No. 4, Whitehall Gardens – Episode 01

No. 4 Whitehall Gardens illustration by Sailesh Thakrar

“Must I brush my hair, Clementine?”

Little Julia Peel was once again unwilling to be the young lady her station in life required her to be.

Clementine stared at her hand as it hovered over Julia’s head and wondered what to do next. The child was eight, but with a determined character that flummoxed Clementine, her nursery maid.

Frederick, four and curious, sat before them on the dressing table, his short legs bumping against the gilding, getting in the way of the looking-glass.

“Miss Everett will be vexed if you don’t,” he said, smiling cheerfully.

Clementine knew that was true. The governess had the highest standards in the nursery, and had taken Clementine to task on occasions about the boys’ breeches (stained at the knees), the girls’ hair (lacking in gloss) and Julia’s shoes and frock.

Julia harboured an ambition to be a soldier; a career Clementine had found herself utterly unable to discourage.

No amount of explanation that young ladies did not enter military service moved the child.

With this in mind, little Julia regularly attached to her shoes a pair of dress spurs she had managed to dig out of her father’s wardrobe, and pinned epaulettes on the shoulders of her dress, and wore the ensemble about the house.

Eight weeks ago Clementine had had no idea that children could be so difficult.

She thought now, as she watched six-year-old Robert pass outside the nursery door with another beetle jar in his hand, that if the children had been older, the job might not have been so hard.

She was an only child, and had no experience with children when her mother had secured her this post in the Peel nursery.

Surely all Miss Everett’s scoldings, and Clementine’s many errors with diet and hygiene, exercise and discipline, should have had her dismissed before now.

Mrs Peel must have observed that she was the worst nursery maid in all London.

But then Mrs Peel was a woman of importance, the wife of the Home Secretary, (no less) and her mind was on other matters.

Clementine had no idea what a Home Secretary did. Her mother, employed at No. 4, Whitehall Gardens as second cook, had tried to explain.

“Mr Peel’s responsibility is home affairs,” she’d said. It was one week before Clementine was to attend an interview in the nursery at No. 4. “For the care of the nation.”

“Why home?” Clementine asked. “That word speaks to me of four walls.”

They both looked round at the walls of their tiny parlour. Mrs Denny “lived out”, arriving at No. 4 early in the morning, six days a week, to prepare dinners and luncheons.

“It means the home nation. If you get the position, it will be the Peel children – five of them and another on the way – and many duties that you must familiarise yourself with, not the state of the country. The governess is the person you will look to, and you’ll mind every word she says.”

“If I am successful.”

“If you are successful.” Bridget Denny sighed. “I hope so. I have done that much wheedling to get you in and save you from Molly Westall!”

“I’m done with that, Ma.”

“Yes, you are. Now, they will ask you –”

“Who will?”

“Miss Everett will ask you questions. Mrs Peel may attend if she has no engagements. We’re to go in the early morning, so she may be at home.

“You’ve to make them understand that you’ll keep those children happy and well, see that they get their bread and milk, and are always clean and pressed.

“You might get to read with them, if you behave.” Her mother eyed Clementine. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, Ma,” Clementine replied.

She had every intention of doing well. She was sure that five children could not defeat her.

“Do your job and the Home Secretary will be able to run the country without disturbance.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.