She lived the later part of her life in London around the corner from me although she was there from 1738 until 1741 and I 1982 until 2013 so we never actually met.
I don't know how many times I walked past this plaque, I read it thousands of times; it's on the wall of a modern carpet shop next to Iceland at the junction of Well Street and Mare Street in London. It's part of Hackney that has been ruthlessly ignored by the gentrifiers, an island of 1970s Hackney, still down at heel. There are some clues that this spot might have once been the edge of the city, that there might have been big houses and market gardens rather than hostels and a giant LIDL. There's Elizabeth Fry's original safe house for women, a lovely Grade II listed pile that has been neglected for years, there's the name of the local estate - Loddiges - named for an ahead of his time gardener who built some of the largest glasshouses in England. And just to the south a pocket of old houses that includes a different women's refuge, The Ayah's Home, which is actually the subject of this blog instead.
The Ayah's Home has its own plaque and a very different, sadder, history. It was opened in 1900 - which in the run of things is almost touching distance - by well to do Ladies who lunch disturbed that some other well to do Ladies were treating their servants abominably.
Ayahs were Indian and sometimes Chinese nannies, women who gave up any family of their own they might have to look after those of the wealthy English Sahibs and their families serving the Empire abroad. When these families returned to England their Ayahs would come too, taking care of the little ones on board ship for the long months of the journey home. Once back in blighty many of these Sahibs and Memsahibs abandoned their Ayahs and either employed English nannies or sent the children to school. The Ayahs were cut loose, abandoned in a city thousands of miles from home with no means of support and no way of getting home. Left destitute. This was obviously enough of a problem that the home was opened in a large leafy suburb in a large lovely house in South Hackney.
That's an view inside of the grateful Ayahs passing their time at needlework.