DOWNTON Abbey’s portrayal of life, upstairs and downstairs, in 19th and 20th century England has gripped the nation and fans are already looking forward to a Christmas special.
If you lived in Chester at the turn of the 20th century and were lucky enough to have servants, it is likely that the scullery maids and housemaids would have come from one of four girls’ houses in Dodleston, Upton, Saughall and Wrexham Road.
Bernard Dennis, chairman of the Dodleston Local History Group, has done some research into the girls’ home in his village. The building, now known as Hill View and Oak Bank, has been divided into residential dwellings, the former a house and the latter converted into apartments.
Bernard said: “Toward the mid-1890s, the guardians of the poor had become concerned about children being put into workhouses and it was proposed to build cottage homes to house these unfortunate outcasts.
“The second Duke of Westminster donated land and the architect TM Lockwood & Sons, at the behest of the Duke, designed the four homes.”
The largest of which was on the Wrexham Road, Chester, just down from what is now the Overleigh Roundabout. Smaller homes were constructed at Upton, Saughall and Dodleston.
A loan of nearly £6,600 was secured to build the Dodleston home in 1900 which housed only girls.
Its first dozen girls, probably aged between eight and 10, arrived in November 1901.
Bernard added: “Homes such as these were always located close to schools so that the children would have the benefit of a basic education, sufficient to give them a start in life. In the home, they would also be trained to work in servitude before going out into the big wide world.”
Accommodation at the Dodleston Girls Home comprised two dormitories upstairs with the ‘Mother’s Room’ in between. Downstairs was a large day room, living room, washhouse and sick room.
The girls’ home finally closed in December 1938, having been under the control of Cheshire County Council since 1930. During its lifetime as a home and safe haven for girls, 151 children had been housed and a majority of these had gone on to work as housemaids and servants in the area.
In its final year, there were only nine girls in the Dodleston home.