Lydia Underwood


We are grateful to Wendy Smith who provided the following material:-

In 1897, my Great Aunt, Charlotte Lydia Burfield, left her home and family in Bildeston, Suffolk, to go to London to work as a domestic servant. Lydia was 13 years old.

The following are a collection of letters sent to Lydia by her father, Sidney Burfield. [No apologies for grammar or punctuation!]

Reference is made to one of her brothers, Harry, who was my Grandfather and 10 years old at the time. There is also mention of Lydia’s brother, Stanley (2 years old) and sister Lucy (3 years old).

Lydia married Albert (Nip) Underwood and Harry married Sarah Jane Underwood, Albert’s sister.

Harry and Sarah went on to own East Winch village shop and Lydia and Nip lived at Homeland cottage next door but one.

Wendy Smith.

(At the foot of this page there is a list of files, each showing a copy of the original letter and a transcript which may be downloaded.)

Below see an abbreviated version of the family lineage. At the foot of the page you may see a more complete version and download it as a pdf. file.

The photograph shows Lydia with her brother, Harry, and sister Lucy.

The photograph shows Lydia with her husband Albert (Nip)

Letters to Lydia


August 27th 1897

This is the first time I have written to you since you left us and I hope it will find you well and comfortable in your place. I hope you will try and please your mistress in all your duties and live comfortable with your fellow servants.

When you write you must tell us all about your work and what you have to do and whether you live as well now as you did in your last place, as regards food, I mean.

Tell us how you spent your first Sunday in London. Mother says you must try and do Annie’s work as well as you can when she has her holiday.

Your Aunt Mary and her 4 children came home to London yesterday (Thursday). We have letters now from all 4 of the boys from London. Albert Moore’s was the last in the shape of a parcel, a big doll for Lucy and a picture book for Stanley and some tea for Mother, which we thought very kind indeed.We shall have our lamps in Church for Sunday evening service if alls well. I have been up to see them this afternoon (Friday) and there was 3 women cleaning the church up for making the holes in the top of the Arch's for hanging the lamps on made a lot of dust and dirt.Mrs Bantock is quite well and so they are all and she sends her love to you and tells you to be a good girl and try and do your work well.All your Uncle’s and Aunt’s, Grandfather, Grandmother and nearly everybody is asking how you are getting on and all send their love.I must now draw this to a close as it is choir practice night and nearly time I should go to post.Remember us kindly to Mr and Mrs Collier. With our kind love and a kiss or two from Lucy and Stanley. I remain your affectionate Father

S.H .Burfieldx x x x x x x x x x xx x x x x

September 12th 1897

My dear Lydia

Come my dear girl, we thought you would have written again to us before now, nearly everybody keeps asking have we heard from you and have to tell them no.

I hope you are well and like yourself you have not written to say what sort of place yours is and what work you have to do and whether you live quite well or have to have dripping and bread, or anything of the sort………..

The Flower Show is over, it was last Friday. It was a splendid day and a lot of people here. We all went, I shut the shop up a few hours in the afternoon. I have sent you a paper with it in.

We like our evening service at church now it is lighted well, we have 10 lamps and each lamp is 100 candles. When you write let us know what sort of church yours is and how often you get out. I hope your mistress do not let you go out alone after dark.

Your Mother wants to know how you get on about your washing, so write soon and tell us all as much news as you can.

With our kind love I remain your loving Father

S.H. Burfield

October 10th 1897

My dear Lydia

I dare say you have been expecting a letter from us before this time but I am always busy after something.

I was glad to hear that your mistress bought you some new boots as I think she would know best where to get them and what sort you wanted, you must try and take care of cold for if you get wet feet it is very dangerous sometimes cause Rheumatic Fever and you know your brother Harry know all about that. He can get about now with one crutch and walking stick. He cannot get his leg to the ground much more than when you was at home only just touch that toe on the ground.

Lucy, she goes to school now has been one week and she seems to like it much.

Your Mother has sent you a nice warm petticoat as she thought you wanted something warmer, as the weather got colder. Mother says you must wear 2 coloured petticoats now the weather is getting colder.

We have had a postcard from Mr Collier to say that he has ordered a photo of the group which you was taken in at Bury. He has ordered one at Bury to be sent to us but we have not got it. I am expecting it every day. I will tell you in my next letter whether I get it.

Your Uncle William, the shoemaker, is very ill. He is not expected to live long.

Trusting your cold is alright now,we are all quite well and send all our kind loves.

We remain your loving parents

S.H. & C. Burfield

P.S. Mrs Emerson has heard from India and little Arthur the baby walk about and tumble his sister Nellie over then she say she will tell Lydia. So she remember you.

The photograph shows Lydia, centre right, with other ladies at the old village hall (The Hut).

November 1st 1897

My dear Lydia

I dare say you think I have kept you a very long time without a letter but we have been very busy lately for your Mother is in bed has got another baby a little sister this time it was born on Saturday Oct. 23rd. It is a very small baby, we have to have it baptized on Sunday at our house in case it should not live, the name is Mabel, Ruth. Mother is doing well and will get up a little while tomorrow Tuesday Nov. 2nd.

Mr Sherlock, our rector, is out so we had a clergyman from Hadleigh on Sunday morning. He came on his bicycle and called at our house on his way home and christened the baby.

Your Aunt Eliza is at ours every day and go home to sleep. We could not have Mrs Brown this time only one day Mr George Brown is vey ill, that live next door to Mrs Goodwin I mean, he is a little better but they don’t know whether he will get well again yet.

Your Aunt Sarah at Lynn has one of her children very ill with the fever that is so bad at Lynn, little Johnnie is his name, the one that come over once to your Grandmother’s. I don’t know whether you remember him.

Stanley and Lucy are both quite well and Stanley grow very fat and strong and begin to talk nicely, he is very fond of the baby, he call it the Barby, he can say Ruth, it’s second name but he cannot say Mabel.

Your Mother wants to know if you have taken any pills or medicine since you have been in London, if not do so to keep your blood in good order.

Mr Sherlock has been to see your Mother and sent some puddings several times, but they are both out now, both Mr & Mrs Sherlock, but I think they will be home this week.

We are getting quite grand in Bildeston now, we have some lamps now up the church road like they have in towns, with iron posts, only the lamps go with oil instead of gas, they are not quite finished yet.

With our kind loves.

We remain your Father & Mother

x x x x x x x

December 12th 1897

Dear Lydia

I have written just a few lines in answer to your letter. I should have written before but we are all busy.

Yesterday, Saturday, there was a jumble sale at the school for Miss Growse’s Home, so I had to go and take the money at the door. Herbert went to the Home all the Saturday morning to work.

Our baby I am sorry to say don’t grow much. I am afraid it will not live long but it may get on better presently.

Do you thank your mistress for the baby’s socks. Mother was very pleased with them.

Your Aunt Eliza has been very ill. She was in bed quite a week and our Harry was her nurse. He used to carry her cornflour, make the fire and keep house for her, show visitors upstairs etc. She is better now, she got up today, Sunday, for the first time.

People now begin to talk about Christmas. I hope you will have a merry one and a happy New Year being the first Christmas you will have out in service. Though you are a long way from us, we often speak about you. Don’t eat too much “London” plum pudding so as to make yourself ill.

We was pleased to hear that your mistress had bought you a new jacket and dress. I dare say you look quite a London “Toff”. Do not think too much about dress but mind and be a good girl and obedient to your master and mistress and kind to your young mistress and fellow servants.

I don’t think I have written to tell you that your Uncle William is dead and buried, the shoemaker I mean.

Stanley was two years old last Tuesday and when we ask him where is Lydia he say in the puff puff.

January 24th 1898

Dear Lydia

Just a line or two to let you know we have not quite forgotten you. We are all quite well at home but there is a lot of people ill in Bildeston and what are not ill now have been and are better.

Influenza has been very bad in Bildeston. Your Uncle Dick has been very ill, had to keep his bed 3 or 4 days and no work for a fortnight but he is better now and starts work this Monday morning.

Your Grandfather and Grandmother are both in bed ill. Your mother is going up to take them some cornflour as Charlie is out today at work with the threshing machine.

I cannot stop to say more now as it is nearly 11’o’ clock midday but I will write more in a day or two only let us know how you are.

With our kind love from all and kisses.

We remain your affectionate Parents.

S.H. & C. Burfield

February 18th 1898

My dear Lydia

It is now some time since I wrote to you but we have not forgotten you. Herbert has been expecting a letter from you so long that he has written tonight to know if you mean to write to him.

My dear girl, I hope you are quite well and comfortable. We are all well but the biggest part of Bildeston people have all been ill as I think Herbert has told you.

You must not expect a long letter from poor old Dad tonight as it is now 7.25 and we are off to choir practice at 8’o’clock, only I thought if I did not say just a word or two to you, you would think me unkind.

I am your affectionate Father.

S.H. Burfield

P.S. Have you seen anything of Nellie, to hear anymore of what you told us as you did not get a newspaper to send us.

March 21st1898

My dear Lydia

I have written just a line to let you know that we have not forgotten you now that the spring flowers are come. Herbert and Harry has been getting them for you and send their love and Herbert hope soon to have a letter from you.

Herbert was confirmed last Thursday at Hitcham church. I did not go as I have had such a bad cold but Mother went as it was such a fine day and it did not “rain in torrents”.

Mr Sherlock our clergyman is ill so we had only one service at church yesterday in evening and none in the morning but I hear today he is a little better. It is influenza I think.

Mary Ann Stanford says she wish you would write to her as you were such friends when at home, she is quite the servant at the “Home” now and she would write back to you, they have 12 children now there. Mary Ann was confirmed this time, if you write to her don’t say anything about anyone in Bildeston as Miss Growse see their letters.

x x x x x x

I remain your affectionate Father.

S.H. Burfield

P.S. Our dear Baby is still in long clothes and will be 5 months old on Wednesday but it does not grow a bit.

May 2nd 1898

Dear Lydia

I have just written a few lines to wish you a happy birthday and hope you will like to see many of them.

I hope you are quite well and also that your young mistress Kathleen is much better. We are all quite well at home but our baby do not grow a bit yet it is over 6 months old but still in long clothes and likely to be as it is so small.

My dear Lydia Just a line in answer to your letter. We were all very pleased to hear you was well and happy.

I am glad to say your Mother is getting on very nicely, so is the baby, we will try to keep it alive, as you said, so you can see it when you come home.

Your Aunt next door have sent you 6d in stamps. She say that is what she had to spare from the baby also a new scarf. The baby is dark with brown eyes and plenty of hair so your Aunt say we can so soon curl it.

We have sent you a stamp or two so you can write and let us know how you are each week if you have the time to spare.

With regard to your money Mother says she think it best to let your mistress lay it out in your clothing of what you want till you get a little older. She will pay your money in full when you are older.

Should write to Aunt, sometime next week and thank her for the scarf & stamps.

With love to you from all Uncles & Aunts & Grandfather & Grandmother and all friends etc. Brothers and Sisters etc.

I am your affectionate Father

With our united love and best wishes for you birthday

I remain your loving Father

S H Burfield

May 31st 1898

My Dear Lydia

Just a line to say that your Uncle Arthur will call and see you very likely one day this week as he is over at Bildeston from Wales, he will leave Bildeston on Wednesday.

Your Uncle Harry is also over from Stanton just today (Tuesday) on his bicycle and will go away from Bildeston tonight.

We are all quite well and hope you are the same and hope your young mistress is better. Your brother Harry is gone to Ipswich today with his Uncle Dick.

Trusting you will send us a letter as soon as you can with our kindest love from all.

I remain your affectionate Father,

S.H. Burfield

June 23th 1898

Mother has sent you a silver thimble for your birthday present, with her kind love. I have sent the brooch as my present for your birthday with my kind love. There is not much news to tell you of Bildeston only people keep dying one by one, you know Robert Snell, the Rev. Leith’s man, he is dead and is going to be buried today (Tuesday).

Mrs Harrington that old lady used to live with Mr Taylor at the Verandah Cottage, do you remember her having a fit a little more than a year ago, she had another fit on Sunday and died on Monday morning.

The whooping cough is about Bildeston just now very much but I am glad to say that none of our children has got it yet. Mrs Bantock’s baby has got it, the others are all pretty well I think.

You must not expect your letter to look nicely clean as our old chimney smoke like steam today the smuts are flying round me like black snow and falling on the paper.

Your Grandfather and Grandmother and Charlie are all quite well and send their love to you.

x x x x x x x

Dear Lydia I thought I would write just a line or so to you so you should know that we were alive and hope you are quite well. It is now some time since I wrote but we heard such a good account of you from your Uncle Arthur when he came to see you, that I thought I should not want to write to hear how you was, he said in his letter after he got home to Wales that you was looking so well and thought you had got a good place and good master and mistress.

I have not much news to tell about Bildeston. First I must say that our baby has begun to grow at last, ……and it looks better in health and growing nicely.

Stanley and Lucy are quite well and send you both love and kisses.

Your brother Harry’s leg as you always ask about, is better now, a little I think he get about with only one walking stick instead of a crutch, so now they call him ’crutchy’ which was beginning to be a general name among the boys. He is about having a high sole to his boot, his Uncle Dick took him to Ipswich Whit Tuesday so he quite enjoy himself that day you may be sure.

We shall try and arrange for Mother to go too which will be a great treat to her and do her good.

Your Grandfather & Grandmother are quite well and send their love to you so do all your Uncle’s & Aunt’s.

We have had some beautiful weather here lately sun shining and hot but now this morning (Friday) it is turned dull and looking like rain and much cooler.

I don’t know whether you think of coming home for a holiday this summer or not but you must let us know.

Trusting soon to have a line from you, with kind love from all.

I remain your loving Father

S.H. Burfield

July 5th 1898

My dear Lydia

I have written just a line or so in answer to your letter and to tell you, you shall have the watch before long. Your Mother is quite willing you shall have it only you must take care of it, I will send it up as soon as it is ready which will not be long.

I think it is fully decided that our Choir outing is to be next Friday July 8th. We are a little doubtful about poor Mother going as your Aunt Eliza is not well and she is going to keep house for her and Harry, Herbert and Albert are both Choir boys so they will go. We are going to Yarmouth and strange to say there is an excursion from Hadleigh to there the same day but we are going the same way we have gone before that is to Stowmarket Station. Mother says she is going if she possibly can, “if it rains in torrents”.

I hope you are quite well and that your mistress is better. Your brother Harry is thumping about now well as he has a high heel to his boot and can walk much better.

Your Grandfather & Grandmother are both quite well and send their loves and the same from all Aunts and Uncles and all friends with all our loves and kiss from home.

Stanley & Lucy kiss each.

x x

I remain your loving Father.

S.H. Burfield

January 8th 1899

Dear Lydia

This is the first letter I have written to you this year, so I must wish you a Happy New Year. I did not know what you meant in one of your letters about me being ill or falling from ladders. I am glad to say I am quite well, all but my breath is short, sometimes this foggy weather but the weather has been very mild this winter which has suited me all the better.

Albert is alright now, so is Mother. We was glad to hear you received your parcel safe and enjoyed the contents. We received the parcel for Lucy quite safe and she is very pleased with her dress but Mother says you do not ought to spend your money for us as you must want it yourself. Did you make the dress yourself as Mother said she thought you did, it is very nice and a good piece of stuff, it is a little too long which is a good fault.

The children had a Christmas treat at the school last Friday, all the Sunday School children and their fathers and mothers went to tea. After tea the prizes were given for the highest number of marks for the year which our Harry succeeded in being the best of all the boys and Flory Hurley the highest in the girls.

Herbert had a story book, Albert a bible, Harry a prayer book, Lucy a prayer book. All the prizes were books. Lucy was highly praised when she went up to the platform to take her prize as several of the ladies and gents said she was the prettiest girl that had been up. We all went, Mother & baby and Stanley and all. Baby was so good all the evening. She’s getting on well now, she has 3 teeth……

You spoke of your mistress leaving to go to Hythe now in the first is where it is further away I suppose you must hear whether they really want you to go then we will tell you what best to do. When we write again you can be on the look out for another place, when you really know what they are going to do. We have seen several places in the paper round about your part if we should see one will write at once.

Mother will get you a bottle medicine on Tuesday as she will not be able to go up Monday morning as I have to go to Chelsworth Hall every Monday morning to wind the clocks, as there is a new gentleman living there now by name Col. F. Sendamore, he is having a new house built in the park.

[The next page is missing]

Dear Lydia I have written just a line or so to hear whether you received the watch and roses that we sent to you on July 14th, as we have not had any answer so was wondering whether you got it safe, if so drop a line by return.

I hope you are quite well, as it leaves us all well at home. We have the London boys come to Bildeston today, Friday, we have taken two in but there is not so many come down this year, only 16 in all, boys and girls.

The Bildeston Choir have had our outing to Yarmouth……..Albert had never seen a train till we got to Stowmarket Station which made him look.

With all our kind loves from home and your Brothers and Sisters.

I remain your affectionate Father.

S.H. Burfield

January 31st 1899

Dear Lydia

How are you getting on, have you heard from Lucy London yet we thought perhaps we should hear that you had and found another place. You might write and tell us when your month is up, for we are anxious to know you settled in another place. Have your Master said anything about another place to you.

We hope you are quite well and that your medicine has done you good, we at home have all been very sadly with bad colds. Herbert had to stay in bed all Sunday and stop at home on Monday from work but he is better now and at work again. Mabel is much better, so we are all.

We would rather Lucy get you a place if possibly then she would see you was alright and comfortable. If Lucy gets you a place we will write and ask her to come and fetch you.

With kind love from all

[It is possible that this was the last letter Sidney wrote to Lydia as he passed away on 11th February 1899, aged 43 years]

The above letters were discovered after Olive Underwood died and her effects were being cleared from her home.

My thanks are due to Wendy Smith who made the letters available to us.

The photograph shows Lydia with her husband Albert (Nip) Underwood.

See below the individual files of the letters - each showing a copy of the original hand written letter and a transcript.