Friday, February 18, 2011

Servants in Great Houses

This blog is truly at the 101 level, but please join in and add deeper information as you can!

Have you ever watched Pride and Prejudice and wondered how in the world they managed to take care of that enormous house, Pemberley? Wow! Grand houses had many servants. Many more servants than family. At times there were 50 indoor servants and 50 for the outside property. They received fairly low wages, but ate better than many of the other lower class people at the time and had a roof over their heads. They also worked very hard for that pay.

Servants were divided into a hierarchy. The largest houses had a steward who basically ran the home. He was the highest in class, and made by far the most money. Under him were the butler, cook and housekeeper. If there was no steward, the butler took charge. Under the cook were all the kitchen servants. She was called Mrs., whether or not she was married, or Cook by the family, and everyone under her had to obey. There were kitchen maids who worked with the food and scullery maids who did the dirty work, scrubbing pots and pans and floors. (Sorry, girls, no non-stick cookware for you!) Footmen, under the butler, carried food upstairs to the family table. They had been hired as ornaments, usually chosen by their looks and height. Often, they were to look as much alike as possible so as not to distract the family and their guests. And of course, they never looked at the family or heard anything that was discussed at the table. Under the housekeeper were the Nanny and the nursery maid under her, and housemaids. High up on the ladder were the Lady's Maids, who helped the Ladies with dress and grooming, keeping their clothing ready to wear and doing up their hair. They were much like the Valets who took care of the gentlemen.

Servants were to avoid being seen, even hiding inside a closet or leaving an area if they had advance notice of the arrival of a family member. However, they were to leave behind them fires lit and tended, clean rooms and a well cared for family. They were up, dressed and fed by 7, and then tended to getting the family up, dressed, fed and cared for all day. Guess who went to bed last? You got it! Servants usually got Sunday afternoons off to visit their families, and were expected to attend church in the morning.

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