Staying in and ‘Coming Out’

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Following the sudden and unexpected death of her aunt Meta at the end of 1876, and with nowhere else to go, Lil was taken to the home of Dr Charles Chaldecott, a local physician who had attended her aunt[i] during her short illness.  Dr Chaldecott was from a well-established Dorking family who had followed his father and older brother into the medical profession and was by then a key member of the local community.

Many of the well-to-do residents of this small market town would have known one another or knew of their neighbours’ standing in the area and nineteen-year-old Lil was comparatively fortunate to be offered employment as a governess in Dr Chaldecott’s home at Nower Lodge on Coldharbour Lane, Dorking.  Nower Lodge was spacious enough for his large household, which included his second wife, six surviving children from his first marriage and a further four from his second, plus three or four servants including a cook, housemaid, and a nurse for the younger children[ii], as well as consulting rooms where he could examine and treat some of his patients.

Taking a position as a governess was one of the few legitimate ways by which an unmarried middle-class woman could support herself in Victorian society and she would have been paid a small salary of around £25 a year as well as board and lodging.  Lil’s new role within the Chaldecott household would, in theory, have allowed her to maintain some dignity and make use of her education by teaching the children, particularly the older girls as boys over the age of eight were sent away to boarding school. 

Lil would likely have worn her hair scraped back into a tight bun, secured firmly under a snood, and have been expected to wear a uniform which included a blouse buttoned up to the neck, a long black skirt with a wide belt and boots, along with a shawl and bonnet for outdoor wear.  She would have taken her meals on her own in the schoolroom as not only would she would not have been invited to sit down to dinner with her employers, she would also have been disliked by the servants because they were expected to be deferential towards her, even though she had to go out to work – just like them.       

It would have been a lonely and awkward time as she was neither a servant nor a member of the family, yet she would have had to maintain an impeccable reputation by avoiding anything which could embarrass or offend her employer.    Her only possibility of escape would be to get married – if she could find a husband.  Of course, it would have been hard to meet a suitable man as most eligible men were now socially her superior and their families would have preferred a bride with a dowry in direct proportion to the groom’s social status.

“The Governess” by Richard Redgrave [iii]

Whilst Lil was adjusting to her new situation, three of Walter Brock’s sisters, Mary, Amy, and Mabel, had arrived in Dorking and were settling into their roles supporting their unmarried brother’s responsibilities with parishioners and charitable work in the community.   Mabel, the youngest of the Brock sisters, was about the same age as Lil, with Mary and Amy a little older.  Despite their differing circumstances, the four young ladies knew each other well and became good friends.

Relocating to Dorking was a good opportunity for the Brock sisters to ‘come out’ into a local society where the range of social functions would have been greater than in their rural home village in Guernsey, whilst allowing their brother to keep a watchful eye on them.  During late Victorian times, a young woman’s introduction to society not only marked her transition to adulthood, but also her availability for marriage.  By then, marriages were generally no longer arranged, so ‘coming out’ helped ensure that a young lady would meet young men who were deemed suitable by her parents.

The Brock sisters would have relied on their family and friends to make the connections they needed to receive invitations to local balls, concerts, and other events where they might meet eligible young bachelors.  Parties were a good opportunity to identify potential romantic partners: young gentlemen would make themselves available, requesting turns on the dance floor from ladies to whom they had been introduced by a member of the host or hostess’s family, but only after the lady had graciously granted her permission.  Etiquette of the day however forbade him from dancing too frequently with one lady, although he could accompany her to the refreshment room for supper before returning her to her seat by the dancefloor.[iv]

Each lady guest at a ball would have a dance engagement card which listed the dances for the evening and by each was a space to record the name of a partner for that dance.  After the event the card was often kept as a souvenir of the evening, perhaps finding a place in the lady’s drawing-room album.

Dance engagement card in the shape of a fan [v]

Before a gentleman could even consider taking the next step to begin courting a young lady, he had to have already been formally re-introduced to her through society’s proper channels, such as through a mutual friend.  A gentleman was always introduced to a lady, never the other way around, as the chivalry of etiquette assumed that the lady was invariably superior.[vi] 

Any prospective suitor who had not already been introduced would have to consider how he could become acquainted with the object of his interest.  To this end, he might find out where she lived and make discreet inquiries about her family whilst avoiding compromising her name by not mentioning it.  He might then send a letter of introduction to the woman’s father or guardian outlining his position in life and prospects, as well as mentioning his own family, and requesting permission to visit. 

Once he was fortunate enough to have procured an introduction to the lady’s family, and she was agreeable to his attentions, there were many ‘cautionary rules for the purpose of averting the mischief that unchecked intercourse and incautious familiarity might give rise to’.[vii]  For instance, a chaperone should always be present so that a couple known to each other were never ever left alone for any length of time. 

Courtship was considered more a career move than a romantic interlude for young men, as a bride’s property reverted to her husband upon marriage.  Generally, women were expected to be dependent upon a man: first as a daughter and later as a wife, but by now, as a young woman earning her own living and with no family nor wealth behind her, Lil’s prospects of finding a husband were looking somewhat bleak.

Around that time, Lil’s friend Mabel Brock became very unwell, with symptoms including tiredness, abdominal pain, and weight loss.  Dr Chaldecott diagnosed abdominal tuberculosis; an infectious disease, perhaps caused by drinking unpasteurised milk, whereby bacteria attacked the patient’s digestive system.  In the years before antibiotics, there was no cure, and the only treatment was iced cloths to the patient’s abdomen and opiates to manage the pain[viii].   It must have been horrendous as Mabel, aged just 20, wasted away over several weeks until she died on 17th November 1878 with her brother by her side at his home in Hampstead Road, Dorking[ix].  She was buried four days later in Plot P Grave 2691[x] in Dorking Cemetery and the ceremony was performed by the Reverend Peter Righton Atkinson, Vicar of St Martin’s Church Dorking[xi].

Surrey Advertiser 9 Nov 1878 [xii]

As well as trying to come to terms with their loss, Mabel’s sisters Mary and Amy would have followed a series of complex mourning rules in the months after her untimely death.  These included wearing heavy black clothing and not attending any social events at all for six months, although they would have been permitted to meet discreetly with family or a very close friend at home.[xiii]  The mourning period in Victorian times also served to help those around the bereaved to understand how to behave and made sure that grief was recognised and respected by others.

As a friend, Lil would not have to go into mourning, but she may have been able to offer support and empathy to her friends learned from of her own experience of bereavement following the recent deaths of both her mother and aunt. I am sure that the death of her close friend and contemporary would have been very difficult for her too, but she was unlikely to have received any support herself within the Chaldecott household or local community.

During the year after Mabel’s death, Dr Chaldecott decided that he needed assistance with his work in the thriving general practice at Nower Lodge and the Dorking Cottage Hospital, which offered care for up to ten patients from the local area.  The position was duly offered to another of the Brock siblings, Alexander Cameron, who had also been at school in Guernsey with Lil’s brother Will.  Dr Brock had qualified at Guy’s Hospital in London in 1877 and, following a secondment as Assistant House Surgeon and Physician’s Assistant at Bristol Hospital,[xiv] he joined Dr Chaldecott as junior partner.  Thus, the firm of Messrs. Chaldecott and Brock, Surgeons, was established.

When the young surgeon first arrived in Dorking, he lodged within the small cottage hospital on Hampstead Road,[xv] close to his brother and sisters.  After a short while, he moved to 40 South Street, where he opened a new branch of the busy Chaldecott and Brock medical practice on the ground floor and lived in rooms above.  One hundred and fifty years on, the building and its neighbour, number 38, survive with Grade II Listed status and the ground floor has served the local community as a pharmacy for the last 30 or so years.

40 and 38 South Street Dorking today [xvi]

Dr Brock, known as Cameron, was introduced to Lil and they soon fell in love.  Their courtship would have been very difficult as extreme discretion was required because of his position as junior partner and Lil’s as governess to the family.  However, fortunately for them and despite Lil’s disadvantaged status, the Brock family gave their blessing to the relationship, and the young couple were married quietly on 7th June 1880 at St Martin’s Church.   The bride was given away by Thomas Winslow, the family friend with whom she and her aunt had stayed when they first arrived in Dorking, and the ceremony was conducted by the groom’s father the Dean of Guernsey, and brother Walter curate of the church.  The few guests included the bride’s brother Will, the groom’s sister Amy Brock, Amy Powell who was by then Walter Brock’s fiancée, Dr Chaldecott, and best man was the groom’s cousin also called Cameron Brock.

Surrey Advertiser 12 Jun 1880 [xvii]

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[i] An Eccentric in the Alps the Story of the Rev. W.A.B. Coolidge the Great Victorian Mountaineer by Ronald W. Clark | Published by Museum Press, 1959

[ii] Dorking Census 1871 and 1881

[iii] The Victoria and Albert Museum: The Governess  last accessed 27 Mar 2022

[iv] Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette last accessed 30 Mar 2022

[v] The Ephemera Society Program du Bal last accessed 31 Mar 2022

[vi] Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette last accessed 30 Mar 2022

[vii] Ibid    

[viii]The Wellcome Collection Lectures on clinical medicine delivered in the Royal and Western infirmaries of Glasgow / by M’Call Anderson last accessed 02 Apr 2022

[ix] Mabel Agnes Brock’s death certificate.

[x] Dorking Cemetery Burial Records

[xi] Surrey, England, Burials, 1813-1987 via

[xii] Surrey Advertiser 09 Nov 1878 © The British Library Board via

[xiii] The Girl’s Own Paper 1882 last accessed 02 Apr 2022

[xiv] The Medical Directory 1895

[xv] The Medical Directory 1880

[xvi] British Listed Buildings

[xvii] Surrey Advertiser 12 Jun 1880 © The British Library Board via