The dread broom and the swish of skirts: Jessie Allen Brooks, part of the H.G. Wells’ household, Floor Games and Little Wars

My FEMBruary last post to mark International Women’s Day March 8th and Women’s History Month in the UK and USA.

One of the background presences in Little Wars and Floor Games is the swish of skirts of women of the Wells’ household.

Part I – Boys and Girls, Floor Games and Little Wars

Women crop up somewhat comically in Floor Games and Little Wars as interrupters, destroyers or dismissive of these mostly boy’s games. The rare “more intelligent sort of girl who likes boy’s games and books” of the title, preface or dedication seems to have left little trace from the time.

Little Wars, Part I: “can be played by boys of every age from twelve to one hundred and fifty—and even later if the limbs remain sufficiently supple—by girls of the better sort, and by a few rare and gifted women.”

Little Wars, Part II : “Primitive attempts to realise the dream were interrupted by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors. They regarded the objects upon the floor with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things.”

Little Wars, Part II: “First there was the development of the Country. The soldiers did not stand well on an ordinary carpet, the Encyclopedia made clumsy cliff-like “cover”, and more particularly the room in which the game had its beginnings was subject to the invasion of callers, alien souls, trampling skirt-swishers, chatterers, creatures unfavourably impressed by the spectacle of two middle-aged men playing with “toy soldiers” on the floor, and very heated and excited about it.”

On a practical basis, any child or adult of us with no set-aside games room or table who has tried Garden or Floor Games knows the frustration of destructive feet, mealtimes or animals.

Wells recommends ideally playing “in no highway to other rooms” and maintains for some of the book an even and equal approach to male and female involvement.

Floor Games, Part I: “The jolliest indoor games for boys and girls demand a floor, and the home that has no floor upon which games may be played falls so far short of happiness.

“It must be a floor covered with linoleum or cork carpet, so that toy soldiers and such-like will stand up upon it, and of a color and surface that will take and show chalk marks; the common green-colored cork carpet without a pattern is the best of all. It must be no highway to other rooms, and well lit and airy. Occasionally, alas! it must be scrubbed—and then a truce to Floor Games.”

“Upon such a floor may be made an infinitude of imaginative games, not only keeping boys and girls happy for days together, but building up a framework of spacious and inspiring ideas in them for after life. The men of tomorrow will gain new strength from nursery floors. I am going to tell of some of these games and what is most needed to play them; I have tried them all and a score of others like them with my sons, and all of the games here illustrated have been set out by us. I am going to tell of them here because I think what we have done will interest other fathers and mothers, …

Lots of boys and girls seem to be quite without planks and boards at all, and there is no regular trade in them. ”

What of the women of tomorrow? I wonder what Wells’ acquaintance E. Nesbit, mother of sons, writer and creator of Wings and the Child or the Building of Magic Cities (1913) and children’s books would have made of all this “boyhood” stuff? https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/30/i-never-thought-of-building-magic-cities-till-the-indian-soldiers-came/

Floor Games, IV: “I will now glance rather more shortly at some other very good uses of the floor, the boards, the bricks, the soldiers, and the railway system—that pentagram for exorcising the evil spirit of dulness from the lives of little boys and girls.”

Little Wars seems a little less inclusive in its language:

Little Wars: “Every boy who has ever put together model villages knows how to do these things, and the attentive reader will find them edifyingly represented in our photographic illustrations.”

As Alan Gruber in his Duchy of Tradgardland blog proves, girls can happily create model villages as well as any boy! http://tradgardland.blogspot.com/2017/07/breakfast-biscuits-little-wars-house.html

Part 2 – The Women of the Wells’ Household

Centre of the household was Wells’ second wife ‘Jane’ (Amy Catherine) Wells, (1872-1927), the same age as Jessie Allen Brooks. She typed Wells’ work, ran the household and as A.C.W, the War Correspondent, took (some of?) the photographs for the original magazine articles and the book. She also would have been the one who typed up and proofread Wells’ manuscripts for Little Wars and Floor Games.

Windsor Magazine, Dec 1912 part II Battle of Hook’s Farm – the magazine photographs by ‘Jane’ or Amy Catherine Wells, his second wife are rougher than the summer 1913 book published ones.

.

The retouched photo of Fig. 4 of Hook’s Farm – every leaf and branch is the same, so these are not reshot specially for the book.

As we mentioned in an earlier blog post, listed in the Wells household in the 1911 Census for Hampstead there was also

Mathilde Meyer the Swiss Governess, 28

and two domestic servants –

Jessie Allen Brooks, 38, Cook – Domestic, b. Richmond, Surrey

Mary Ellen Shinnick, 27, Housemaid – Domest, b. Coppingerstown, Cork, Ireland

These are the ladies behind the dreaded broom shown or illustrated in Floor Games:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/01/21/the-invisible-men-and-women-behind-h-g-wells-little-wars-and-floor-games/

John Ramage Sinclair’s spirited line illustrations of the dread destructive sweeping up of play

https://archive.org/details/floorgames00well

Part 3 – More Boys, Less Girls?

Interesting how girls do still get occasional references in Floor Games at least and mostly omitted from Little Wars. Alongside the Battle of Hook’s Farm, the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ was hotting up in Edwardian Britain with the rise of Women’s Suffrage.

Within the towns in Floor Games, III: “You can make picture-galleries—great fun for small boys who can draw; you can make factories; you can plan out flower-gardens—which appeals very strongly to intelligent little girls.”

Mostly in Floor Games, Wells remembers to be inclusive of boys and girls, fathers and mothers. This is less so in Little Wars, I: “This priceless gift to boyhood appeared somewhen towards the end of the last century, a gun capable of hitting a toy soldier nine times out of ten at a distance of nine yards.”

Interesting to think that at this same time, enterprising girls in this Edwardian period were joining or rivalling their brothers by setting up their own Baden Powell Girl Scout groups in response to Scouting for Boys (1907/08), quickly officially channeled into BP Girl Guides. The Suffragette movement in Britain was moving into its most active and aggressive phase as well.

Boy Scouts were quickly produced by Britain’s in 1909 and many other hollow-cast manufacturers but did not produce Girl Scouts. USA Girl Guides were first produced by Britain’s in 1926 and British ones not until 1934! The Boy Scouts crop up from time to time in J.R. Sinclair’s charming line illustrations.

I have written in another post about Mathilde Meyer, the Swiss Governess who took over the care of the Wells’ two children Frank (b.1903) and Gip (b.1901) from Jessie Allen Brooks who had been partly their nurse.

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2021/02/21/little-wars-some-more-from-the-memoir-of-mathilde-meyer-governess-to-h-g-wells-children/

Mathilde Meyer in her memoir H.G. Wells and his Family (1955):

“But Mrs. Wells , who had been looking on highly amused! Intervened at that moment, saying that there was no time now for battles, that it was the night when the floor had to be scrubbed, and soldiers and bricks to be put back into their boxes, before bedtime.

Both boys protested wildly: “Oh, Mummy, Mummy!” They shouted, “not to-night, please, not to-night!” But Mummy was firm.

This was the worst about Floor games. The linoleum, on which they were set out, alas, had to be washed periodically. An armistice had to be declared. The battlefield had to disappear completely; the boards had to be out against the wall, and twigs that looked already looked a little wilted, burnt with the paper flags.

I wished my new pupils good-night, wondering what kind of inspiration I had made on them. It was not until weeks later that Jessie told me what their verdict had been. “Stupid – but quite nice.”

The fate of many Floor Games – blundering adults, all in this case male. No skirt swishers here!

So who were these washers and scrubbers of linoleum?

I find Jessie Allen Brooks an intriguing figure, as her age and working class background is similar to H.G. Wells but her life was so different. Wells’ mother Sarah remained in domestic service on and off before and after marriage, depending on the family income including time in service at Uppark, living in accompanied by Wells as an ailing child

The Epsom and Ewell History Society have a good potted history of Wells’ family life https://eehe.org.uk/?p=24117

I will deal with Mary Ellen Shinnick the family’s Irish domestic servant in 1911 in another post.

Jessie was Nurse to the Wells’ boys before Mathilde arrived in 1908. She continued to play an important role as Cook and Nurse in their lives during the time that Mathilde was their Governess until 1913, almost until the two boys departed for Oundle School in Autumn 1914.

In the final year or two, male tutors Mr. Classey and the Pomeranian / German Kurt or Karl Butow played more and more of a role in shaping the boys’ education in preparation for an all boy’s boarding school like Oundle. Mathilde Meyer kept in touch by letter with the boys over the years, well into the 1950s.

Jessie Allen Brooks is a large but largely hidden behind the scene presence in the lives of the two Wells boys and the Wells household. But for Meyer’s memoir and the 1911 Census, she would be another Invisible Woman in the Floor Games and Little Wars world of H.G. Wells.

Jessie was Nurse to the two boys in the absence of their mother, she is their Cook for nursery teas, with or without their mother, and she is the mistress of the dread bed and bath time as an end to the day’s imaginative games.

No doubt she would also, with the other Wells’ servant Mary Ellen Shinnick, have been a scrubber and washer of chalk outlines of “the country” on floors, burner of paper flags and wilting twig tress, sweepers up and accidental destroyer of toys and games left out beyond their time.

Jessie Allen Brooks – destroyer of worlds! – to misquote Robert Oppenheimer.

I have no photograph yet of Jessie Allen Brooks but we do have an affectionate pen portrait (looking back in her memoir H.G. Wells and his Family from 1955) of Jessie from Mathilde Meyer on her arrival at Spade House in 1908. Mrs Wells says they will all “have tea with the boys, and Jessie the nurse …”

“Jessie, the nurse, was introduced to me next. She was, as I found out later, a very efficient nurse, and devoted to her charges. Middle-aged, tall and gaunt, she seemed almost severe in looks, and naturally I wondered how I would get on with her.”

Compare this to her description of the first servant she meets at the door, quite anonymous, so probably not Jessie’s younger sister Mabel who worked with Jessie at Sandgate for the Wells’ household (1901 Census): “A maid in a white cap and apron appeared at the door … Presently the maid came back to tell me Mrs. Wells was busy in the garden …”

Mathilde’s bag is carried to her cleaned room, hot water is already there for washing – all the busy work of keeping a middle class Edwardian household goes on mostly unseen.

Mathilde Meyer notes in her memoir that: “I looked no doubt somewhat scared when [Mrs. Wells] told me that, because she tried to assure me by saying that Jessie would still be in the house, although no longer in her capacity as a nurse, but as a cook, and that I could therefore always rely on her to help me if either of the boys were ill and wanted extra attention and care. I felt reassured. “

A Governess, especially a foreign one, held a slightly odd, more elevated social position above stairs compared to a domestic servant like Jessie Brooks.

After a battle of the Floor Game or Little Wars by Wells and his two boys, Mathilde Meyer notes after the game and repair of broken figures that:

“Then suddenly the schoolroom door opened, and there stood Jessie, gaunt and serious. “Bath time for you, Frank,” she announced curtly and Frank, without a murmur, followed her out of the room…”

There is a transition period when Jessie fills the new younger arrival Mathilde in with quirky details on how the Sandgate seaside Wells household runs and the character of the Wells family and boys including the “prickly” H.G. Wells, the unconventional dining outside where possible, not always dressing for dinner and Wells’ bohemian habits of walking around the garden in bare feet.

Later that night, Jessie on her way to bed, came to my room to enquire …”

Further glimpses of Jessie occur throughout Mathilde Meyer’s memoir, but as the transition of roles continues, we read less and less of Jessie’s work.

It is not absolutely clear if Jessie transferred in Spring 1912 with Mathilde and the Wells household to Easton Glebe (Rectory) in Dunmow in Essex when they moved from Hampstead (London) to the country. A “lively dark haired Irish parlourid” is noted there, who could be Mary Ellen Shinnick.

Jessie Allen Brookes – Early life and family

1881 Census

The 9 year old Jessie Allen Brooks is at school. The family are living in 2 Elm Cottages, Princes Road, Richmond, Surrey.

Son of a labourer, Jessie’s father William Allen Brooks (b. Chelsfield, Kent 1842-1931) was working as a gardener, like H.G. Wells’ father Joseph.

In 1871 he was a gardener working in Plaistow, Bromley. (Born in 1866 in Bromley in Kent, H.G. Wells would have been about 5 at this time).

Her mother Mary Ann Sills (b. Maidstone, Kent 1845-1923) was from Maidstone, Kent. She married William Allen Brooks in 1867. Her father John was a quarryman (1851 Census).

Jessie’s family was made up of her mother, father and 3 brothers and 2 sisters:

William Stephen Sills Brooks, (b. Plaistow, Kent 1868 – d. 1931, Guildford, Surrey) – according to the 1911 Census, he became a Gardener like his father in Woking Surrey

Jessie Allen Brooks, (b. Richmond, Surrey 1872 – 1938, Surrey)

George John Brooks, (b. 1875 – 1955) who became a drapery manager, married and had a family.

Rose Elizabeth Brooks (b. Richmond, Surrey 1877, – 1955)

Mabel Offord Brooks, (b. 1880 – 1970)

Born after the 1881 Census:

Ada Mary Brooks (b. 1882 – 1888) Princes Road, Richmond

Albert (‘Bert’) Richard Brooks, (b. 1886, Gunnersbury, Middlesex, d. 1929 Cobham, Surrey) who became a Grocer in Cobham, married and had a family.

1891 Census

In 1891 the 18 year old Jessie Allen Brooks was working alongside her sister Rose Elizabeth Brooks (1877-1945) in 5 Shaa Road, Acton (London, now W3) for Susan Boddy, head of a family of Wells children born all over the Empire.

Her sister Rose E Brooks is on the next page of the 1891 Census

Presumably the Wells / Boddy family were a military, trade or civil service family, Susan has remarried a Mr. Boddy, who is absent from home on the 1891 Census day. Adelaide or Adalaide M Wells and siblings – one to follow up in another post.

5 Shaa Road, Acton, London as it is today on Streetview, the Boddy /Wells family house, an impressive Victorian semi-detached house to keep clean for the Brooks girls!

I can’t work out if this Shaa Road Boddy / Wells family connection is coincidence or how and whether these Wells might be related to H.G. Wells. He came from a big family of brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles.

Domestic servants and their siblings were often referred (on good character or reference) from one previous family employer to another branch of the employer’s family or friends. It is not uncommon to find sisters working together in domestic service.

1901 Census:

Going back to the 1901 census, 28 year old Jessie Allen Brooks (b. 1872-1938) is working as a Cook- Domestic for the Wells family at Spade House, Sandgate, Kent, along with her sister Mabel Offord Brooks (1880-1970), then aged 21 – Housemaid Domestic.

Ancestry UK family history source: Spade House Sandgate where Jessie and Mabel Brooks worked for the Wells family (1901 Census)

1911 Census – as above, in 17 Church Row / Road, Hampstead – Jessie is working for the Wells family.

https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/17-church-row-hampstead-hgwells.htm

An interesting house with interesting residents http://www.shadyoldlady.com/location.php?loc=540

So there is a mini history of the Wells household, the houses where Little Games and Floor Wars were created and played, and where Jessie Allen Brooks and her sisters worked hard behind the scenes.

What happened next to Jessie and her family?

After working with Jessie in 1901 for the Wells family at Spade House, Sandgate in Kent, sister Mabel Offord Brooks may have travelled 2nd Class as a domestic to New York in 1909 from Liverpool aboard the White Star liner Baltic. By 1911 she was back in Woking in domestic service for the family of bank clerk Bernard Blagden family.

Jessie’s mother Mary Ann died in 1923. Younger brother Albert died in 1929, aged 42. Her father William Allen Brooks died in 1931 aged 89, when she was 58; the same year her older brother William also died, aged 62.

In 1927, Wells’ second wife ‘Jane’ (Amy Catherine) Wells died at Easton Glebe, Dunmow, Essex.

Some women of property were given the vote in 1918, the rest in 1928. We start to pick up traces in the Electoral Register in the 1930s.

In 1934 Jessie Allen Brooks is living with her sister Rose in a shared house with the Collins family Woodfield, Goldsworth, Woking (Electoral Register). By 1937, Rose, Jessie and Mabel Brooks are living together again.

In 1938, Jessie Allen Brooks died, aged around 65.

In 1939, Mabel and Rose Brooks are living together now in 25 Kingsway, Woking (near Horsell Moor of War of the Worlds fame). Aged 59, Mabel is still working in paid domestic service!

Sister Rose Brooks died in 1945, aged 68. Her and Jessie’s former employer H.G. Wells died in 1946. Mabel is still living there through the 1950s into the mid Sixties.

Mabel Offord Brooks died in Northwest Surrey in 1970, the longest surviving of the Brooks siblings.

Until the 1921 census appears in 2022, it will be difficult to say how long the ageing Jessie Allen Brooks stayed in service with the family. Sadly there is no surviving 1931 or 1941 Census.

Jessie’s brother Albert, a grocer in Cobham, Surrey died in 1929. Jessie, now 56 and her unmarried sisters Rose and Mabel attended, along with her father and Brother William.

She died aged c.65 in 1938, appears never to have married and lived in her later years with her spinster sisters, who also had careers in domestic service.

Jessie Allen Brooks – a woman from a very similar background to Wells himself but whose life was very different. Importantly she kept the Wells family clean and well fed throughout many years!

I shall finish with Peter Dennis’ lovely 2019 image of Wells for his Little Wars book (Paperboys / Helion) featuring a skirt swisher in the background:

Blog posted by Mark Man of TIN, March 2021

6 thoughts on “The dread broom and the swish of skirts: Jessie Allen Brooks, part of the H.G. Wells’ household, Floor Games and Little Wars”

    1. Thanks Tony. If Wells had been born a girl like his servant Jessie Allen Brooks from a similar background to his, it is unlikely he would have become a writer, so no classic SciFi novels, no Floor Games, No Little Wars (No Featherstone War Games, No Chainmail Gygax, No D and D? ) the world is unravelling …

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to have done this background research and that you found it interesting. H G Wells and Jessie Brooks had similar family backgrounds but very different lives and outcomes. Had Wells been a girl, Little Wars and our hobby might never have happened in the same way.
      I thought straightaway of your family challenge to your daughters when Wells mentioned boys being good at making paper houses …

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have no family to get in the way but my last few solo games have required the cats be banished to the bedroom. One of them is a kitten, and she steals dice as well as figures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good point! Oddly the destructive habits of cats and dogs are not mentioned in either book – I’m not sure the Wells family had any pets beyond Gip’s mouse and a hand reared tame red squirrel. Not surprisingly Gip went on to become a zoologist.

      Liked by 1 person

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