MRS. HUDSON AND THE IRISH INVINCIBLES
Second in the Mrs. Hudson of Baker Street Series
Even less well known than Mrs. Hudson’s achievements as director of the first of its kind consulting detective agency is her life before allying with Holmes and Watson. Now, that is changed. Materials recently acquired from the Embassy of Bulgaria shed welcome light on that earlier history. Journals belonging to Mrs. Hudson’s first employer, Lady Cynthia Stanhope, were first discovered by Embassy officials during renovations made to the Stanhope’s Belgravia mansion shortly after its acquisition by the Bulgarian government. In the Cold War spirit dominating diplomatic relations at the time, the journals were viewed as the prattle of an English reactionary from a bygone imperialist era and consigned to a distant part of the mansion’s attic. When the building passed from Bulgarian hands to become again a private residence, Embassy officials made Lady Stanhope’s journals available to the British Museum and we have finally become privy to the contents of those diaries. Unfortunately, many pages are missing and others are substantially water damaged. Moreover, Lady Stanhope appears to have written sparingly about her servants. Nonetheless, whatever their deficiencies the journals are able to illuminate an area left far too long in shadows.
In an entry dated May 28, 1848, after first recounting her satisfaction with a shopping expedition to Paris, Lady Stanhope reports “Mrs. Cavitt [her housekeeper] has recommended a girl to replace the housemaid who disappeared from service two weeks ago. Mrs. Cavitt tells me the staff is most sorely taxed and urges me to adopt the girl for service immediately. I feel I must trust Mrs. Cavitt’s judgment in these things, but admit to some reservations about this girl. I am informed she comes from most trying circumstances, her mother is a seamstress and her father’s whereabouts are simply unknown. Not an unusual circumstance to be sure, but not a good omen. She is fourteen and so is an appropriate age, and she reports having completed four years of schooling which speaks well for her diligence. I am told she is hard-working and honest, but is cursed with the fearful accent common to those from the City’s eastern area. I will defer to Mrs. Cavitt’s judgment, and hope she proves suitable to her position.”
There is a second entry fully two years later in which Lady Stanhope again yields to her housekeeper’s judgment and reports, “I must admit the housemaid I brought into service with some reluctance is not entirely lacking in intelligence and makes a generally favorable impression. I will take Mrs. Cavitt’s recommendation and promote her to parlor maid. She still speaks without awareness that the letters g and h are included in the English alphabet; however, I will simply hope she has little occasion to engage in conversation with any of my guests.”
The last entry in Lady Stanhope’s journal of significance to us is dated September 18, 1851 and reads “My parlor maid has given notice that she will be leaving service to marry one Tobius (sic) Hudson who is, of all things, the constable patrolling this area. I understand they will be taking a flat in Lambeth. Why the girl should give up her present position for a flat in Lambeth is quite beyond me. The girl’s leaving will greatly inconvenience me, and Mrs. Cavitt, and I have no intention of favoring her with a good notice for the position she will doubtless require in future.”
We already know somewhat more of the rest of Mrs. Hudson’s life. We know from Constable Hudson’s gravestone that she and the policeman were married until his death nearly 30 years later. We believe there were no children from that union. There are records as well of “a lease to property suitable for the provision of lodging located at 221B Baker” entered in the name of Tobias Hudson. There is, however, no information to resolve the last great mystery surrounding Mrs. Hudson. That of determining the woman’s given name.
Registry Office records of the housekeeper’s birth and marriage were destroyed by fire and it is unclear which of the several Mrs. Hudsons for whom death records appear is our Mrs. Hudson. And then there is the further mystery of Mrs. Hudson’s burial place, denying us even the opportunity of learning her name from its gravestone. There are, admittedly, those who confuse Mrs. Hudson with the operative, given the name Martha, inserted by Holmes into the Van Bork household as reported by Dr. Watson in His Last Bow. However, the connection seems to hang on the slender thread that Martha (if that was truly the woman’s name) was an older woman, and in service. In fact, in the case in point, Mrs. Hudson remained in London, confidently waiting the return of her two protégés and their report of the success of her plan to root out the Kaiser’s secret agent. At age 80, though still quick-witted, she left the rigors of field work to others.
Thus, we have no choice but to adopt Dr. Watson’s custom of identifying the great lady solely by her last name even as we reject all other limitations he and others improperly impose on the true sage of Baker Street.
—Barry S Brown