Saturday, March 05, 2011

Now serving

Domestic servants in Victorian England were pretty ubiquitous - about 13% of the female population was in service. Everyone from the lower middle classes upwards had them, though more cash meant more servants around the place.

The minimum income needed to a daily servant who came in to do the housework was about £150 and a head teacher, journalist or shop keeper could expect to make that. Doctors, lawyers and clerks typically made much more than this (£300 - £800) and would have correspondingly more help.

There was a well-established order in which servants would be acquired too. One that everyone knew because everyone had them. Did people have conversations about getting the full set. I bet they competed to see who could have the most on the least income.

After a daily charwoman came a live-in servant, aka the maid-of-all-work, who was typically a teenager and did all the menial work of the house.

Then came a house maid and following that a nurse or cook - depending on a house’s needs. This triumvirate would typically be enough to support a family in cosy gentility. Often it was the case that servants outnumbered those that employed them.

Next servant to get would be the first manservant - these tended to be rarer as they were taxed. A valet or butler would be the first choice who could also look after the horses and carriage. An income of about £500 per year would support these four servants and a family.

On an income north of £1,000 then a house would likely acquire a dedicated groom or a girl to help the cook.

Beyond this came more specialisation and include footmen, valets, a chef, governess and many, many varieties of maid.

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