The Victorian and Edwardian Nursery: Personal Experiences

Some fascinating descriptions of nursery life are available. What I would especially like here is a description of the clothes the children wore in the nursery. A variery of sources provide interesting insights into nursery life.

National Tendencies

Some general descriptions of nursery life in various countries can be quite interesting.


The country which proved the most influential in America was Europe.
England, 1900s: The royal nursery

England-1890s: The Woods, a middle class nursery


No information available yet.


No information available yet.


No information available yet.


Wealthy Russians patterened their lives om European styles, especially French family lives.

Russia-1890s: Marie and Dmitri, an aritocratic nursery

United States

No information available yet.

Personal Expeiences

Excellent factual accounts of Victorian and Edwardian chilhood exist decribing childhood experiences, including discriptions of the nursery:

Gathorne-Hardy', Jonathan: The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny is full of good examples and has a good bibliography.

KKK: The Quaker Bonnet is probably unobtainable outside the British Library but has detailed descriptions of toys in the 1880s, children's meals and a graphic description of a baby's layette and bath routine, particularly the problems of getting a binder on smoothly.

Figure 1.--Available images from Victorian and Edwardian nurseries tend to be quite formal with the children dressed up in their party suits. Here two English boys are dressed in a Fauntleroy kilted outfit and a sailor like suit. Every day wear might have included smocks or after the turn of the century other less formal clothes like rompers.

Mackenzie, Compton: The first volume of his autobiography contain detailed descriptions of nursery life in the 1880s.

Shepard, Ernest H.: One of my favorite non-fiction work is Shepard's lovely memoir, Drawn from Memory (1957). Shepard was of course the gifted illustrator of Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh. His memoir is an excellent source of late Victorian/early Edwardian nursery and school life. Writes a bit about his nursery days, but none of the very charming pictures actually shows a nursery. His drawings do provide a wonderful overview of Edwardian boys' clothes, children's toys, the interiors and exteriors of houses, street life, etc. This gentle memoir recalls going to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee parade with his siblings and a family servant.

Symes, Ruth and Trev Lynn Broughton: The nursery is described in their anthology, The Governess published in 1997.

Yonge, Charlotte M.: Her book Womankind (1881) has three chapters on childhood, one called specifically Nursery Training. She also addresses how the way children were looked after in the nursery. In some cases they slept where the maids had their supper and did the sewing. Yonge describes such an arrangement in her own childhood in the 1820s (Quoted p. 57 of the C. Coleridge Biography).

Other: Autobiographies of the age have many interesting details about nursery life. A lot of the autobiographies of 1920s and 1930s figures have brief memories of their nurseries in the pre-World War I period. I seem to remember an account of a cruel nanny in Nancy Mitford's memoirs I've just had a look at Millais's Bubbles, hoping to see a nursery background there, but the boy seems to be outside--or in a potting shed. Valuable sources are original or facsimile editions of cookbooks and housekeeping guides, such as Mrs. Beeton's Book on Household Management (1860) have many interesting details. These include sections detailing how to manage the household, including the nursery's cleanliness, conduct, and diet. Several of the books of advice for tutors and governesses, as well as late 19th=century manuals of house design (such as Jane Panton's) have sections on the layout of the nursery and school room.

Literary Descriptions

Many Victorian and Edwardian novelists include insightful descriptions of nursery life in their work:

Bronte, Anne: Several Bronte novels touched upon the nursery. In Agnes Grey (1847) Anne Bronte tells the story of an unfortunate governess whose first position requires her to take care of a spoiled brother and sister. Many scenes take place in the children's nursery. At one point, the sister throws poor Agnes's (the governess') belongings out the nursery window. Agnes frequently laments that the children's indulgent parents won't let her punish her charges.

Bronte, Charlotte: In Jane Eyre (1847), Jane's recollections of her childhood at her Aunt Reed's includes descriptions of nursery life.

Ewing, Mrs.: A Flat Iron for a Farthing begins with the hero's birth has a lot of information about his nurse and children's toys. Mrs Ewing is also quite interesting on the way children were looked after before the advent of the specialised nursery, often sleeping in

Figure 2.--This modern drawing from a Nesbit book shows an English boy in the sailor suits commonly worn by boys at the turn of the century.
the room where the maids had their supper and did the sewing. One of the stories in Mrs Ovetrheway's Remembrances deals with this. and C.M. Yonge describes a similar arrangement in her own childhood in the 1820s (Quoted p. 57 of the C. Coleridge Biography).

Mackenzie, Compton: Sinister Street

Nesbit, E. Nesbit's novels settings were mostly Edwardian middle-class. Her books include: The Phoenix and the Carpet, The Railway Children, The Would-Be-Goods and a host of others. If you are not familiar with these books, reading them is sheer pleasure. Nesbit (1858-1924) when she wasn't busy waving the socialist flag (and there are references to socialism even in her children's books) was a witty writer with an eye for detail. One theme she pursued was adventures during school holidays which would mean children beyond the nursery age. In Five Children and It and The Enchanted Castle she turns school holidays into a time of fantastic, yet cozy, adventure. Into the ordinary world of childhood erupts the Arabian Nights, complete with the requisite sand farries, mysterious amulets, fantastic flying carpets, flying dragons, and of course burried treasure.

Thackeray: Thackeray describes the nursery of little Rawdon Crawley (Becky's son) in Chap. 37 of Vanity Fair. We learn that little Rawdon's father visits him regularly, but Becky hardly ever goes up to see him; when she does, he looks up from his dinner or from pictures he is painting: thus it seems that he eats in his nursery.

Yonge, Charlotte: The Stokesley Secret (1861) and Two Sides of the Shield (1886) have some scenes set in the nursery. Both books mention the difference between the nursery, presided over by the nurse, and the schoolroom presided over by a governess. There was a certain amount about the rivalry between them.

Other: Virtually all novels dealing with children and e.g. governesses feature nursery scenes.

Children's books sometimes have period settings that include nursery scenes:
Travers, P.L.: Mary Poppins (1934) has some wonderful insights into nursery life in the 1930s. The nursery is wonderully illustrated by Mary Shephard the daughter of E.H. Shephard who illustrated Winnie the Poo.

Turner, Ethel: This Australian children's author in John of Daunt contrastes the purpose-built nursery in a really rich family with that provided by a struggling doctor.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: May 15, 1999
Last updated: May 15, 1999