Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wages and Info About Servants

I've written some here about servants and their hierarchy in my February 2011 posts. I thought I would now go on ad nauseum with some other points. I have been stuck in the Victorian era, it seems, but comments from any other period are also invited. Likely, the things brought out below pertained for quite some time previous to Victoria's reign.

To put the wages into perspective, I believe Bingley, from Pride and Prejudice, had 5,000 a year, did he not? And Darcy was well above that. Was it 40,000? Someone correct me as needed; I don't have the income statements available.

The biggest category of employment in the country was maids. Even if you could not afford to hire a maid full time, you had to have one come on Saturdays to scrub the front steps. It was a status must. If anything at all had to be done, it was the scrubbing of the front steps. You wouldn't want to hire a girl from the workhouses; she would be completely untrained. You'd want someone from a decent family. Not even a full time live in maid would make much money. But she would be likely to have good meals, as well as the roof over her head, and that could be expected to continue for her lifetime if she was any good at all. (Girls, you do need to get your job very young; when you are older you have to have a character- that is a written reference from your last job- to get another. And there had better not be a lapse between.) Depending on the income of the household, she might even have a shared bedroom. If not, she slept on the kitchen floor with the beetles. One servant girl wrote of earning 16 pounds per year, though I've also read that they might have received from to 9 to 14, and it depended partly on whether you were given cash to buy your beer, tea and sugar. (If a Mistress went to hire her first maid and did not know the price, she merely had to look in Mrs. Beeton's book about such things.) And believe me, the maid worked hard for it! Cleaning knives was no picnic. They were not of stainless steel as they are today. They discolored when used and had to be scoured with emery powder; a tedious and dirty job. And that is just knives. Someday I will write about housekeeping, and you can see my last post about laundry. The smaller you were, the more likely that you would be the one to climb up in the chimney to clean it. You might want to be naked for that. You might be that anyway, if you had not come complete with your own clothing, for none was provided. A maid was not to be caught talking with the handsome footman; if there was an accidental kiss, for which she could be fired, it was the girl's fault. In the end, when you had worked yourself nearly to death, out you went and likely ended up destitute in the workhouse.

Up the scale was the Lady's Maid. She earned a good bit more and sat nearer the butler at mealtimes. She spent her workday getting the lady of the house dressed and tended, hair done, cleaning spots and repairing her clothing, dressing her again for dinner or for tea or evenings out, and then getting her undone, hair brushed and bed cozied for the night, including putting warming stones in the bed ahead of time if needed.

Footmen were another story. They did not need the degree of capability or industriousness required from the girl in the kitchen, but boy, they had to be good looking. They also needed to tall, all of them be the same height and look as much alike as possible. A fortunate household could hire twins, I suppose. They never "heard" what was discussed at the dinner table as they waited on the family, and no servant every looked the Master/Mistress in the eyes when being spoken to. Their sharp livery was provided by the house (or they earned extra to buy it) and they earned between 20 and 40 pounds a year. The maids, of course, did all their laundry, rid their mattresses of bedbugs and served their meals.

On up the ladder was the housekeeper (over the maids) and cook, who made 12 to 26 a year plus their tea allowance. Cooks were allowed to sell the once used tea leaves and meat drippings and take tips from local tradesmen. They were called "Mrs." by the servants, although, of course, they could not be married.

The butler and even higher, the steward, if there was one in a great house, would make a good bit more and be able to save so he would be able to open a pub upon retirement. Though in most houses the Mistress did the hiring, no doubt in the greatest houses, where she was a duchess or princess, the steward would fill that role along with running the finances, etc. I just can't imagine a duchess spending her time interviewing maids. But that is my own thought.

Nannies, who raised and corrected the children while a nurserymaid cleaned for her, were up the pay scale and ate in the nursery. "Belgrave Square" is a good representation of the life and duties of a Nanny. Governesses, who educated the girls and the boys who were to young to be sent off to school, usually came from the gentility, though forced into service because of a father's or husband's death. They were allowed to eat at the family table, but endured some humiliation there for not being a family member, for being in service and therefore being somewhat beneath them. A gentleman who visited the family should best not set his eye on her, though I'm sure it happened, and Rochester himself took to Jane Eyre with no concern about it.

Some of this information was taken from Liza Picard's Victorian London.

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