Jane Burden: The Pre--Pre-Raphaelite Muse

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's La Pia de Tolomei
Today is the birthday of Jane Burden Morris, Pre-Raphaelite Muse. One of the most recognizable women of the 19th century and the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. Instead of writing a biographical article, I thought instead, I would share excerpts of a lecture taken from,'Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and the Morrises, The 1980 Kelmscott Lecture (The William Morris Society)'.  So, the text will end abruptly because this lecture goes in-depth into not only Jane Burden and The Burden Family's lives but involves some PRB members as well. I wanted to simply focus on Ms. Burden on the day of her birth, 19 October 1839...

Jane's parents had arrived in Oxford in the early 1830s, as part of the influx of young people who were driven to the towns by the Enclosure Acts, and where Robert Burden's elder brother James was already established at Magdalen College as Stable Groom. Robert came from Stanton Harcourt, a village about 8 miles South West of Oxford, where he was baptised on 3rd April 1808, and his wife Ann came from Alvescote, 5 miles North East of Kelmscott and 16 miles West of Oxford, where she was baptised on 6th October 1805. It was from her mother's side of the family that Jane inherited her tall dark looks.

The Burdens were married on 6th May 1833 in the church of St. Mary Magdalen at the junction of Broad Street and Cornmarket Street, but by 1835 they had moved eastwards to St. Helen's Passage in the parish of St. Peter-in-the-East, where their first child, Mary Anne, was baptised on 17th May. It is St. Helen's Passage that is just opposite the Music Room in Holywell, a group of small tenements built at the end of the 18th century, which although picturesque, were described thus in 1848, 'St. Helen's is said to have been much improved within the last few years, but the part near New College Lane is still very bad. There are several very unwholesome dirt heaps, an exceedingly bad surface drain, and a deep pit partly filled with solid matters and covered with a wooden trap door is situated close to a house, the inhabitant of which complained much of the smell arising from it.' These 'surroundings of extreme beauty' were typical of the courts and alleyways where the migrants had settled, proving too great a strain on the town's resources, so that the problem of the disposal of sewage resulted in the cholera outbreaks of 1832, 45 and 53. Life was rough, and in a disquieting incident on 30th January 1837, Robert Burden appeared before the magistrates for assaulting a Mrs. Moore of Holywell, and was fined ten shillings and costs and bound over to keep the peace for twelve months. This was a large sum for him to pay, for in March 1837 a parish rate was levied, and in the Churchwarden's accounts, on a page headed 'Not collected in the March rate' appears a list of names bracketed 'the whole of this List are Poor.' and at the end is entered 'Rent £5 Burden 3d'.
 St. Helen's Passage. lane Burden was born in one of the houses on the
left in 1839. 

On 30th April 1837 a son, William, was baptised, and Robert was described as an Ostler; on 19th October 1839 Jane was born, her mother registered the birth on 26th November, and the certificate states that she was born in St. Helen's Passage, that her father was a Stableman, and her mother's former name was Maizey; it is signed with a cross, for Ann was illiterate, although Robert was not. In 1842 the last child, Elizabeth, was born.
 St. Helen's Passage as it looks today
In 1839, as part of the ordinary rate list Robert Burden paid 1/- and in 1840, 2/-. His name then disappears from the returns of St. Peter-in-the-East, for by the Census of 1841 the Burdens had crossed over to the North side of Holywell which lay within the parish of St. Cross, or Holywell, where they lived in Brazier's Passage, between Nos. 23 and 24; Charles Symonds' livery stables were at No. 30 and the Music Room at No. 34. There were Parish Schools for poor children, and it is likely that the Burdens sent their children to the Holywell school, which was nearest; however they may have gone to St. Peterin-the-East in Rose Lane, just across the road from the cottage in Gravel Walk at Magdalen, occupied by James Burden and his wife. Jane told Mackail that 'she used to pick violets on the !ffley Road, just out of St. Clements,' which is near Rose Lane. Although the school registers no longer exist, the prospectus for Rose Lane does, which would be typical, and in 1846 it states that 'the daily girls' school contains about 46 girls under a governess, but is taught chiefly by voluntary assistance. The whole afternoon is given up to Needlework or Ironing and every girl is required to take part in scouring a room on Saturday.' A sampler and exercise book still exist which show that the standard was high; the latter contains an essay on the Duties of a Cook which ate like those described by Floss Gunner in her account of kitchen work at Kelmscott. On 14th September 1849 Mary Anne died of tuberculosis, from which she had suffered for 12 months; her death was notified to the Registrar by her aunt Hannah, wife of James Burden, and she signed the death certificate as having been present at the death.

Perhaps because of the unhappy associations, the Burdens moved again, and by 1851 Census they were living at No. 1 King's Head Yard, one of a string of small cottages behind the King's Head public house at No. 17 on the North side, and little larger than the loose-boxes of Symonds' livery stables. William, then aged 14, is described as a College Messenger, and Jane and Elizabeth as Scholars. 

Holywell contained a wide range of people from clergymen to college servants, among whom were a Manciple, a Cook and a Butler. They were sufficiently important to be listed by name under 'College Servants' in the County Directory, including James Burden, so that Robert would have had useful contacts to place William well; Mackail believed him to have been at Lincoln College, but no records survive. The college messengers were the sap in the University grapevine, and provided a service not only between colleges, but also between the tradesmen and college servants. They were said to be able to deliver a letter and bring the reply within two hours.

 Key to street plan of Oxford, from Henry Shiner's Oxford Guide of 1851

1. G. E. Street's office 
2. No. 13 George Street
3. The Oxford Union
4. J. G. Miller's shop
5. Lizzie Siddal's lodgings
6. Dt. Adand's house
7. Holywell Music Room 
8. Symonds' Livery Stables
9. King's Head Yard 
10. No. 65 Holywell Street
11. St. Helen's Passage 
12. Mac1aren's Gymnasium
13. Rose Lane School 
14. Groom's Lodgings (James Burden)

(Philip Webb's home was just off this plan, north of Magdalen Street on
the east side of Se. Giles's).

Where Janey used to live by Margaret Fleming,The first Kelmscott Lecture, WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT AND THE MORRISES, by Peter Faulkner

Please feel free to leave any comments,


Unknown said…
Wonderful post. I always see her face in paintings everywhere but I know nothing about her life or her family. Photographs too!
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Maggie, thanks for commenting. Jane Burden Morris led a very interesting life. I enjoyed finding out about her parents and siblings!
Kimberlee said…
Hi, nice to meet you. I am one of your newest members to your blog and I noticed that we share a love of history. I will be keeping up with your blog and hope you will join me at mine:


Hope to see you there. Happy reading.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kimberlee, nice to meet you and welcome! Thanks so much for stopping by and following. You have a wonderful blog, as well!

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