Articles from the Thoroton Society Newsletter

What is required of the vicar's wife?

By Margery Brown

A transcript of notes and jottings compiled, mainly between 1910 and 1917, by Mrs Francis Olive Lavinia Wiiliams, wife of Walter Hanwell Williams (Vicar of North Muskham 1905 - 1937)

She must never be tired, or ill, or out of sorts. She must never want to be like other women and have a friend in to see her or to stay a day or two to relieve the deadly monotony of a secluded village life. She must be always at the beck and call of all and sundry, to fetch and carry, and do all the odd distasteful little things that no-one else wants to do.

The Vicarage must never want cleaning like other folk’s houses, the work must be done, or ought to be, by magic, at odd times or in the night, if the parishioners don’t happen to want anything done for themselves. Food, fruit, flowers, soup, books, old linen and money, must always be on tap in plentiful quantities at the Vicarage. Sympathy must be ready to flow like water whenever asked or desired. When the lady at the Vicarage comes to die - ‘No flowers by request’, only a dustpan and brush and duster, and a bundle of those endless blisters, Parish Magazines and Mothers’ Union Journals, may be laid upon her coffin.

The verb to ‘live’ has never been conjugated at the Parson’s home, it has only been ‘exist’ in a backwater of respectable poverty, few clothes or ‘covers’, and perpetual hard work.

If Anything goes wrong in the Sunday School or Village generally, blame the Vicar and his Wife, their backs are broad enough for anything. It is so convenient to have a couple of scapegoats to put all responsibility and censure upon, so easy to be perfect when there are two downtrodden people to sit upon without any consideration or thought of their wants and feelings. How would some of the good folks of Muskham like to have to provide expensive soups, jellies, fruit and luxuries out of thirty shillings a week of housekeeping money? Let them try it and see how many nights a week they can sleep soundly and not have to lie awake planning how to make sixpence do the work of a shilling, and sometimes two. There are some good friends and true in Muskham who bring sunshine and brightness whenever they come to the Vicarage, and they are ever welcome. But for them life would be hard and dull indeed, friends who have been loyal and backed up their Vicar splendidly, all honour to them. But there are many who look upon the Vicar and his wife in many parishes as drudges only fit to toil and slave upon next to nothing a year, to look respectable, educate their children, and help to keep half the Village without a murmur. How far I wonder would they make £190 a year go, with an eighteen-roomed house to work and a garden that is a white elephant?

Many a day has the Vicar’s Wife got up early and helped with a hard morning’s washing, cooking and cleaning: got ready and been out all afternoon Visiting or taking Magazines, just got in for a hurried cup of tea and then off again Visiting until eight. Come in too tired even to crawl to bed, and when next day she has been Visiting again she is met with the time-honoured tale ‘You never come to see me’. Thankless work, hard work, heartbreaking work, to one worn out with numerous tasks too many for one person, and yet what will you?

All hope abandon ye who undertake to become a Parson’s Wife. Never will you give or get any satisfaction. Never will you be done. Never may you expect to find any good in anything you have ever done, it is human nature, the people must ever be finding fault, must ever be abusing someone. Well, let them, the Vicar’s Wife is the most suitable one to call over the Virtuous parish coals, that is what she is there for. Some day, who knows, some day early in the morning, when the sun creeps up and warms the dew upon the glistening grass, perhaps the Vicar’s Wife may slip away unseen, stepping over her threshold with her eyes looking ever upwards and beyond all earthly loads of sorrow, grasping the hand maybe of a Guiding Angel upward and onward to that land where everlasting spring abides. And perhaps there, in that new and great land, that larger life and greater liberty, perhaps there may be that passionately longed for, but never found blessing here on this earth - REST. F.O.L. Williams