A Faithful Servant to the Sambourne Family

Emma Reffell nee Barrett later Buckingham (1849-1947)

18 Stafford Terrace, Kensington

In the 1901 census there are 1,690,686 women who are listed as a domestic servant, which was about 40% of the adult female working population at that time. Although some were employed in large or extremely large households, it seems likely that most actually worked in homes with only a few servants. Treatment of the servants varied enormously and many came to be considered as part of the family, often living with them for decades. One such person was Emma Reffell nee Barrett, a servant to the Sambourne family for over thirty years.

Emma Barrett was born in 1849 at Alburgh Norfolk, the daughter of John Barrett & Jane Wright. She married William Reffell (1857-1894) on 20 November 1881 at Holy Trinity Church Havestock Hill being eight years older than him. William was the second son of John Reffell (1827-1891) a gardener and Amelia Champness (1829-1911) who lived in Pimlico.

However it appears that Emma did not usually reside with her husband, who was known as a bit of a drunkard, and she is shown in the censuses of 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 as living with the Sambourne family in Stafford Terrace. There were no children of the marriage and William died at the early age of 36. Emma remarried in 1911 at the age of 62 to James Buckingham (1876-). He had been married to Emma’s sister Eliza for 45 years and had ten children. By 1921 they had moved back to their native Norfolk and in 1939 is living in Dickleburgh, a widow and incapacitated. However she lived on and died at the age of 97 in 1947.

Much of what we know of the Sambourne family has been due to their surviving personal papers, and the house in Stafford Terrace which was sold to the then Greater London Council in 1980 and is now in the care of the local authority. It is kept today close to it’s 1900s condition, the interiors are very evocative of the period confines of a typical middle-class home.

Another notoriety of the family was the photographic ‘achievements’ of Linley Sambourne. What started as a hobby taking photographs of the family dressed up to help him draw cartoons for ‘Punch’, took an interesting turn when he persuaded a Miss Cornwallis to pose nude on a bicycle. In the words of Jeremy Paxman as featured in his documentary series ‘The Victorians’“Quite why Miss Cornwallis needed to be naked in order to draw a cartoon of a vicar’s daughter riding a bicycle is a question it would have been very interesting to hear him answer.”

Indeed it would…

The house at 18 Stafford Terrace is usually open to the public on many days in the year, and at weekends there are guided tours by ‘Mrs Emma Reffell, family cook & housekeeper’. The house is owned & operated by the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.