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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.