Monday, December 20, 2010

Leonora Hibbert

Before the age of television, radio, even mass-market newspapers, fame was a very limited commodity and ordinary people remained unknown outside of their own village. The railway, and with it the possibility of mass communication changed that. Improved education and literacy increased readership and it was possible to find out more about the world. One of the interesting things about the history of the 19th century is that lives were recorded in the registration of births, marriages and deaths and in the decennial census. Add to that the occasional reference in a book or a newspaper and it is possible to construct some sort of life of ordinary people.

Leonora Hibbert was married to James Hibbert, a booking clerk. She was born in Norwich in 1810 and shows up on the 1841 Census as Housekeeper at the Refreshment Rooms but in 1851 she is very clearly the Manger with quite a sizeable staff of between 20 and 30 under her. The Refreshment Rooms, as I have observed before, were unique for their time and for a decade at least were famous throughout the land. Sir Francis Bond Head, after his visit in 1848 or 9 immortalized her as the "generalissima" who made sure that this complex establishment, having to serve trainloads within the space of a few minutes, ran smoothly. From his description we get a picture of a strong-minded woman who knew how to organize people.

As far as I can tell the Hibberts did not have children and after her husband died she moved to Holyhead to manage The Royal Hotel. By this time the Refreshment Rooms were in decline as faster trains meant that they could bypass Wolverton.  She may have subsequently remarried.

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