Netta Leigh was the pen name of Hannah Whittemore who mainly wrote poetry and novels aimed at young children which were published in a children’s magazine edited by her brother the Revd William Meynell  Whittemore. The monthly magazines ran from around 1862 into the 1900s. The poem may not be brilliant writing but conveys well the thoughts of a sixty year old writer comparing her childhood in the 1830s to that of around 1870. Revd Whittemore was forward thinking in terms of content of the magazine and promoting it, which included a children’s council of readers who gave answers to letters written in asking for advice. His church held a monthly children’s service.

I had a Victorian upbringing! In the text, a velvet (the material in this example) spencer is a long sleeved bolero style short jacket made popular in the early part of the 19th Century, while Battledore evolved into the game of Badminton in the early 1870s.


WHEN I was quite a little girl,
            Full sixty years ago,
My hair was brown and used to curl;
            Now it is white as snow.
I wore such short and scanty frocks,
            Like evening dress made low;
Black sandall’d shoes, and nice white socks,
            With sash, tied in a bow.
Then I, for out-of-door attire,
            A velvet spencer had;
With cottage straw, made firm with wire,
            And trimm’d, perhaps, with plaid.
A cloth pelisse for winter-time,
            With braid sewn neatly on it;
While feathers, from a distant clime,
            Adorn’d my beaver bonnet.
I was not self-assured and free,
            As maidens are to-day;
Unless our guests first spoke to me,
            I but few words might say;
While in the room I must not stir,
            Nor laugh nor seem at ease:
I answer’d modestly, “No, Sir,”
            Or, “Yes, Ma’am, if you please!”
And yet I was a happy child,
            All full of mirth and fun;
I romp’d about as one half wild,
            When stated tasks were done.
With shuttlecock and battledore,
            With hoop, and blind man’s buff,
With hunt the slipper-and some more,-
            Of games we had enough.
And when we to a party went,
            A children’s one, I mean;
In such like play our time was spent,-
            Each happy as a Queen!
We never dreamt of dance or ball,
            Like grown-up people, then;
Pure, simple pastimes pleased us all,
            And we were home by ten.
In clear sweet voice I often sang,
            And made a merry noise;
But never talk d the vulgar slang
            Girls use as well as boys.
When in the streets I did not stare
            At every passer-by,
But walk’d along with quiet air,
            Sedate, and rather shy.
I had not half as many books
            As modern children share;
And antiquated were their looks,-
            But, oh, how prized they were!
I read them through and through: and when
            You would have deemed them old,
I read them twenty times again,
            And thought their worth untold.
I love to muse upon the past,
            And yet I sometimes sigh
As memory’s pensive glance is cast
            Upon the days gone by.
Young Ladies often shake my hand,
            Or nod, with careless bow,
But LITTLE GIRLS, I understand,
            Are rarely met with now!


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