The Milk Maid

From Life in the London Streets or Struggles for Daily Bread by Richard Rowe (1881)

The following is the story of old Patty Morgan, who used to dispense glassf uls of milk in the Mall, a cheeryfaced old body, muffled in a faded Welsh plaid shawl, think of the historical associations of her place of trade.

“Oh, deary no, I’ve got no cows. It’s my master’s I take to the park, sometimes one and sometimes another, just as may happen. It’s a many years I’ve been in London: yes, indeed, with one master and another. I used to go out with the milk for ever so long, but I’m too old for that now. I’ve borne the yoke in my youth, and now I get a bit of rest in my old age, not but what it’s very cold sometimes sitting in the park; but what’s the good of grumbling? I couldn’t lug about those heavy pails now. When I was younger the saucy monkeys of boys used to make fun of me and say I waddled like a duck; so I’m thankful I’ve got something I can do. When I’m not milking I can knit, and it’s a comfort to an old woman not to be always on her feet, and to have something to lean the back against.

“Our business varies very much. Sometimes we’ll do next to nothing, and then again we’ll sell about as much as the cow can give. It depends so much on the weather, you see. A fine day brings the folks out like butterflies. It’s mostly children we sell to. A father will come with his little ones and treat them to a glassful each, and sometimes a nurse will be sent regular with a child that is ailin’, so that it may drink new milk and smell the cow’s breath. Certainly the milk is better than what’s sold at the doors; yes, indeed.Oh yes, you can get pure milk from the milkmen if you want it for an invalid; they’ll not cheat you, but go out of their way in a case like that, to send you the best they can,—but then, you see, you’ve to pay more for it. Milk was so plenty where I come from that it puzzled me at first, it did, the price they gave for it in London. Sheep’s milk we used most, but we’d cow’s milk as well, and as much as ever we wanted. A child wouldn’t have thought much of a glass of milk there,—it wasn’t any treat: I’d only to run into the dairy and help myself. . . . .

“There’s often a good bit of fun and frolic about the cows, and folly too with the soldiers and the young men out with their sweethearts; but if they and the girls never drank anything worse than milk, there wouldn’t be so much harm come of their courting.
“As I’ve told you I used to go milk-walks before I got hired to milk in the park. It’s a tiring work that, carrying round the pails, and you’re out in all weathers; still I always kept my health pretty well whilst I was at it. I don’t drink gin, as some do, to keep the cold out: coffee in the morning and tea at night, that’s what I take.
“You hear a good deal of news on a milkwalk: well, yes, no doubt a good deal of it is lies. Either the mistresses or the maids are ready enough to gossip with you. Give and take, that’s their motto: hear what you’ve got to say, and tell you what you don’t know about the neighbourhood. If some of the masters and mistresses that think everybody thinks them the respectablest of the respectable could hear what their own servants say about them, they would be rather astonished; and they wouldn’t be best pleased either if they knew how these stories get about from house to house,—about the quarrels, and the lots of spirits that’s drunk on the sly, and the gentleman that master doesn’t like calling so often, when he’s out, on missis, and all that kind of talk. No doubt a good half or more of it is made up. Folks that are so fond of talking, as most servant girls are, must tell lies pretty often, or they couldn’t keep their tongues wagging as they do.
“And then it’s queer the different things that are happening at the different houses you call at. At one, mayhap a new baby has just come, and the bailiffs at another; there’s a wedding at No. 3, and somebody dying next door, and a hearse and mourning coaches going away from No. 7.
“Houses, too, that are pretty near as like as peas outside are so different when the door’s opened, in masters, and mistresses, and servants, and children, and furniture, and cleanliness, and everything. One may be as neat as a new pin with nobody but nice people in it, and the next all muddle and muck and wrangling.

“It was my father’s misfortunes sent me up to London. He had a farm out by Pont-y-pridd, and he was forced to leave it, and it broke his heart, poor old man: he died just in time to save him from the workhouse. I’d been promised to a young man who had a good place at Merthyr,—not one of the common workers, but a kind of over-looker. He wasn’t true: he broke with me when our troubles came, and married my own cousin. I couldn’t stand that, —to see them coming backwards and forwards to uncle’s,—so I came up to London; and here I’ve been ever since, this many a year.
“After a bit I married a man who worked for one of my masters. He made me a fairish husband, poor man, though he never made much pretence of loving of me, and he was rather too fond of liquor. We’d a large family, and I’d to work for them; but, thank God, they were all dear, good children. None of them lived to be married, except the youngest; and now she’s gone, and her little one: so I should be all alone if I couldn’t say, praise God, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.'”

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