In the House

Strictly speaking, that should be plural as the ‘House’ is that perched on the side of the Thames next to Westminster Bridge –the Palace of Westminster.

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They connect, in this instance, to two of our past pupils: neatly, one in one House and one in the other. In the case of the first, we are stretching a point as it is unlikely that she herself went anywhere near the place. The second case is far more concrete.

Currently the Labour Party is thrashing about trying to select a new leader so it seems timely to be writing about former pupil Marion Gardner Barnes, 1919-2006, the granddaughter of George Nicoll Barnes, Leader of the Labour Party 1910-1911. Nicholls had been part of the Lib-Lab coalition government under Lloyd George. When the Labour Party decided to leave the coalition, Barnes refused to resign and was expelled from the Party. He then founded the National Democratic and Labour Party and stood under this flag in 1918. His son, James Edwin Barnes, had married Annie Whyte Gardner in 1911 and they had three children, of whom Marion was the youngest. James was possibly a little overshadowed by his father as his death in 1928 was reported with reference to his father almost as if his own life were of no import.

The West London Observer 10 February 1928

Because of her father’s death, Marion gained a place at the School and in the 1932 Anniversary Festival she played the piano, probably in the traditional Duos or Trios which the School performed each year for more than a century: Duos was two girls to each of eight pianos and Trios was 3 girls per piano, all playing the same piece. Then in 1935, Marion ran the 100 yards race on Sports Day and received the prize of a lacrosse stick. Clearly an athletic girl, she also participated in the ‘senior style jump’ and the three-legged race, both of which events she won, her prizes being an attaché case and a tennis bag and balls. They were prizes in those days!

She left school in 1938 and had a post with the Bank of England. In the 1939 register she is at Hurstbourne Park (occupied by the Bank during World War II) given as a woman clerk.

The image shows a building that was mostly destroyed by fire in 1965. (

As Marion’s grandfather stopped being an MP in 1922, when she was only 3, it seems unlikely that she was ever taken to visit the Houses of Parliament – “this is where Grandad works …” – but the Other House was not only visited by a former pupil, it was her residence too.

Amelia Laney, or de Laney, was Housekeeper in the House of Lords. Before we look more closely at this, perhaps we ought to skim through the rest of her life. She was the daughter of Thomas and Dorothy and was born on 30th March 1848 in Chelsea. Her surname in the School register is clearly written as Laney or de Laney with her mother’s maiden name as a second forename.

In 1851, the family were at 19 Symons St, Chelsea but when Amelia was admitted to the School in 1857, her parents were dead and the Petitioner was Anne Emery, dressmaker, a cousin who was also a witness to the will of Thomas, dated 1852.

Thomas’ will confirms him as a beer retailer of Chelsea with a wife Dorothy. His son Thomas is granted his father’s watch and his daughter Georgiana Maria, his snuffbox.

The will dated May 1852 was proved in August of that year which possibly implies that Thomas knew his time was short but could be an unfortunate coincidence. Amelia is not mentioned but she would have been four years old at the time whereas her siblings were older. There were eight children born to the couple, four of whom died as children including twins born in 1839 who both died on 23 July 1843. Amelia, in comparison with her siblings, was still a baby.

After her father’s death, Amelia’s mother re-married and then died herself in 1857. It would have been this death that precipitated Amelia’s petition as a pupil. She left the School in April 1864 and went to her aunt Mrs Brent [?], a churchwarden in Grange Rd, Bermondsey.

By 1871, Amelia was in Staffordshire at Hawks Yard Park, Armitage, the home of Josiah Spode IV and given as a lady’s maid. Josiah was a widower (since 1868) but Amelia may have gone there originally as lady’s maid to his wife. Josiah, as the name indicates, was the great grandson of the Josiah Spode, founder of Spode pottery and pre-eminent in the development of bone china In England


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His mother bought Armitage Park in 1839 and renamed it Spode House.

Armitage Park, Staffordshire drawn by [John Preston] Neale in 1818
Josiah left the estate to his niece in 1893 but the Hall eventually fell into disrepair before being finally boarded up (1988). In 1999 it was purchased by Relaine Estates Ltd, who set about restoring it partly by using photographs from the Shugborough collection. It was decided to use the original name of Hawkesyard for the Estate, and the transformation of the Hall and outer buildings was completed in 2007. It is now established as a Wedding, Events and Conference Centre.

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Josiah lived at the Hall until his death but Amelia had moved on by 1881 and by 1891, she was an assistant in the infirmary of the Birmingham Workhouse, a large institution with space for 310 patients. Part of it is today absorbed into Birmingham Hospital. (

But we haven’t finished with Josiah Spode yet as he left Amelia a legacy.

Lichfield Mercury 23 February 1894

£600 is not to be sniffed at today but in 1893 it was the equivalent of approximately £50,000 – so a considerable sum. In 1901, Amelia is in Peasenhall, Suffolk given as retired matron and superintendent. As she was only 53 years old, it must be presumed that she was living off the legacy, old age pension not then being available.

However by 1911 she had returned to work and now we come full circle as this is when she is listed as the Housekeeper in the House of Lords.

A visit to the Parliamentary Archives to find more information elicited a number of frustrating blind alleys, some interesting background material and, most significantly, a meeting with the Senior Archivist who just happened to have produced a thesis on working women in the Palace of Westminster! Her detailed research work, available on, includes a chapter subtitled ‘The small matter of a housemaid’s bed … ‘ and contains specific reference to Amelia.

In 1911, Amelia de Laney was the only female head of household in the Palace of Westminster … Her occupation is clearly given as ‘Housekeeper, House of Lords’.’ Parliament and Women, c.1900-1945, Takayanagi, 2012

Of interest is that she did not apparently know where she was born but thought it was London. This possibly implies that she had lost contact with her family who would surely remind her of her roots. However, this is speculation only.

Trying to ascertain what the role of the Housekeeper was and the whereabouts of the four rooms she occupied involved a great deal of reading across the grain and no certainty at the end of it. Women had been employed in domestic capacities in the Palace as ‘a Crown appointment rather than a Parliamentary one’ (ibid). In J C Sainty, The Office of Housekeeper in the House of Lords, pp256-260 in Parliamentary History 27(2): 2008 (cited Takayanagi) it is stated that the post was a sinecure, and in 1895, Charles Tanner MP said of Amelia’s predecessor:

‘He understood the housekeeper was an excellent lady in every sense of the word, that she had nothing to do, and a residence and £200 a year to assist her in doing nothing. [A laugh.] …This housekeeper had practically nothing to superintend, had not to weigh out the soap or look after the candles—[Laughter]—turn off the gas, or turn on the electric light.’ HC Deb (4th series) 22 Aug 1895 vol 36 c598 (cited Takayanagi)

As a result, the post of housekeeper was supposedly abolished in 1896, the role replaced by a non-residential Principal Housemaid. However, in 1902, the Lord Great Chamberlain made a case that, as the person in this role needed to be on the premises early and late, it would be of benefit if the post were residential. It seems possible, but not certain, that 1902 is when Amelia was employed as resident Housekeeper and it caused conflict with the Government:

‘The Office of Works removed the Housekeeper’s furniture, on the grounds she should not live in. The Treasury refused to pay for replacement furniture …’ (Takayanagi)

In 1872, that furniture had been listed as:

The impasse was resolved by the Clerk of the Parliaments buying furniture, costing £85, with the Lords Offices Committee reimbursing him from the House of Lords Fee Fund Account. The clerk commented at the time:

‘I do most seriously deplore such a difference of opinion on seemingly so small a matter as a housemaid’s bed …’  (Henry Graham to Sir Francis Mowatt, 10 Oct 1902. PA, HL/PO/AC/15/11, cited Takayanagi)

Exactly where the four rooms that Amelia used were located was impossible to ascertain. In 1865, LGC/5/6/48a indicated that the Housekeeper was in basement rooms under Charles’ Romilly’s office. LGC/5/7/33b – dated 1873 indicates that the apartments were four rooms and a kitchen but failed to identify its position. Dr Takayanagi was of the opinion (but not certain) that Amelia’s rooms were on the second floor of the building and may well be now occupied by the Parliamentary Archives research room. So in trying to uncover information, we had been inadvertently sitting in what had once possibly been Amelia’s sitting room!

Amelia remained as Housekeeper until retiring (for a second time!) in 1919. In 1939, she is recorded in Cheshire, described as incapacitated, and she died the following year leaving an estate valued at just short of £21.

Her death at the age of 92 closes the saga of the little Chelsea-born girl, once a pupil, later subject of a discussion in Parliament and the connection with the Palace of Westminster.


My grateful thanks to SuBa for supporting research and to Dr Mari Takayanagi for allowing me to read and cite her PhD thesis.