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Archive for the ‘Servants’ Category

We’ve heard the term, “Behind the green baize doors”, but what exactly does it mean? You hear this reference most often in regard to servants and in old books.

Baize was a sturdy green cloth attached to a swing door.  The insulating fabric prevented noises from disturbing the individuals on either side:

The ‘Green Baize Door’ was the dividing line between the two domains, and trespassing beyond meant going into foreign territory. The ‘Green Baize Door’ was a feature of almost every substantial house. It was generally an ordinary framed door onto which was tacked a green baize cloth, usually with brass tacks. It was the universal signal of the dividing line between the two halves of the house.The Bull children would not be tolerated by the servants in the domestic part of the house unless they were working under supervision. This was like walking into somebody else’s house. The servants would normally use a different route to get to the various parts of the house, and would aim to be seen as little as possible. This was not because they were considered beneath notice: on the contrary, it was so that they could do their work uninterrupted by the requirement to exchange civilities. Houses evolved so that domestic staff could go about their task without interruption, not to ensure the privacy of the residents. They had none. –Borley Rectory and the Green-Baize DoorDomestic life at Borley Rectory, by Andrew Clarke copyright 2002

Image @Chest of Books

The brass-headed tacks holding the cloth down could sometimes be arranged in a decorative design. The cloth not only deadened sound but also absorbed kitchen odors. Green baize doors became popular during the mid-Eighteenth century, so Jane Austen must have been aware of the practice, which was more and more used as the 19th century progressed. During Victorian times the practice of sound proofing doors with baize was quite common. The cloth could also be used to insulate nursery room doors, bedroom doors, and doors leading to studies or any place where sound needed to be muffled.

It was a time when housemaids were taught to turn their face to the wall if they should pass their employer on the stairs. For whose protection? one wonders. The era of Squire Allworthy and Sir Roger de Coverley had long passed, when relations between master and man were more informal. – The green baize door: social identity in Wodehouse; Part two – Allan Ramsay 

Early 19th century mahogany desk with baize lining**

Baize (or bayes), also known as a bocking flannel,  was a coarse wool or cotton material, which had a felt-like texture:

“In Europe, baize was used mainly for case, cabinet and closet linings, as well as furniture coverings. Clothing baize was used for monk and nun habits as well as soldier’s uniforms. In the North American Native market, the term baize frequently alludes to inexpensive coarse broadcloth. – Wool Trade Cloth 

Baize dates back to the 16th century, 1525 to be precise. A mid-17th century English ditty about the history of ale and beer brewing, mentions “bays”:

Hops, heresies, bays, and beer;
Came into England all in one year.

“Heresies refers to the Protestant Reformation, while bays is the Elizabethan spelling for baize. – Good English Ale 

Baize scrap from the Titanic. Image @Online Titanic Museum*

Baize was used in a number of ways, including as a protective cover for gaming tables, for the nap of the cloth increased friction, preventing cards from sliding and slowing billiard or snooker balls.  The cloth is available in a variety of naps. Roman Catholic churches used red or green baize for altar cloth protectors, and the cloth was used in museum cases and desks as well.

St. Jerome in his study

As previously mentioned, baize was also used for clothing.

“I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 3 December 1788

The site for Knox Family Clothing mentioned mid-18th century receipts for baize and bayes,  as well as rattinet, armozeen, dowles, buff battinet, flannel, linen, silk, and velvet.

In Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, published in 1876, Mary Foote Henderson recommends:

“Put a thick baize under the table-cloth. This is quite indispensable. It prevents noise, and the finest and handsomest table – linen looks comparatively thin and sleazy on a bare table.”  

The Staircase Hall at Uppark. The red baize door leads to the servants' quarters. ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

Red baize was also used as insulating material, as the decorative door at Uppark (image above) indicated. (National Treasure Hunt, National Trust Collections) In this advertisement for an 1808 Georgian house for sale, a red baize door to the inner lobby is featured. The red baize servant door providing access to the inner lobby and the kitchen, rear reception and breakfast room. 1808 house

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This Sunday, PBS will air on most stations an hour presentation of  Secrets of the Manor House, a documentary narrated by Samuel West, that explains how society was transformed in the years leading up to World War One. Expert historians, such as Lawrence James and Dr. Elisabeth Kehoe, discuss what life was like in these houses, explain the hierarchy of the British establishment, and provide historical and social context for viewers. For American viewers of Downton Abbey, this special couldn’t have come at a better time.

The British manor house represented a world of privilege, grace, dignity and power.

For their services for the King in war, soldiers were awarded lands and titles. The aristocracy rose from a warrior class.

This world was inhabited by an elite class of people who were descended from a line of professional fighting men, whose titles and land were bestowed on them by a grateful king.

Manderston House, Berwickshire.

For over a thousand years, aristocrats viewed themselves as a race apart, their power and wealth predicated on titles, landed wealth, and political standing.

Huge tracts of lands with fields, villages, laborers' cottages, and forests surrounded country estates.

Vast landed estates were their domain, where a strict hierarchy of class was followed above stairs as well as below it. In 1912, 1 ½ million servants tended to the needs of their masters. As many as 100 would be employed as butler, housekeeper, house maids, kitchen maids, footmen, valets, cooks, grooms, chauffeurs, forestry men, and agricultural workers. Tradition kept everyone in line, and deference and obedience to your betters were expected (and given).

22 staff were required to run Manderston House, which employed 100 servants, many of whom worked in the gardens, fields, and forests.

As a new century began, the divide between rich and poor was tremendous. While the rich threw more extravagant parties and lived lavish lives, the poor were doomed to live lives of servitude and hard work.

Lord Palmer pulls on a false bookcase to open a passage to the next room.

Manderston House in Berwickshire represents the excesses of its time. The great house consists of 109 rooms, and employed 98 servants just before the outbreak of World War One. Twenty two servants worked inside the house to tend to Lord Palmer and his family. Every room inside the house interconnected.

The curtains in the ballroom of Manderston House look as fresh as the year they were made in 1904.

The curtains and drapes, woven with gold and silver thread, were made in Paris in 1904 and cost the equivalent of 1.5 million dollars. Manderston House itself was renovated at the turn of the century for 20 million dollars in today’s money. This was during an era when scullery maids earned the equivalent of $50 per year.

Once can clearly see the differences in bell sizes in this photo.

The servant hall boasted 56 bells, each of a different size that produced a unique ring tone. Servants were expected to memorize the sound for the areas that were under their responsibility.

Scullery maids were placed at the bottom of the servant hierarchy. They rose before dawn to start the kitchen fires and put water on to boil. Their job was to scrub the pots, pans and dishes, and floors, and even wait on other servants.

Life was not a bed of roses for the working class and the gulf between the rich and poor could not have been wider than during the turn of the 21st century.

Thoroughbred horses lived better than the working classes.

While the servants slept in the attic or basement, thoroughbred horses were housed in expensively designed stable blocks. As many as 16 grooms worked in the stables, for no expense was spared in tending to their needs.

The stables at Manderston House required 16 grooms to feed, care for, and exercise the horses.

As men and women worked long hours, as much as 17-18 hours per day, the rich during the Edwardian era lived extravagant, indulgent lives of relaxation and pleasure, attending endless rounds of balls, shooting parties, race meetings, and dinner parties.

Up to the moment that war was declared, the upper classes lived as if their privileged lives would never change.

The Edwardian era marked the last great gasp of manor house living with its opportunities of providing endless pleasure. For the working class and poor, the inequities within the system became more and more apparent. The landed rich possessed over one half of the land. Their power was rooted in owning land, for people who lived on the land paid rent. The landed gentry also received income from investments,  rich mineral deposits on their land, timber, vegetables grown in their fields, and animals shipped to market.

The lord of the manor and his steward can be seen walking among the farm laborers, many of whom were women.

The need to keep country estates intact and perpetuate a family’s power was so important that the eldest son inherited everything – the estate, title, all the houses, jewels, furnishings, and art. The laws of primogeniture ensured that country estates would not be whittled away over succeeding generations. In order to consolidate power, everything (or as much as possible) was preserved. Entailment, a law that went back to the 13th century, ensured that portions of an estate could not be sold off.

The Lord Mayor of London was seated at the center of the table next to the Countesses of Stamford and Lichfield.

The system was rigged to favor the rich. Only men who owned land could vote, and hereditary peers were automatically given a seat in the House of Lords. By inviting powerful guests to their country estates, they could lobby for their special interests across a dinner table, at a shoot, or at a men’s club.

Thoroughbred horses were valued for their breeding and valor, traits that aristocrats identified with.

The Industrial Revolution brought about changes in agricultural practices and inventions that presaged the decline of aristocratic wealth. Agricultural revenues, the basis on which landed wealth in the UK was founded, were in decline. Due to better transportation and refrigeration, grain transported from Australia and the U.S. became cheaper to purchase. Individuals were able to build wealth in other ways – as bankers and financiers. While the landed gentry could still tap resources from their lands and expand into the colonies, the empire too began to crumble with the rise of nationalism and nation states.

The servant hierarchy echoed the distinctions of class upstairs. The chef worked at the end of the table on the left, while the lowest ranking kitchen maids chopped vegetables at the far right. The kitchen staff worked 17 hours a day and rarely left the kitchen.

Contrasted with the opulent life above stairs was an endless life of drudgery below stairs. On a large estate that entertained visitors, over 100 meals were prepared daily. Servants rose at dawn and had to stay up until the last guest went to bed. Kitchen maids, who made the equivalent of 28 dollars per year, rarely strayed outside the kitchen.

Steep back stairs that servants used. Out of sight/out of mind.

One bath required 45 gallons of water, which had to be hauled by hand up steep, narrow stairs. At times, a dozen guests might take baths on the same day. House maids worked quietly and unseen all over the manor house. The were expected to move from room to room using their own staircases and corridors. Underground tunnels allowed servants to move unseen crossing courtyards.

Manderston House's current butler shows the servant's hall

Maids and footmen lived in their own quarters in the attic or basement. Men were separated from the women and were expected to use different stairs. Discipline was strict. Servants could be dismissed without notice for the most minor infraction.

Footmen tended to be young, tall, and good looking.

Footmen, whose livery cost more than their yearly salary, were status symbols. Chosen for their height and looks, they were the only servants allowed to assist the butler at dinner table. These men were the only servants allowed upstairs.

Green baize doors separated the servants quarters from the master's domain.

Green baize doors were special doors that marked the end of the servants quarters and hid the smells of cooking and noises of the servants from the family.

The Jerome sisters were (l to r) Jennie, Clara, and Leonie.

As revenues from agriculture dwindled, the upper classes searched for a new infusion of capital.This they found in the American heiress, whose fathers had built up their wealth from trade and transportation. Free from the laws of primogeniture, these wealthy capitalists distributed their wealth among their children, sharing it equally among sons and daughters. The ‘Buccaneers,’ as early American heiresses were called, infused the British estates with wealth. ‘Cash for titles’ brought 60 million dollars into the British upper class system via 100 transatlantic marriages.

Working class family

Transatlantic passages worked both ways, even as American heiresses crossed over to the U.K.,  millions of British workers emigrated to America looking for a better life. The sinking of the Titanic, just two years before the outbreak of World War One, underscored the pervasive issue of class.

Most likely this lifeboat from the Titanic was filled with upper class women and children. Only 1 in 3 people survived.

The different social strata were housed according to rank, and it was hard to ignore that a large percentage of first class women and children survived, while the majority of third and second class passengers died.

Labor strikes became common all over the world, including the U.K.

Society changed as the working class became more assertive and went on strikes. The Suffragette movement gained momentum. Prime Minister David Lloyd George was a proponent of reform, even as the aristocracy tried to carry on as before.

Lloyd George campaigned for progressive causes.

Inventions revolutionized the work place. Electricity, telephones, the type writer, and other labor-saving devices threatened jobs in service. A big house could be run with fewer staff, and by the 1920s a manor house that required 100 servants needed only 30-40.

Change is ever present. The last typewriter factory shut its doors in April, 2011.

Women who would otherwise have gone into service were lured into secretarial jobs, which had been revolutionized by the telephone and typewriter.

Many of the aristocratic young men in this photo would not return from war.

The manor house set enjoyed one last season in the summer of 1914, just before war began. Many of the young men who attended those parties would not return from France. Few expected that this war would last for six months, much less four years. Officers lost their lives by a greater percentage than ordinary soldiers, and the casualty lists were filled with the names of aristocratic men and the upper class.

Over 35 million soldiers and civilians died in World War 1

Common soldiers who had died by the millions had been unable to vote. Such inequities did not go unnoticed. Social discontent, noticeable before the war, resulted in reform – the many changes ushered in modern Britain.

As the 20th century progressed, owners found it increasingly hard to maintain their manor houses. According to Lost Heritage, over 1,800 have been lost.

Watch Secrets of the Manor HouseJanuary 22 on PBS. All images from Secrets of the Manor House.

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Gentle readers, this poem in a mid-19th century children’s family circle book perfectly describes the long and arduous day of an ordinary family cook.

The Discontented Cook. Image @Forrester's pictorial miscellany for the family circle edited by Mark Forrester, 1855

Oh, who would wish to be a cook,
To live in such a broil!

With all one’s pains, to cook one’s brains,
And lead a Life of toil?

“Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,
And give those ducks a turn;

Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!
Else one or both will burn.

An hour before the rising sun
I’m forced to leave my bed,

To make the fires, and fry the cakes,

And get the table spread.
‘Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

The breakfast’s scarely over,

And all things set to rights,
Before the savory haunch, or fowl,

My skill and care invites.
‘T is, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

And here I stand before the fire,

And turn them round and round;
And keep the kettle boiling —

I hate their very sound!
‘T is, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade!

Else one or both will burn.

And long before the day is spent,

I ‘m all in such a toast,
You scarce could tell which’s done the most

Myself, or what I roast!
‘Tis, Stir the pudding, Peggy,

And give those ducks a turn;
Be quick, be quick, you lazy jade’.

Else one or both will burn.

From Forrester’s Pictorial Miscellany for the Family Circle, 1855

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Upstairs Dowstairs returns

Coming to PBS this Sunday, April 10th,  is Upstairs Downstairs, the newly minted series. Except for Rose, the characters have completely changed, but the nature of the program, following the family and the servants who cater to them, has not.

165 Eaton Place

It is 1936, and only six years have passed by since the Bellamys last lived at 165 Eaton Place. The townhouse is an abandoned shell when Lady Agnes Holland (Keely Hawes) and her diplomat husband, Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard), arrive from abroad to renovate it as their first home in England.

Keely Hawes as Lady Holland looks towards a new future

Rose (Jean Marsh), the only holdover from the original series, has left service to care for a sick aunt and is now self-employed, finding work for other domestics. A frugal Lady Holland solicits her to fill her house with servants. This means she does not mind employing help with little experience and who need training.

Young Johnny (Nico Mirallegro) needs training

Heidi Thomas, who also wrote the script for Cranford, delivered a crisp, intelligent, and witty script that draws viewers in right away, preserving the elements that drew us to the original show. This series (which has been renewed for a second season) stacks up well against its parent very well indeed. (Although my heart will always be with Hudson, the first butler.)

Jean Marsh as Rose

Thirty years or so ago, Upstairs, Downstairs was a television sensation, and rightly so. The series had been conceived by Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, who was working on another project when filming began, and so she did not play a maid alongside her friend, Jean. Thankfully so, for Ms. Atkins has returned as Maude, Lady Holland a character who lights up the screen as delightfully as Maggie Smith’s dowager Countess  in Downton Abbey.

Eileen Atkins as Lady Maud Holland

In this year of The King’s Speech, it is interesting to note that Wallis Simpson makes an appearance in the first episode and that the cast listens to Edward’s first radio speech as king. The story of the king and his abdication has long legs this season (he and Wallis were also featured in Any Human Heart, also shown on PBS)

Although invited to the party, Wallis Simpson's (Emma Clifford) appearance is not welcome.

Comparisons of Upstairs Downstairs to Downton Abbey are inevitable, but this is unfair. After all, Upstairs, Downstairs arrived on the scene decades earlier and provided the template for all the master/servant stories that followed. Viewers will not be disappointed with the renewal of a most beloved series. I certainly wasn’t.

Image @Radio Times

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The valet (rhymes with pallet) is a personal manservant who tends to his master’s every need, from a clean room to seeing to his clothes to making sure that his entire day goes smoothly from the moment he rises to the time he goes to bed. Also known as a gentleman’s gentleman, the valet is the closest male equivalent to a lady’s maid.

Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) dresses with the help of his valet, who stands ready to put on his coat. In this scene, Mr. Darcy changes his mind and chooses another coat before visiting Elizabeth at the inn. Image @Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Mrs. Beeton describes a valet’s duties in her excellent 1861 book on household management:

His day commences by seeing that his master’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before his master is expected, he will do well to throw up the sash [open the window] to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to recover the temperature which he knows hismaster prefers. It is now his duty to place the body-linen on the horse before the fire, to be aired properly;

Edwardian clothes horse. Image @Denhams.com

to lay the trousers intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned, on the back of his master’s chair; while the coat and waistcoat, carefully brushed and folded, and the collar cleaned, are laid in their place ready to be put on when required. All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.

Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal). While the master shaves, his footmen assist him, making sure his implements are at hand. His valet would have overseen the arrangements and will sharpen the razor and clean the shaving brush after Barry has finished shaving. Image @Barry Lyndon

Gentlemen generally prefer performing the operation of shaving themselves, but a valet should be prepared to do it if required; and he should be a good hairdresser. Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, where that appendage is encouraged, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the age and style of the countenance. Every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the points of the whiskers trimmed as often as required. A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; afterwards, the body-linen. Neck-tie, which he will put on, if required, and, afterwards, waist-coat, coat, and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.”

Other valet duties:

Ian Kelly (Brummel) and Ryan Early in Beau Brummel (2006 play)

  • As his master goes out, the valet hands him his gloves and hat, opens the door for him, and receives his orders for the rest of the day.
  • He puts his master’s dressing-room in order, cleaning combs and brushes, folding clothes and putting them in drawers.
  • If his master has no clothes sense, the valet will select suitable clothes, making sure they are clean, particularly the collars, and maintained in good repair.
  • He consults with the tailor, perfumer, and linen-draper.
  • He awaits his master’s return, making sure that his drawing room is picked up by the maids, and dusted and swept by them, and that the room is made ready with a lit fire and candles.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates (Brendan Coyle) assists Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in Downton Abbey. A valet and his master become close over the years. Image @Downton Chaser

  • The valet stands ready to help his master dress for dinner or any other occasion.
  • He makes sure that the washing table is ready, filling the ewer and carafe with fresh water, and placing the basin towels, brushes, hot water, and shaving apparatus near at hand.
  • In case of wet weather, when his master has returned from riding, the valet lays out a change of dry linen and clothing, and is ready to assist his master out of the damp clothing.
  • He helps his master prepare for journeys, packing enough linen and other clothing for the trip. At the Inns, he takes charge of his master’s comfort as he would at home, and has everything ready to assist his master in dressing and undressing.
  • If no footmen is available during the journey, the valet will also see to these services, even at table.
Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham's service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates' reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham’s service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates’ reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The valet keeps his master’s clothes in good repair:

  • Hats are kept well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handerchief.
  • Clothes placed in a wardrobe are covered with brown holland or linen wrappers to secure them from dust.
  • He places boots and shoes cleaned by the under footman in the dressing room.
  • Slippers are aired by the fire.
  • As soon as his master finishes shaving, the valet will clean the razor and brushes.
  • Before he hangs damp clothing by the fire, he rubs the cloth with a sponge until the smoothness of the nap is restored. If the clothes are allowed to dry before brushing, then later brushing might not remove the roughness.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

In Downton Abbey, Matthew resists Molesley’s services, causing an undue amount of stress to the butler, who also acts as his valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Valets in humbler households:

The butler in a second or third rate establishment takes on the duties of the house steward, valet, and footman as well. He is likely to pay market bills, assist his master in dressing, serve at table and oversee the wine and silver, and superintend other male servants.

Sources:

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Inquiring readers, from now until the U.S. airing of Downton Abbey, this blog will explore the facets of living in an English country house during the Edwardian era, and drawing upon the similarity and differences between the Edwardian and Regency eras.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servants await the arrival of guests. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Many of us today cannot understand why servants in country manors such as Downton Abbey would consider catering to the whims of others as a desirable occupation. In reality, service in great houses was preferred over other jobs that were available during the 18th and 19th centuries, such as tedious and often dangerous labor in factories or backbreaking work on farms.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, the countess’s ladies maid, Rose Leslie as Gwen, housemaid, and Joanne Froggatt as Anna, head maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike their poorly paid counterparts, servants were housed and fed by their masters. They had the ability to save a large portion of their salaries, or send money to support their families back home. At the end of their stay with their hosts, guests paid servants a tip for their services. Housekeepers, as Jane Austen famously showed in Pride and Prejudice, served as tour guides when the family was absent. Mrs. Reynolds no doubt received a tip from the Gardiners after showing the public rooms of Mr. Darcy’s great estate.

Jane Austen's World

Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, escorts Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners through Pemberley

Although servants began their careers at the bottom, working menial jobs and catering to the upper servants as well as their masters, they could move up in the servant hierarchy. It was not uncommon for a scullery maid to be promoted to kitchen maid and eventually up to a cook.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The registry office

A good and reliable servant was a prized commodity. Young, able servants were in a constant state of flux (they worked on average for 2-3 years before moving on), always looking for a better position, which they could acquire as long as their masters gave them good references. Servants found new work in registry offices, where they would enter their name in the registry book, or through word of mouth. (Read more about this topic in my post, Hiring Servants in the Regency Era and Later.)

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Anna (Head maid) and Gwen (house maid) in their room. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Upon rising, servants would labor first and eat only after the family had risen, dressed, and breakfasted. When Downton Abbey opens, the camera follows the servants as they rise and ready the house for the day. The earliest rising servant was the scullery maid, or tweeny, who sat lowest on the pecking order. She would stoke the kitchen fire for the cook and boil water. The kitchen maid would perform these offices if there were no tweeny or scullery maid.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, the kitchen maid, lays a fire in the library. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Housemaids would tread silently up the servant (back) stairs unseen and unheard with fresh water and carrying covered slop pails. Quietly, so as not to wake their masters, the servants – maids and footmen – would empty chamber pots, remove cold ashes in the fireplace, carry up coal and stoke a new fire, and tidy any messes away from the previous day.

The servant stairs. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downstairs they would continue making preparations for the day, opening drapes and shutters, dusting and polishing, and sweeping floors. The only time that the servants might be visible to family or guests was when they cleaned and polished the main halls and stairway. At all other times they were expected to remain invisible as they worked around the house, using the servant’s stairs and working in a room when the family was not expected to use it.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

With or without guests, the daily routine for a family at its country house was unalterable, due in part to the servants, whose meal-times were rigid, and in part to Edwadian era tradition. At nine 0’clock, housemaids and valets arrived to draw bedroom curtains and deliver a cup of teac as ordered by the hostess the night before.” – The End of High Society

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servants quarters. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servant’s dining space and table, Downton Abbey

The hierarchy among the servants was strictly defined. At the top stood the butler and housekeeper. Dowton Abbey, the series, highlights eleven servants who ran the household, but in 1912, Highclere Castle, where the exterior and interior shots were filmed, used the services of 25 maids, 14 footmen, and three chefs. Although Downton Abbey follows only 11 of the upper servants closely, one can see other servants (housemaids, a scullery maid, young boys, coal men, and the like) in the background going about their business.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Back of the house. In the background, a servant scoops coal.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In addition to the main house, servants worked in the service buildings, such as the stables, garage, dairy, bakehouse, laundry, gun room, and pantry. The kitchen in these great houses often sat away from the house (to prevent cooking smells from wafting up to the public and private rooms) and were connected to the main house via underground passages. This meant that the food often arrived at the dining table cold or, at best, lukewarm.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servant bells behind William, the second footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the lower common area, servants were summoned by the family via a system of bells connected to each room. In theory, even when servants had finished with their duties and were finally sitting down to eat their breakfast, they were subject to be called at a moment’s whim. But was this always the case? While the servants of Downton Abbey are shown to be loyal and proud of their positions, the Punch cartoon below shows a group of shiftless servants who are slow to respond to their master’s summons.

‘Oh, ah, let ’em ring again!’ by George Cruikshank

The servants of Downton Abbey worked hard, but as shown in the series, they knew their place and were proud of their positions.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the Butler. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Butler: Jim Carter, who you may remember as Captain Brown from Cranford, portrays Mr. Carson, the butler, with grave dignity. He is as protective towards the Crawley family as he would have been to his own. While Mr. Carson is fair, he does not hesitate to reprimand a servant or even fire one if he thinks it is for the benefit of the house. Mr. Carson was not only in charge of the male servants, but also of the wine cellar and the butler’s pantry, which contained the family plate and silver. In addition to his managerial duties, he is shown in several scenes either polishing the silver or pouring over the books and counting the bottles of wine.

Downton Abbey 2010. Jane Austen's World

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes, Housekeeper. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Housekeeper: Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes is Mr. Carson’s counterpart. Head of the female servants, she consults with her mistress daily about the meals, family plans, and any guests that are expected. Mrs. Hughes (even if they are single, which Mrs. Hughes was, housekeepers were given the distinction of being a Mrs.) was also responsible for the linen and china. A kind and observant woman, Mrs. Hughes nevertheless keeps her female team in line. She begins to wonder if, by devoting her life to this household, she has missed out on managing one of her own.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Brendan Coyle as John Bates, the Valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Valet: (Brendan Coyle) In small households, such as Matthew Crawley’s, the position of butler and valet was combined. But Downton Abbey is a great house, and there are servants aplenty. Mr. Bates’s arrival creates a stir that causes the lady’s maid and first footman to plot against him. A stoic and capable man who served the earl as batman during the war, he must perform his duties of dressing the earl and seeing to his wardrobe regardless of the war injury that requires him to use a cane. For Mr. Bates, the flights of steep stairs can be daunting, and he is incapable of carrying large trays or helping with dinner service when more hands are needed.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Joanne Froggatt as Anna, Head Housemaid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Head Housemaid: Joanne Froggatt as Anna is a pretty, quiet, and dependable presence. She works with a positive attitude and champions those who need defending. As head housemaid, she assists the daughters of the house with their hair and wardrobe, but she also performs the duties of a regular maid, dusting, cleaning, and changing the bed linen.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the Cook. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Cook: Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is hiding a secret, one that threatens her very livelihood. The viewer will be struck by the sheer volume and variety of dishes that she creates and oversees daily. Although only her kitchen maid, Daisy, is seen as her regular assistant, there would have been others in a house this size. At the very least, Mrs. Patmore would have needed a permanent person in the scullery, and other assistants to help maintain order in the kitchens.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, Lady’s Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Lady’s Maid: Siobhan Finneran plays O’Brien as a cold, ruthless woman, who trusts no one. When the Countess of Grantham states that she and O’Brien are friends, for they are often in each others’ company,  O’Brien knows better than to disagree, but disagree she does. A lady’s maid caters to her mistresses’ every whim, making sure that not one coat button is missing or one strand of hair is out of place. Such a close daily association often develops intimacy over time. The countess mistakenly thinks that O’Brien is as fond of her as she is of her maid.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rob James-Collier as Thomas, First Footman.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The First Footman: Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is a piece of work. An ambitious man, who cares only for his own advancement, he will use anyone to achieve his goals, even if it means destroying another’s reputation. A first footman will serve as valet to the male guests if they arrive without a male servant. Footmen are expected to wear livery and are generally tall and handsome. Only the very rich could afford footmen, and thus they were a form of status symbol.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the Chauffeur. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Chauffeur: Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the chaffeur, demonstrates how very different Edwardian England is from Regency England. Carriages are being replaced by automobiles, but the infrastructure for maintaining cars is not yet in place. A chauffeur not only drove the family around, but he was also its mechanic, keeping the car in top shape, acquiring parts when they were needed, and making sure there was enough petrol on hand to satisfy the family’s needs. This chauffeur can also read and has been given permission by the earl to check books out of his library.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Thomas Howes as William, the Second Footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Second Footman: (Thomas Howes) William’s position among the upper servants is low, for he must answer to the butler, housekeeper, and first footman. Young, fresh-faced, and just starting out, William misses his loving family. Yet service allows him to better himself and someday work his way up to the position of butler. One wonders if William will ever achieve that ambition, for times are changing and the aristocracy will be hard pressed to hang onto their lands and houses after the second world war.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rose Leslie as Gwen, House Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The House Maid: (Rose Leslie) Young Gwen is a housemaid with a goal – that of becoming a typist. Towards this end, she has been secretly taking typing courses. When her secret is uncovered the other servants are astounded – how could anyone prefer working in as some faceless office over service in a great house? Yet Gwen represents the future, in which political and socio-economic changes for women will end their dependency on the men of their family and force many to start fending for themselves.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Sophie McShera as Daisy, Kitchen Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Kitchen Maid: (Sophie McShera) Poor Daisy is at the bottom of the status ladder. Subject to the cook’s every whim (and to the housekeeper’s and anyone else who happens nearby) she goes about her duties cheerfully. When disaster strikes, Daisy not only steps in but demonstrates that she is more than ready to step up the servant hierarchy.

Downton Abbey will be shown Sunday night on your local PBS station starting at 9 p.m. Click here to view the video clips.

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Created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), “Downton Abbey” depicts the lives of the noble Crawley family and the staff who serve them at their Edwardian country house. It is April and the Titanic has just sunk.The world will never be the same for the Crawleys, for both the heirs to Downton Abbey went down with the ship.

Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. This image speaks of power and privilege.

The earl and countess of Grantham’s three daughters cannot inherit the estate, which is entailed to the male next in succession. He is Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, son of a doctor and a nurse, and a lawyer by trade. Matthew knows nothing about running such a vast estate, and cares little about the niceties of protocol.

Dan Stevens plays Matthew Crawley. He also played Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility.

The answer to the earl’s predicament is simple really – Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, should marry Matthew. But nothing is simple in Downton Abbey, for Lady Mary is stubborn and has a mind of her own.

The Crawley sisters: Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

The series is lushly produced and the story lines are riveting. In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television’s most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs, which aired on MASTERPIECE (then MASTERPIECE THEATRE ) in the 1970s. One of the thrills of MASTER PIECE’s 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Episode 1
Sunday, January 9, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
When the Titanic goes down, Lord Grantham loses his immediate heirs, and his daughter Mary loses her fiancé, throwing Downton Abbey and its servants into turmoil. The new heir turns out to be Matthew, a handsome lawyer with novel ideas about country life.

Matthew and his mother are formally received by the servants and family during their first visit to the Abbey

Episode 2
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Mary entertains three suitors, including a Turkish diplomat whose boldness leads to a surprising event. Downstairs, the shocking former life of Carson, the butler, is unmasked, and Bates risks his health to remain valet.

Jim Carter (Cranford) as Mr. Carson, the butler

Episode 3
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Growing into his role as heir, Matthew brings out the bitter rivalry between sisters Mary and Edith. Servants Thomas and O’Brien scheme against Bates, while head housemaid Anna is increasingly attracted to him. Lady Violet’s winning streak in the flower show is threatened.

The Countess (Elzabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) at the flower show.

Episode 4
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
The heir crisis at Downton Abbey takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile, rumors fly about Mary’s virtue. Her sister Sybil takes a risk in her secret political life. Anna unearths Bates’ mysterious past. And O’Brien and Thomas plot their exit strategy.

The Countess of Grantham with her daughter Lady Edith

My posts about Downton Abbey

Cast

Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda, Filth)…Robert, Earl of Grantham
Jessica Brown-Findlay…Lady Sybil Crawley
Laura Carmichael…Lady Edith Crawley
Jim Carter (Cranford)…Mr. Carson
Brendan Coyle (Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act)…John Bates
Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford)…Lady Mary Crawley
Siobhan Finneran (The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard)… O’Brien
Joanne Froggatt (Robin Hood)…Anna
Thomas Howes…William
Rob James-Collier…Thomas
Rose Leslie…Gwen
Phyllis Logan (Wallander)…Mrs. Hughes
Elizabeth McGovern (A Room with a View)…Cora, Countess of Grantham
Sophie McShera…Daisy
Lesley Nicol (Miss Marple)…Mrs. Patmore
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)…Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens (Sense & Sensibility)…Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton (Wives and Daughters)…Isobel Crawley
Charlie Cox (Stardust)…Duke of Crowborough
Kevin Doyle (The Tudors)…Molesley
Robert Bathurst (Emma)…Sir Anthony Strallan
Bernard Gallagher…Bill Molesley
Samantha Bond (Miss Marple)…Lady Rosamund Painswick
Allen Leech (The Tudors)…Tom Branson
Brendan Patrick…Evelyn Napier
David Robb…Dr. Clarkson
Helen Sheals…Postmaster’s Wife

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Copryright (c) Jane Austen’s World. This post is in honor of Thanksgiving and all the cooks, feminine or masculine, who toil hard in the kitchen to feed their families on this special holiday.

I am sure that the ladies there had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving-pan” – James Edward Austen-Leigh, writing about his aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen, and grandmother, Mrs Austen, when they lived at Steventon Rectory.

18th century kitchen servants prepare a meal. Image @Jane Austen Cookbook

In 1747, Mrs.Hannah Glasse wrote her historic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, an easy-to-understand cookbook for the lower class chefs who cooked for the rich. Her recipes were simple and came with detailed instructions, a revolutionary thought at the time.

The Art of Cookery’s first distinction was simplicity – simple instructions, accessible ingredients, an accent on thrift, easy recipes and practical help with weights and timing. Out went the bewildering text of former cookery books (“pass it off brown” became “fry it brown in some good butter”; “draw him with parsley” became “throw some parsley over him”). Out went French nonsense: no complicated patisserie that an ordinary cook could not hope to cook successfully. Glasse took into account the limitations of the average middle-class kitchen: the small number of staff, the basic cooking equipment, limited funds. – Hannah Glasse, The Original Domestic Goddess forum

Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Until Mrs. Glasse wrote her popular cookery book (17 editions appeared in the 18th century), these instructional books had been largely written by male chefs who offered complicated French recipes without detailed or practical directions. (To see what I mean, check Antonin Careme’s recipe for Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesle at this link.) Like Jane Austen, Hannah signed her books “By a Lady”.

Antonin Careme's cookbook

Mrs. Glasse had always intended to sell her cookery book to mistresses of gentry families or the rising middle class, who would then instruct their cooks to prepare foods from her simplified recipes, which she collected. “My Intention is to instruct the lower Sort [so that] every servant who can read will be capable of making a tolerable good Cook,” she wrote in her preface.

Frontispiece from William Augustus Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 6th edition, c.1800. This same picture appeared in the very first edition of c.1791and it shows the mistress presenting the cookery book to her servant, while a young man is instructed in the art of carving with the aid of another book.*

Hanna’s revolutionary approach, which included the first known printed recipe for curry and instructions for making a hamburger, made sense. In the morning, it was the custom of the mistress of the household to speak to the cook or housekeeper about the day’s meals and give directions for the day. The servants in turn would interpret her instructions. (Often their mistress had to read the recipes to them, for many lower class people still could not read.)

In theory, the recipes from Hannah’s cookbook would help the lady of the house stay out of the kitchen and enjoy a few moments of free time. But the servant turnover rate was high and often the mistress had to roll up her sleeves and actively participate in the kitchen. Many households with just two or three servants could not afford a mistress of leisure, and they, like Mrs. Austen in the kitchens of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage, would toil alongside their cook staff.

The simple kitchen at Chawton cottage. Image @Tony Grant

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still prevailed in genteel households. As the century progressed, more and more women like Hannah Glasse began to write cookery books that offered not only simpler versions of French recipes, but instructions for making traditional English pies, tarts, and cakes as well. Compared to the expensive cookbooks written by male chefs, cookery books written by women were quite affordable, for they were priced between 2 s. and 6 d.

Hannah Glasse's practical directions for boiling and broiling

Publishers took advantage of the brisk trade, for with the changes in agricultural practices,  food was becoming more abundant for the rising middle classes. Large editions of cheap English cookery books by a variety of female cooks were distributed to a wide new audience of less wealthy and largely female readers who had money to spend on food. Before Hannah Glasse and her cohort, cooks and housewives  had been accustomed to sharing recipes in private journals (such as Marthat Lloyd’s) or handing them down by word-of-mouth.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for caraway cake written in her journal.

Female authors tended to share their native English recipes in their cookery books. As the century progressed, the content of these cookery books began to change. Aside from printing recipes, these books began to include medical instructions for poultices and the like; bills of fare for certain seasons or special gatherings; household and marketing tips; etc.

Bill of fare for November, The Universal Cook, 1792

By the end of the 18th century, cookery books also included heavy doses of servant etiquette and moral advice. At this time plain English fare had replaced French cuisine, although wealthy households continued to employ French chefs as expensive status symbols.  In the mid-19th century cookery books that targeted the working classes, such as Mrs. Beeton’s famous book on Household Management, began to be serialized in magazines, as well as published in book form.

Family at meal time

Before ending this post, I would like to refer you back to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s quote at top. In contrast to what he wrote (for he did not know his aunts or grandmother well), Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane reminds us that housewives who consulted with their cook and housekeeper  about the day’s meals still felt comfortable working in the kitchen. She writes in Jane Austen and Food:

“though they may not have stirred the pot or the pan themselves, Mrs. Austen and her daughters perfectly understood what was going on within them…The fact that their friend and one-time house-mate Martha Lloyd made a collection of recipes to which Mrs. Austen contributed is proof that the processes of cookery were understood by women of their class.”

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This book from Shire Classics describes the 19th-Century servant class in Great Britain in satisfying detail. Combined with another book I purchased at the National Portrait Gallery of portraits taken of the servant class, my DVDs of Gosford Park and Upstairs/Downstairs, and my recent viewing of Edwardian House and Regency House, I think that I am getting a fairly good idea about how a great house operated in days of yore.

The Victorian Domestic Servant reveals that the Duke of Bedford (died 1839) employed 300 servants and the Duke of Portland employed 320. These were excessive amounts to be sure, but most respectable Victorian households employed servants. An income of 250 a year allowed a family to employ a maid of all work, but an income of 100 would barely pay the rent, much less pay for help. As an aside, Jane Austen, her mother and sister were able to afford a maid of all work and a male servant on their modest income. After moving to Barton Cottage, the Dashwood women employed two servants as well. Yet both the Austen and Dashwood women, while not destitute, had to count every penny. People like Mrs. Smith from Persuasion and the Bates women in Emma could afford no help at all.

In 1851 domestic service represented the second largest occupation in England after agriculture, although the servant class was in constant flux. People frequently moved positions looking for higher pay or for promotions or for a way out. Although many servants felt professional pride towards their work, they often left service because the deference their employers expected wore them down. For the lower servants, the constant need for showing respect was even worse. The servant hierarchy Below Stairs showed as many distinctions as Above Stairs, with lower and upper servants rarely commingling. Lower servants were expected to remain silent unless spoken to at the table when dining, for example. They were expected neither to be seen nor heard as they worked.

Most of the work that servants performed had to be done out of sight of the family that employed them. This meant they had to rise early to do their tasks, stopping when the family arose and restarting late in the evening. Tasks were repetitive and laborious, such as filling a tub with water, which meant heating pails and pails of water and trudging up and down the stairs, or bringing coal to fireplaces and stoves and removing ashes. Much time was spent removing coal ash from fireplaces, and then dusting rooms and sweeping floors clear of the substance.

The preferred servant was raised in the country, for these people tended to show more respect and deference than their urban counterparts. A symbol of status was the footman, who wore livery and had actually not much work to do other than to look handsome and open and close doors, help the butler serve food at table, and sleep in the Butler’s Pantry to protect the family plate and silver from thieves.

While The Victorian Domestic Servant is only 32 pages long, I found so much information packed in its pages that I will have to read it again soon. For those who are curious about the servant class, or for writers of the Victorian Era, I cannot recommend this book enough. If this were a regency book, I would give it three regency fans. In this instance, I think I shall give it five out of five dust bins, broom sticks, and wash cloths.

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Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Shire; illustrated edition edition (March 4, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747803684
ISBN-13: 978-0747803683

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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. She is also subject to rougher treatment than either the house or kitchen-maid – Mrs. Isabella Beeton

Maid of all work, W.H. Pyne

Maid of all work, W.H. Pyne

Gracie, the maid of all work in Anne Perry’s mystery novels, was lucky. Charlotte Pitt, the wife of Inspector Pitt, was a good and kind mistress who worked alongside her maid and gave gentle instructions. They quickly established a friendly relationship. Charlotte’s kindness did not make Gracie’s work life much easier, but she was luckier than most of her counterparts. In her Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton places a maid of all work lower than even a scullery maid. According to Mrs. Beeton, an ambitious scullery maid could learn skills from the kitchen maids and cook and move up the servant ranks, whereas a maid of all work was generally stuck in her position.

As with the scullery maid, the maid of all work was generally a very young girl. She could also be a mature woman so down on her luck that the only other choices open to her were life on the streets or finding shelter in a work house, which was to be avoided at all costs. In Mansfield Park Fanny’s family in Portsmouth is described as being poor, yet even they were able to hire a maid of all work, so you can just imagine what the work conditions were like for these poor women, who literally did everything from cooking, sweeping the floors, hauling water, carrying out slops, looking after the pets and children, laundering, changing the beds, and serving the family at mealtimes. Maids of all work were the first to rise and the last to go to bed. If the house was small, they were lucky to receive a pallet to sleep near the fire in the kitchen. As for time off to rest and recuperate, a maid of all work was at the mercy of her employer.

The following description of a maid of all work comes from ‘The Dictionary of Daily Wants’ – 1858-1859:

MAID OF ALL WORK. – A domestic servant, who undertakes the whole duties of a household without assistance; her duties comprising those of cook, housemaid, nurserymaid, and various other offices, acccording to the exigencies of the establishment. The situation is one which is usually regarded as the hardest worked and worst paid of any branch of domestic servitude; it is, therefore, usually filled by inexperienced servants, or females who are so circumstanced that they are only desirous of securing a home, and of earning sufficient to keep themselves decently clad. In many of these situations, a servant may be very comfortably circumstanced, especially if it be a limited family of regular habits, and where there is a disposition to treat the servant with kindness and consideration.

The duties of a maid of all work being multifarious, it is necessary that she should arise early in the morning; and six or half-past six o’clock is the latest period at which she should remain in bed. She should first light the kitchen fire, and set the kettle over to boil; then she should sweep, dust, and prepare the room in which breakfast is to be taken. Having served the breakfast, she should, while the family are engaged upon that meal, proceed to the various bedchambers, strip the beds, open the windows, &c. This done, she will obtain her own breakfast, and after washing and putting away the things, she will again go upstairs, and finish what remains to be done there.

W.H. Pyne, Microcosm of London

W.H. Pyne, Microcosm of London

As the family will in all probability dine early, she must now set about the preliminaries for the dinner, making up the fire, preparing the vegetables, &c. After the dinner is cleared away, and the things washed and put by in their places, she must clean the kitchen; and this done, she is at liberty to attend to her own personal appearance, to wash and dress herself, &c. By this time the preparation for tea will have to be thought of, and this being duly served and cleared away, she must employ herself in needlework in connection with the household, or should there happen to be none requiring to be done, she may embrace this opportunity to attend to her own personal necessities. Supper has then to be attended to; and this finished, the maid of all work should take the chamber candlesticks, hot water, &c., into the sitting-room, and retire to rest as soon as her mistress or the regulation of the establishment will permit her.

The duties here set down can only be regarded as an outline rather than a detail, the habits of every family varying, and thereby regulating the amount of labour demanded, and the order in which the duties are to be performed. As a rule, however, a maid of all work, if she wish to retain her situation, must be industrious, cleanly, and thoughtful; and not only able to work, but to plan.

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the-governess-1739-jean-simeon-chardin2“With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace, and hope, to penance and mortification forever” – Jane Austen about Jane Fairfax in Emma

Working as a governess meant a life of limbo for the poor gentlewoman who was forced to support herself due to reduced financial cirdumstances. Jane Fairfax had every reason to fear her future employment. Governesses were a threat to both their employers and the servants of the house,  reminding their female employers of how close they were to finding themselves in a similar predicament. Because of their genteel upbringing governesses lived a life of isolation, not fitting in with the servants belowstairs, not even the housekeeper, butler, or nanny, who, while they belonged to the upper ranks of servants, came from humble origins. Governesses seldom earned enough to save for their old age, and their services were often exploited and undervalued.  Dinah Birch writes in her review of Other People’s Daughter: The Life and Times of the Governess by Ruth Brandon:

Their “predicament was earnestly debated in journals, advice books and manuals, educational treatises, newspapers, charitable commissions, lectures, reviews and memoirs. She became the object of inadequate charity, useless compassion and offensive condescension. Worse still, she had to endure the sense of having fallen from her proper place in the world, for most governesses had been brought up amid domestic comforts and cheerful expectations.”  

This passage from  The Uneasy World Between describes the governesses’ dilemma succinctly:

The governess was often perceived as being an emotional and social threat. Many gentlewomen were forced into the role by some financial catastrophe, reminding the families they worked for of a terrible possibility. Moreover, their intimacy with children often roused the mother’s hostility, and a war for the child’s love was the result. By the middle of the century, a spate of bank failures had hugely oversupplied the market with under- educated would-be governesses, some of whom were reduced to working for £20 a year, or even for nothing except bed and board. What happened to these when they grew too old to work — perhaps only at 40 — does not bear thinking about. Only very few governesses earned more than £200 a year; Sir George Stephen in 1844 only found a dozen. Charlotte Brontë, paid £20 a year in 1841, was much more typical. The social inequality flowed, however, in an unexpected way. Many governesses, more ladylike than their employers, were expected to give a sheen of social elegance to the children of the nouveaux riches. Resentment tended to flow both from the employers and from the servants’ hall. ‘I don’t like them governesses, Pinner,’ the cook in Vanity Fair says of Becky Sharp. ‘They give themselves the hairs and hupstarts of ladies, and their wages is no better than you nor me.’ The ugly situation was very clear to the more thoughtful women in this class. ‘I should be shut out from society,’ Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, ‘and be debarred the imperfect pleasures of friendship — as I should on every side be surrounded by unequals.’The one truly typical story here, perhaps, is that of a crushed and struggling woman, Nelly Weeton. We only know about her because she wrote a journal, discovered long after her death, cataloguing with great ill-humour and resentment the treatment she received at the hands of her drunken and snobbish employers, her bullying father and brother and ultimately an appalling husband. She’s not an attractive figure, full of self-pity and complaint, but her tragic story shows how much governesses at the bottom end of the market had to put up with.

The classic governess in our collective minds is Jane Eyre. She came from a relatively humble background,  but many a young governess came from a background and breeding that equalled  her employers. This definition written in 1849 in The Living Age  describes how  untenable the situation could be:

“…the real definition of a governess in the English sense is a being who is our equal in birth manners and education but our inferior in worldly wealth.  Take a lady in every meaning of the word born and bred and let her father pass through the gazette and she wants nothing more to suit our highest beau ideal of a guide and instructress to our children…There is no other class which so cruelly requires its members to be in birth mind and manners above their station in order to fit them for their station. From this peculiarity in their very qualifications for office result all the peculiar and most painful anomalies of their professional existence. The line which severs the governess from her employers is not one which will take care of itself, as in the case of a servant.

Governesses depended on the kindness of their employers. Emma’s governess, Miss Taylor, who later became Mrs. Weston, was fortunate enough to be treated like a member of the family. One surmises  that she was one of the few to make closer to the  £200 per year described above, than the average of  £20 pounds per year that most governesses earned. In real life, Agnes Porter (c. 1750-1814) was one of the lucky women to be treated with respect when she worked as a governess to the children and grandchildren of the second Earl of Ilchester. She wrote down her thoughts as an unmarried, employed gentlewoman in journals and letters that have been published. A devoted parent, Lord Ilchester took his children with him on on trips, leaving Agnes with enough  free time to entertain friends in her private apartments. She was also invited to dine  in with the family or spend an evening with them.  While Agnes’s experience was a relatively good one, she still would have preferred to be married. Becoming someone’s wife was a desirable goal, since prospects were bleak for a woman who was not “the property’ by anyone. ‘I could not forbear partially and deeply reflecting on the ills that single women are exposed to, even at the hour of death, from being the property of no one.’ ” (Information from: A Governess in the Age of Jane Austen: The Journals and Letters of Agnes Porter). 

In 1886, novelist Wilkie Collins wrote the following dialogue about the governess, Miss Westerfield,  in The Evil Genius: The Story:

Mrs. Linley returned to the subject of the governess.

“I don’t at all say what my mother says,” she resumed; “but was it not just a little indiscreet to engage Miss Westerfield without any references?”

“Unless I am utterly mistaken,” Linley replied, “you would have been quite as indiscreet, in my place. If you had seen the horrible woman who persecuted and insulted her–”

His wife interrupted him. “How did all this happen, Herbert? Who first introduced you to Miss Westerfield?”

Linley mentioned the advertisement, and described his interview with the schoolmistress. Having next acknowledged that he had received a visit from Miss Westerfield herself, he repeated all that she had been able to tell him of her father’s wasted life and melancholy end. Really interested by this time, Mrs. Linley was eager for more information. Her husband hesitated. “I would rather you heard the rest of it from Miss Westerfield,” he said, “in my absence.”

“Why in your absence?”

“Because she can speak to you more freely, when I am not present. Hear her tell her own story, and then let me know whether you think I have made a mistake. I submit to your decision beforehand, whichever way it may incline.”

The implication, of course, was that anyone with compassion would have hired Miss Westerfield. Learn more about the governess in the following links:

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young-girl-of-spirit-constance-hillIn December 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote this letter of recommendation to Parthenope Verney:

My dear [Parthenope Verney]

It occurred to me after writing yesterday if you are going to set up a needlewoman under the housekeeper, Mary Jenkins, Bathwoman, Dr. W. Johnson’s, Great Malvern, has a niece, living at Oxford, a first-rate needlewoman, eldest girl of a very large family, who wants or wanted a place. If she is at all like my good old friend, her aunt, she would be a very valuable servant. Perhaps her needlework would be almost too good for your place. I believe she is a qualified “young lady’s maid,” though when I heard of her, she had never been “out,” i.e., in service. Perhaps she has a place. I think it answers very well in a large house to have as much as possible done at home, as little as possible “put out.”

This domestic job as needlewoman – mending, embroidering, making clothes – sounds benign compared to the custom of the Regency and Victorian eras to overwork seamstresses. While plying the needle was a common domestic activity (Jane Austen was known to possess a particular talent in this direction), working class seamstresses were appallingly overworked and underpaid, especially during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution. Many women toiled for long hours in poor lighting conditions, with some going blind from their employment. An apprentice seamstress in a milliner’s shop worked under slightly better conditions, but during the Season when demand for new and fashionable dresses was high, these women would also be pressed to work into the wee hours of the night to complete an order.

The above illustration of Jane Austen sewing comes from Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends by Constance Hill. In Chapter XX, Constance makes the following observation about Jane Austen’s skill as a needlewoman:

Her needlework was exquisite. We have seen a muslin scarf embroidered by her in satin-stitch, and have held in our hands a tiny housewife of fairy-like proportions, which Jane worked at the age of sixteen as a gift for a friend. It consists of a narrow strip of flowered silk, embroidered at the back, which measures four inches by one and a quarter, and is furnished with minikin needles and fine thread. At one end there is a tiny pocket, containing a slip of paper upon which are some verses in diminutive handwriting with the date “Jany. 1792.” The little housewife, when rolled up, is tied with narrow ribbon. “Having been never used and carefully preserved, it is as fresh and bright as when it was first made.

For more on this topic, click on my other post The Life of a Seamstress.

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