Nannies and Nursemaids

Leinster Express, 24-6-1876


Nannies and Nursemaids

The nanny was one of the most important figures in a wealthy child’s upbringing. Her primary concern was the welfare of her charges, and the nursery was her domain. There she looked after the physical care of the children, washing, dressing and feeding them, changing infant’s nappies, and ensuring they met with no harm. She also trained children in good manners and habits, and kept a vigilant watch on their health, informing the family at the slightest hint of approaching disease. She had complete authority in bringing up the children, but her role was also one of great responsibility, entrusted as she was with the care of the next generation of little lords and ladies.


In the wealthiest of homes she was assisted by a nursemaid, a young girl whose job was to attend to the housework of the nursery. This included cleaning, washing the children’s clothes, lighting the fire and carrying heavy jugs of water and trays of food up the many flights of stairs between the basement kitchen and the nursery on the top floor.


The nanny’s entire day was devoted to the children. She slept in the same room, ate with them, and even travelled with them when the family moved house for the season. A good nanny was well-spoken, with years of experience in the care and management of young children. She was lively, good-tempered, cheerful and tender, yet ruled with a firm hand. While some nannies undoubtedly abused their charges, spanking them excessively, denying treats, or administering laudanum to ensure themselves a good night’s sleep, the majority of nannies were kind and loving. In an age where children spent less than an hour a day with their parents, it was nanny who tended to their bruises, who played with them, cuddled them, and tucked them up in bed at night. Not surprisingly, many children developed a life-long bond with their nanny, or at the very least, remembered her fondly in later years as a figure of warmth, love and security.


Nannies at Emo Court

We know little about the nannies and nurses at Emo Court until the early 20th century. On the day of the 1911 census, young Viscount Carlow was the only family member at home. Aged 3 years and 3 months, he was being looked after by his nanny, Annie Turrell, a 40 year old Protestant woman from Essex in England, and by his nursemaid, Annie White, who was also English and was 17 years old. His parents may have been in London or visiting friends, for it was not unusual for parents and children to spend time apart.

In his diary, Viscount Carlow recalled travelling from
London to Ireland with just nanny and the servants as a young boy. Far from being traumatic, the experience was remembered fondly as a great adventure. Nanny was clearly an important figure in his life, and he recalled that when he was thrown from his horse while first learning to ride, it was nanny who brought him “bruised, battered and in floods of tears” to the sanctuary of the house, to comfort him and dress his wounds.


Olive Sharkey 1998,30