To Make Vinegar

This recipe is from page seven of Althea’s book. As with To Preserve Pineapples it is attributed to her aunt, Jane Harrison, who lived at nearby Singleton Park. As such, it is likely to date to around 1868. Jane would have been in her late fifties and was clearly of a generation that had known the necessity of preserving and ‘making your own.’

‘To Make Vinegar. To one gallon of water put 1/2 a lb of brown sugar & 1/2 lb of treacle. Boil them well together for 20 minutes – skimming carefully all the time – when cool, after pouring it into a large vessel – put into it a slice of toast spread over with a spoonful of yeast. Let it stand 24 hours & then put it into a well-seasoned cask & place the plant on the top of the liquid. Cover the whole of the cask well over with a piece of brown paper which must be passed over it & well pricked with a pin all over. Set it near the kitchen fire or any other regularly warm place until it is quite sour – then bottle it for use.’

This seemed like a strange sort of process – boiling up sugar and treacle then floating yeasty toast in it. The ‘plant’ I used, or ‘mother’ as this natural bacteria is often called, was half a bottle of non-pasteurised cider vinegar. It seemed like a bizarre collection of ingredients. However, my research tells me that vinegar can be made from any fermentable carbohydrate source. The yeast converts the sugars to alcohol and then the bacteria converts the alcohol to acetic acid.

The mixture smelled and tasted far too sweet to qualify as vinegar at the start of the process but I kept the faith and poured it all into a bottle. It fizzed away and I had to make sure to release the pressure from time to time. A month later and it now has a sharper taste, more reminiscent of vinegar but still with an odd tang of treacle. The website Spiceography, says that ‘In the 19th century, malt vinegar was made darker with the addition of caramel colouring. This was an effort to compete with cheap imported vinegars made from molasses.’ Perhaps then our Victorian ancestors were more accustomed to a treacley vinegar than we are.

In a previous post about Althea, I wrote about the sad demise of her father, Charles. Charles was a much-loved vicar in a Hampshire parish who got himself into financial trouble before dying from pneumonia in April 1852, aged only 55. He left his wife, Charlotte, with six children under the age of sixteen to support, including Althea, the baby of the family. Given that Charles had been declared an insolvent debtor – even having to sell off effects such as linen and a cow in 1848 – and then been swindled by a fraudster in 1850, I imagine there was little to no resources for Charlotte to fall back on. So, what became of the family?

Charles and Charlotte had twelve children altogether. Tracing the Maberlys through the censuses is always tricky, as the name appears to be transcribed in an infinite number of bizarre ways! But, one by one, I’ve tried to track them down. The eldest daughter Mary was 27 when Charles died, no longer living at home and forging a successful career in education. I haven’t managed to find Eliza but she was 24 and no longer living at home either. Brother Charles was in the Navy, on his way to becoming a Commander. Marianne was training to be a governess at ‘St Mary’s Hall’, a school in Brighton for the ‘daughters of poor clergy’ – a clear nod to her late father’s circumstances.

Their eight youngest children (aged between six and 18) were all still living at home in 1851, the year before he died, but some were getting old enough to fend for themselves. Catharine (Kate), who was 20 when her father died, followed sister Mary into education; by 1857, they had founded a girls’ school together. George, Henrietta, Sophia and Frances are harder to follow. By the 1861 census, many of the Maberleys have disappeared into thin air, I suspect through a combination of bizarre surname-transcriptions and because of gaps in the census records, rather than exciting oversea adventures.

George is a mystery; it doesn’t seem that he followed his older brother’s footsteps to attend prestigious Marlborough College but, aged seventeen when his father died, he was no doubt encouraged to make his way in the world. At some point during the 1850s, he emigrated to New Zealand, where he became a headmaster. His younger sister, Sophia, also went to New Zealand and married at the young age of 18. Frances became yet another Maberly teacher!

But how did Charlotte cope at first with the children she still had left with her? Charles died in the April and, by July, a new vicar, William Carter, was officiating. No doubt he had moved into the spacious vicarage too. Given that the last census was only the year before, it is not easy to track Charlotte’s movements. However, a year after Charles died, she is 20 miles south of Owslebury and life has changed:

Education, Southsea – 4, Queen’s Crescent. Mrs. Maberly (Widow of a Clergyman) offers to Parents and Guardians the advantages of maternal care and moral culture for a limited number of Boys, between the ages of four and ten years. The marine situation commends itself as salubrious and convenient. The highest references can be given.’

Queen’s Crescent was a newly-built street in the desirable middle-class area of Southsea in Portsmouth. In the 1851 census, the buildings are occupied by retired major generals, rear admirals and captains, who could still be close to their beloved sea. It seems a strange place for Charlotte to be, as I can find no obvious family connections to Portsmouth at the moment. Her oldest son, Charles, was in the Navy, so perhaps there was a contact through him that saw her settle there. However, one thing was obvious: Charlotte was paying her way.

I wonder who the ‘highest references’ were. There was no indication that Charlotte had any experience as a teacher or governess but perhaps she had been involved in education in some way at the Vicarage, maybe with the local school. Certainly, with at least five of her children going on to work in education, it seemed to be a family skill-set. It’s interesting that she is taking on a ‘limited number of Boys’. With nine daughters and three sons, I would have thought girls were her forte! Or perhaps she’d had enough of them.

I have no way of knowing if any of her younger children were still with her. It’s possible that teenagers Sophia, Henrietta and Frances ended up at their older sister Mary’s school, if they were not being tutored by Charlotte in Southsea too. I have managed to discover two of the youngest children. Alexander and Theresa, who were eight and nine respectively when their father died, both secured places at schools run by the Clergy Orphan Corporation. The Corporation had been founded in 1749 to maintain and educate the orphaned (e.g. fatherless) children of Anglican clergymen. Brother and sister were admitted, respectively, in 1853 and 1854 and would have attended the Corporation’s school at St John’s Wood Road, adjacent to Lord’s Cricket Ground. They would have learned ‘humility, obedience, courtesy and submission to parents and superiors, and…enough education to enable them to become useful members of society.

Alexander would have been ten when he was admitted to the school. Two years later, he was to move again when the boys at the school were relocated to new premises in Canterbury. The website Historic Canterbury tells us that ‘The Rev. Dr. Warneford, with the munificence which is so well known, provided a site at Canterbury, at a cost of upward of £3000 and also offered £4000 toward the erection of a new school for boys, together with £6000 to found scholarships.‘ Historic Canterbury lays out the conditions for admittance:

Boys must be not less than 8 nor more than 12 years of age when admitted, and certified to be healthy and free from defect of intellect, sight, hearing and speech; elected by vote of general court twice a year; remain to age of 15. Six or eight probationers remain until 16, from whom two Warneford scholars annually chosen to stay till 18. Not more than two of same family allowed in school at same time, unless family consist of more than eight, or mother be dead as well as father. 

Alexander was one of these Warneford scholars.

By StEdmunds1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Theresa and Alexander would have been the only two of the Maberly children aged between eight and 12 at the time and so eligible to attend the schools. Alexander was still at the school on the 1861 census at the age of eighteen. Theresa appears to have left in 1857, at the age of 15. Attending the school certainly proved to be a great opportunity for Alexander, who went on to study at Queen’s College, Oxford, before becoming a barrister. Theresa ended up as a Dame through marriage to her architect husband.

Which leaves little Althea, just six when her father died. She was too young to be admitted to a Clergy Orphan School and there is no record of her attending in later years. Whilst other, older siblings perhaps went to be educated by older sister and successful teacher Mary, I think it likely that Althea stayed with Charlotte. Certainly, she remained close to her mother throughout her life, even when she moved up to Newby Bridge; I have affectionate letters sent to Charlotte from Althea’s daughter, Maimie.

I don’t know how long Charlotte stayed in Southsea for, although she was certainly still there in December 1855, when she again placed an advertisement for male pupils. By 1860, most of the Maberlys, including Charlotte, appear to be in the Blackheath area of south London. A Mrs Maberly appears in the 1860 Kelly’s Directory, living in Dartmouth Terrace, Blackheath, just around the corner from daughter Mary and her newly-established girl’s school. A marriage certificate in 1861 for Marianne confirms that the family was living here. As with Queen’s Crescent, Southsea, it is certainly a respectable address. Apparently built in 1853/4, the houses were spacious and grand and looked directly on to the Heath. The property was advertised to let in September 1859, so I am guessing that this is when Charlotte made her move.

As stated above, many of the Maberlys are untraceable on the 1861 census. I suspect that this is because Charlotte is living back with most of her unmarried daughters – Eliza, Marianne, Catharine, Henrietta, Sophia, Theresa and Althea – in Dartmouth Terrace. Apparently, this area is renowned for missing census records at this time. After several years of lodging with small boys, it must have been quite a change for Charlotte but, I hope, a happy one.

Dartmouth Terrace, 1970s. Source: The Blackheath Society.

Widowhood at such a young age had no doubt been devastating for Charlotte. However, as a middle class woman, with contacts and respectability on her side, her experience contrasts with that of Harriet’s rural, working class ancestors in Yorkshire. When Harriet’s grandmother Alice is widowed in 1840, she relies on poor relief and the kindness of the community, rather than church scholarships, to keep her children from the workhouse. Where Charlotte tutors well-to-do boys in the rarefied air of Southsea, Alice takes in laundry in her overcrowded house. What both women had in common though was the ongoing support of their families and the fact that both outlived their husbands by forty years.

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