Mr Thornton Takes a Wife – Part Fifty-Three

Chapter 53 – Ever Recurring List Items: Housekeeping and Infirmary


From that day on, Margaret kept her promise to her family very faithfully.

She still performed the many duties she had imposed upon herself but she was careful not to overdo. In this she counted on the strong hands of Crispin and Justin, her two “wheelchair bearers”, as she called them. Those trustworthy, very patient men, strong of arms and cheerful of mind, carried her all day long wherever she wanted to go.

“Where to first, Mrs T?” Crispin would ask, as they presented themselves each morning in her parlour.

“Kitchen, Mr Crispin!”, Margaret would reply and settle herself firmly into her wheelchair.

John had, from the very first day, spotted that the chair might be a trifle unsafe. The risk of Margaret toppling out of it if the bearers should tilt the contraption a bit too much, had immediately come to his attention. So John, practical as ever, fitted out the chair with a seat belt of his own design. This was one of his own belts but padded with cotton waste as to not hurt Margaret’s body. She was very heavy now, at 33 weeks and the month of May three weeks old.

The first day of Margaret’s new way of doing her job, John had not left her side. He had very scrupulously observed all Crispin’s and Justin’s doings, criticized their actions whenever he saw a flaw in them and copiously sprinkled them with advise as how to improve their work. Justin, a quiet, patient man, had only smiled benignly at this but Crispin, being of a more feisty nature, had reacted frequently against the Master’s interferences. Margaret had to bid John to withdraw, at the end. John resigned himself to do so, as soon as he saw that his wife was becoming nervous under the constant bickering between him and Crispin. Reluctantly, however.


Margaret’s household staff now consisted of five members, all of them living in.

There was, of course, the faithful Adelaide Dixon, who was now housekeeper of the Thornton’s household. Directly under her was Mrs Ursula Pennywater, the widow of the former overseer at Marlborough Mills. She and her husband had been childless and Mrs Pennywater had come to work as a cook for Hannah when her husband died. Dixon had become great friends with Cook and they often spent their leisure hours together, reading or talking.

Annie Babcock, the upstairs maid, was a lively girl of twenty-two, whose father and brothers worked at the mill. She had a younger sister of twelve, Dottie, who worked as a scullery maid under Mrs Pennywater.

Last there was the laundry maid, Jenny Hawkins, who had only recently come to the household. She was eighteen and her parents and five brothers all worked for John at the mill.

These were the people Margaret conferred with at the beginning of each day.

There were meals to be decided on, the smooth running of the household to be discussed and the many other tasks to be carried out. It usually took half of the morning.


After that, Justin and Crispin carried and wheeled their mistress to the Infirmary, situated in one of the halls of Marlborough Mills. The sick and the weak amongst the workers and their families had a special place in Margaret’s heart. She was seriously planning to increase her efforts in that field after the babies would be born.

The vast space of the hall was divided into smaller spaces by wooden partitions. Each ward had their own supervising female attendant watching over the smooth running of them. These women were not real nurses. England, in the nineteenth century, had not yet training schools to that goal. It was only in that same year of 1853, that Florence Nightingale began her own training in Paris. It would not be before 1899, when the Council of Nurses was formed, that a proper training was established.

So, Margaret’s women were virtually untrained, but eager to learn and hard workers. They all received a financial reward for their work which enabled them to bring in a little money for their families.

There were, in total, eight wards, in which four types of illnesses were cared for, each with separate spaces for men and women. One was for various injuries and fractures acquired during working hours at the mill. Those were fairly frequent, so much so that Nicholas Higgins was seriously thinking of installing a committee for the improvement of safety on the premises of the mill.

A second ward provided for the sick children, boys and girls separated, of course. Another space was solely preserved for women who recently gave birth. Here mothers and their babies were properly cared for and they were allowed to bring their young children with them when there was no one to take care of them at home. A fourth ward was destined specifically for lung diseases, such as ‘brown lung disease’ or byssinosis, or in popular terms ‘fluff on the lungs’. This was the illness that caused the death of Margaret’s friend, Bessy Higgins, two years ago.

It was a vile disease, causing the sick person a great many discomforts, such as chest tightness and subsequently breathing difficulties, wheezing and coughing. The patient suffered a narrowing of the trachea in the lungs, lung scarring and, eventually death from infection or respiratory failure. There was, unfortunately not a great thing to be done for those patients. Nurses could only try to make them more comfortable.


John would always try to be at Margaret’s side when she visited the Infirmary.

He knew all too well how appalled she was on seeing the suffering of her dear patients. His Margaret had a soft and tender heart for those with a lower station in life who suffered from it. It was one of the things Margaret had taught him. Before he met her, John had not known, or not wanted to know, about the life conditions of his workers and their families.

So, he was always with his wife on moments like this. He worried, he simply did. About Margaret and his unborn babies.

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