Winston Churchill's Cleaning Lady: World War II-era Archive of 140+ Letters Referring to "Mr. C"
This archive provides us with an intimate portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) during World War II and its immediate aftermath, from the perspective of Mary Dorgan, an Irish domestic employed in Churchill's household between 1939 - 1948. Mary's "downstairs" point of view is unique; she witnessed plenty of banal moments of domestic life, but also some of the most monumental events of the war. Her recollections of interactions with Winston Churchill and members of his family, and with both the Churchills' domestic and administrative staff, is of tremendous value to scholars interested in social, cultural, and food history.
The archive consists of letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and three-dimensional objects, ca. February 1945 - July 1966:
1. 140+ letters, many of which run more than 2pp in length, and some accompanied by original transmittal envelopes. 80% of the letters in this archive were written by Mary Dorgan née Stacey to her soldier son Joseph Dorgan; of these, two-thirds date from 1945-1946. Roughly 40 letters in the archive were written by Mary Dorgan to Joe, but were categorized differently as they were only partially dated or undated. Another 30 letters in the archive were written to Joe from other correspondents including family and friends in Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and New Jersey. All types of paper stationery, pencil, and ink can be found. Generally, letters are in very good to near fine condition, with expected paper folds. Isolated damage includes partly split folds or envelope weathering.
2. There are three amateur black and white snapshots, including two taken of Winston Churchill and daughter Mary in an open car presumably during a victory celebration. A third photograph dating from the 1960s may show Mary and her family.
3. A half dozen newspaper clippings were tucked inside original letters, as were some three-dimensional items, including pressed white heather sprigs and a piece of wire mesh. A cigar box and an admittance token are also included.
Mary Dorgan worked as a cleaning lady--or charwoman in British parlance--in the Churchill household on a per diem basis throughout World War II. Typical duties included cleaning bathrooms, washing dishes, and helping staff large events. As an outsider and one of the working poor, Mary's point of view provides us with a bottom-to-top approach to history. Mary's employer was not just any British aristocrat, however, but Winston Churchill, one of the greatest politicians of the twentieth century. During Mary's employment, Churchill served as First Lord of the Admiralty (1939-1940), Prime Minister (1940-1945), and also as Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
While Churchill was famously oblivious of many wartime privations, Mary was not. She like many other Britons struggled to cope with shortages, inflation, workmen's strikes, work instability, and unemployment. Rationing lasted well after the armistice and diminished supplies of meat, fruit, clothing, coal, lamps, soap, cigarettes, and other precious commodities. Mary's letters also underscore the omnipresent dangers of living in the Belgravia / Pimlico section of London during the Blitz and after. Her letters are filled with references to blackouts, sirens, fire watches, and undetonated bombs in St. James's Park which had "been ticking for days."
Mary was a faithful correspondent to her son Joseph (born 1924): "my darling Joe." Joseph was a private and eventually a lance corporal in the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, mobilized relatively late in the war and stationed in Suffolk, Ireland, Egypt, and Palestine. Mary's frequent letters contain references to famous people, places, and events in the Churchill sphere. For example, she discusses the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Victory-in-Europe (V-E) Day, and Winston Churchill's 71st birthday celebration.
Mary's letters reverberate with cultural history. She mentions attending popular movies of the time, such as the Bette Davis vehicles "Dark Victory" and the "Little Foxes." Mary is understandably obsessed with food--sometimes her letters seem like a fantasy grocery list! Food scholars will be entranced by her exhaustive discussion of dried eggs, orangeade, camp pie (a spam alternative), and other wartime oddities.
Mary's letters refer to the following individuals:
- "Mr C" or "Mr Churchill" : Winston Churchill
- "Mrs C" or "Mrs Churchill" : Winston's wife Clementine Churchill, Baroness Spencer-Churchill (1885-1977)
- "Miss Mary" or Mary Churchill, Baroness Soames (1922-2014), the Churchills' youngest daughter
- Randolph Churchill (1911-1968), the Churchills' only son
- King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II), and Princess Margaret
- Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), 32nd U.S. President
- Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), former First Lady of the United States
- Harry Hopkins (1890-1946), U.S. Secretary of Commerce during the Roosevelt administration
- Grace Hamblin (1908-2002), Winston's junior secretary in the 1930s and Clementine's secretary after 1940
- Penelope Hampden-Wall, Clementine's secretary between 1948-1951
- Georgina Landemare (1882-1978), Churchill's cook employed for 22 years at the Churchill household between the 1930s and 1954
- Frank Sawyers (1903-1972), Churchill's valet during World War II, resigned in 1947
Mary's letters mention the following historical landmarks:
- No. 10 Downing Street, the offices of the British Prime Minister
- 28 Hyde Park Gate, where the Churchills lived between 1945-1965
- Chartwell, the Churchills' country retreat in Kent
- Chequers, where Churchill resided in Buckinghamshire during the war
- "the Admiralty," offices of the First Lord of the Admiralty
Some memorable excerpts from Mary's letters are included below, with original spelling and punctuation. Arranged in chronological order.
March 11, 1945
"Enclosed is a little bit of White Heather, put it in your Wallet for luck. I got it at No 10."
undated (ca. May 8, 1945)
"Wasn't it lovely to hear PEACE. Sorry you were not home for it, people really went mad. they were knocking door's shouting + dancing about two in the morning…we rolled home at 2 in the morning. we seen the King + Queen my throat + face was soar from shouting…
When I went to Churchill's for 3 hr's V. day Mrs Churchill caught me by the two hand's I was washing Bath room + she said Mrs D Victory isnt it lovely. I said yes thanks to Mr. Churchill + she told Mrs. L. [cook Georgina Landemare] to be sure + give me a glass of port it was good too, they were a bit sad… Mr Churchill got over 1000 telegram's, letter's + presants galore. but he deserved everything (GOOD OLD CHURCHILL)."
October 6, 1945
"Mr Churchill came back Friday the 5th Oct. (hit isnt too well) hope he doesnt peg out" [expire].
October 11, 1945
"I had another chat with Mr Churchill today he sat on his bed + watched me clean + said did I know he was going to sleep their Thirsday night. I said yes. Sometimes he get's very childish."
November 27, 1945
"I had a couple of (orchads) Monday. they were thrown over the street + car of Mr C -- in Paris the colouring is lovely. I can't describe them to you…the Butler said their must have cost thousands of pounds…I have to help Sat. night, Mary is giving a dinner, + a dance will be held next door in a hughe room next door got ready for the occasion + Mr. C birthday is the night before he is 71."
December 2, 1945
"I had…some of Mr C. birthday cake I could not send you a bit as were not allowed. his cake was in the shape of the British Isles + red roses for England Thistle for Schotland + daffodils for Wales + each place he visited had a flag on it even No. 10 + Chequers + a lovely verse. he coated once of course Mazipan + plenty of icing."
December 26, 1945
"Next Sunday I am going over to Churchills for to eat a Xmas dinner with Staff. Mrs. C. gave me a Calendar + 2£."
January 7, 1946
"As Churchills will be away, the leave 10 o clock Wed. morn we are not doing much cleaning. I believe this is his last trip, he is geting old now, yes."
January 27, 1946
"…I went to Churchill's for dinner + dance. It went off lovely and we had heaps to drink Champagne + Champagne Cocktails. Port, sherry, whiskey any thing we wanted + plenty of eats. + Mary came down and caught me by the hands + said dear Mrs D it was kind of you to come + help…"
February 2, 1946
"…he [Mr. Churchill] has won a fiver backing horses in Miamai. I don't think Mrs. C. like been out their, so I hope she doesn't decide on coming back. Mr. C. was to be an honourable Pall Bearer for Mr. Harry Hopkins. Mrs. Landamare said that's all (Bumpkin)…Mr. C. is gone to Cuba."
April 7, 1946
"…Mrs C brought me a lovely brooch + earrings to match from Miamai handmade) Butler is gone on holidays Mary is home for good now + they can't get parlourmaids. Im geting fed up with it too. I think if Mrs. L [cook Georgina Landemare] went it would be better for she mind's everyone's business."
"We had a busy morning last Sat. getting the P.M. away I seen Miss Mary + Mrs. C. she sent me out a nice letter with 2£ for my holiday + is very pleased with all the work Ive done + is rising my wage's to 1/6 an hour. Glad someone appreciates me."
"Ive heard nothing about me leaving Churchill's yet. the place is geting done up but now since Mr. Churchill resigned they are not moving over from Anex to No. 10 until after the election + they are almost sure of geting him in again, that will be July."
This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.
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