I knew that C.S. Lewis and I had more in common than our Christianity when he said, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." Welcome to a celebration of faith, tea, and the written word. I'm always engaged in a book, and whether it's one I'm reading or one of the inspirational historical romances I write, there's always a cup of tea close by. Join me in a cup as we chat about faith, our favorite books and the exciting places our reading and writing adventures take us.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Victorian-Era Servants

For those of us who do all our own housekeeping, trying to figure out the staff in historic-set TV shows like Downton Abbey or in our favorite books can be confusing. Here's a basic primer that might help.
Running a large home in the 19th century was no easy task, so if you could afford it (or wanted to look like you could), you’d hire a servant. Or more. It wasn’t unheard of to hire more staff than you could afford, since then as now, employing people to care for your every need was a sign of wealth.

If you could only afford one servant, she would probably be a maid-of-all-work, a woman who cleaned, laundered, cooked, shopped, mended, and watched the children. Her life was probably difficult and full of drudgery, but depending on the household, she could be comfortable. However, according to Mrs. Beeton (who penned a must-have book on housekeeping),

 "The general servant or maid of all work is perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration. Her life is a solitary one and in some places her work is never done."

Wealthier households would hire more servants: a cook and housemaid at least, and a nurse for the children. The extremely-wealthy hired many more servants, which followed a strict code of hierarchy.

Indoors, a butler was the top banana. Below him was the underbutler, and then the master's valet. Next came footmen and any other men, including lampboys. The butler supervised the male staff; he announced visitors, sometimes took responsibility for the table setting, and was in charge of the wine.

Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (copyright National Trust)
Male Servants at Petworth in the 1870s. (Copyright National Trust)
Meanwhile, the housekeeper was in charge of the female staff. Under her was the mistress' lady's maid. Next in her oversight came the cook, maids of various degree, and kitchen, dairy, and scullery maids,  and "tweenys" whose sole job was taking out the slop; she also kept accounts, ordered foodstuff, oversaw the linens, and kept the tea and coffee stores.
Maids cleaning ashes, perhaps?

Footmen served food, carried packages, and accompanied their owners out and about. Maids, meanwhile, scrubbed, mended, and swept. Ladies’ maids were higher up in the hierarchy than housemaids, which had more status than chambermaids.

victorian kitchens & cooking
This kitchen looks warm and spacious
Governesses often floated in that no-man’s-land between the staff and the family. Educated and referenced, they were ladies of good breeding, so they were “better” than the staff, but not “good enough” to dine with the family. If there was a head nurse, the governess was under her, but over nursemaids.

Outdoor servants included gardeners, gamekeepers, a coachman, and grooms.

Hours were long and the wages low, but servants sometimes received “vails” or tips from houseguests, which boosted their incomes. Some saw being in service as a career, while others viewed it as a way to stay warm and fed, as they were housed and served meals as part of their compensation.

Another interesting note? Sometimes, servants' names were changed for the employer's convenience. If one maid was named Mary, it might just be easier to call each consecutive maid thereafter Mary, too. This went for butlers, lady's maids, and cooks, too, depending on the whim of the employer.

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