and other domestic work. She had a particular interest in boots, cleaning hundreds each year, sometimes by licking them. She once told Munby she could tell where her "Massa" had been by how his boots tasted.

Despite her display of subservience and loyalty, Cullwick remained independent. She stood up for herself if she thought the terms of her relationship with Munby were being violated. She entered marriage with Munby reluctantly, seeing it as dependency and boredom. They were secretly married in 1873, after which she moved to his lodgings in Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple, central London, where she lived as his servant, though she sometimes played the role of his wife. She also retained her own surname and insisted that Munby continue to pay her wages, and she had her own savings. She left him far more often than he did her, and in 1877 she returned to domestic service in Shropshire. Munby was a regular visitor from 1882 until her death.

Later life

Hannah lived in several places between 1880 and 1900. She lived in Wolverhampton with her only niece, Jim's daughter Emily Griffiths Gibbs (1856-1920) nee Cullwick; then she lived for some time in Bearley near Stratford-on-Avon with Emily's father-in-law, Charles Gibbs and the elderly mother of Charles, Hannah Bonehill Gibbs and her two bachelor sons; then she moved to a cottage between Shifnal and Wellington, close to her brother Jim.

Hannah finally moved in 1903 to a small rented cottage in Wyke Place, Shifnal, owned by Jim Cullwick. Although she remained active until shortly before her death, her death on 9th July 1909 was recorded as "failure of heart action and senile decay". Aged 76, she was buried in St Andrews churchyard in Shifnal and her stone contains the words: "she was for 36 years of pure and unbroken love the wedded wife of Arthur Munby of Clifton Holme in the Wapentake of Bulmer".

Munby died the following January, aged 81. He left an estate of £26,000. He bequeathed his books and 2 deed-boxes filled with correspondence, diaries and photographs, to the British Museum. They were unable to accept this legacy, and provision was made for the items to be kept at Trinity College, Cambridge and not opened until 1950. The daughter of Emily Gibbs (Hannah's niece) was Ada Perks (1882-1971), of Bankkes Road, Small Heath, Birmingham. She asked if she could represent the Cullwick family at the opening of the boxes but was told it was a private matter. Dr. Ann Munby (great nephew of Arthur Munby) was in attendance.

Diaries

Her diaries reveal that the erotic games with Munby often included infantilism and ageplay, with Cullwick carrying Munby in her arms and holding him on her lap. Cullwick appeared in Munby's photographs in many different roles: a farm girl, a kitchen drudge, a chimney sweep with blackface, a well-dressed lady (though with her hands, unmistakably those of a working women, prominently displayed), a Magdalen, and even as a man. Her ability to take different roles delighted Munby.

Cullwick's diaries (selections of which are published as The Diaries of Hannah Cullwick, Victorian Maidservant), provide detailed information on the lives of working-class Victorian servant women. They are a record of sixteen-hour days and ritualized obeisance to middle-class men and women.

In 2003, a short independent film based on Cullwick's diaries and called On My Knees was made by Kim Wood and stars Melora Creager of Rasputina.

Sources

  • Judith Flanders. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. New York: W. W. Norton, 2004.
  • Diane Atkinson. Love and Dirt: The Marriage of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick. New York: Macmillan, 2003 (ISBN 0-333-78071-X).
  • Barry Reay. Watching Hannah: Sexuality, Horror and Bodily De-formation in Victorian England. Reaktion, 2002. (ISBN 1-86189-119-9)
  • Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sex in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge, 1995. (ISBN 0-415-90890-6)
  • Liz Stanley, ed. The Diaries of Hannah Cullwick, Victorian Maidservant. Rutgers, 1984 (ISBN 0-8135-1070-8).

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