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What was Daily Life Like for a Victorian Scullery Maid?

Monday, March 1st, 2010

On an evening in October 1860, a scullery maid was washing up in a dirty, oppressively dark little cellar in London. The following scene was written down by the Victorian poet A.J. Munby in his diary. Why was this unusual? Victorian employers, as a rule, took no more notice of their servants than if they were a weed in the park. Not in the least concerned about their welfare, health or working conditions, servants only existed for the comfort of the family.

They were seldom discussed, except if there was the bother of finding a replacement. Mr. Munby’s notice of and interest in a lowly scullery maid was therefore very unusual. This is what he said as he observed a scullery maid or perhaps 15 years of age, at work:

“She stood at the sink behind a wooden dresser backed with choppers and stained with blood and grease, upon which were piles of copper and saucepans that she had to scour, piles of dirty dishes that she had to wash. Her frock, her cap, her face and arms were more or less wet,soiled, perspiring and her apron was a filthy piece of sacking, wet and tied round her with a cord. The den where she wrought was low, damp,ill-smelling; windowless, lighted by a flaring gas-jet and, full in view, she had on one side a larder hung with raw meat, on the other a common urinal; besides the man ugly, dirty implements around her”.

The excerpt provides us with an interesting glimpse into the daily life of the scullery maid. Occupying the lowest place among the servants, a Victorian scullery maid was almost a slave, receiving a poor wage and her food. Working hours were long and gruelling – a scullery maid would sometimes work for 16 hours a day or even longer if there was entertaining going on in the family.

The Victorian Butler

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

A Butler today

A Butler today

The Victorian butler held a position that was, for the most part, sought after in Victorian times.

The word butler originates from the French word Bouteillier which means ‘a bottle-bearer’. Originally this is what a butler was, a cup-bearer who eventually became the servant in charge of the wine cellar. Eventually more duties were added until the butler became the head of the male servants in large households in Victorian England.

Butler Duties in Victorian Times

Large households in the 18th and 19th centuries could expect to employ dozens of servants such as Butler, UnderButler, Housekeeper, Cook, Footman, Ladies Maid, Kitchen Maids, Scullery Maids, Chamber Maids, Housemaids, Coachman and Groom.

The Butler was responsible for the footman and other indoor menservants. Among other things and he would arrange the dinner table, announce dinner, carve joints of meat and serve wine. He would brew the servants’ beer and generally be in charge of the dining areas, cellars and pantries.

The Butler would sleep in his own quarters, usually a small but comfortable room. He was always dressed in a special uniform, different from the junior staff and he was expected to look neat and immaculately groomed at all times.

In Victorian times, Butlers could expect to earn around 40 pounds per annum and had all expenses cared for except for clothes. In addition, the butler was entitled to the ends of candles and entitled to one bottle of wine for every six opened. Butlers and Valets usually worked their way up through the ranks, aspiring to the position after a lengthy apprenticeship as footmen.

Butlers Today

Yes, the butler’s job still exists and is still sought after as a good job by many men. The butler’s job description in today’s world is not clearly defined. A butler these days is expected to be multi-talented and can expect to do everything from organizing other servants to being a household manager.

A butler may be referred to as a Personal Secretary, Household Manager, Estate Manager, Majordomo or Steward. Hotel Butlers are in demand in hotels and spas around the world.

Butler duties can include valeting of clothes, swimming pool maintenance, gardening duties and driving. Sometimes cooking skills are required. Butlers can be found working in palaces, yachts, stately homes as well as for busy corporate executives who do not have the time to manage their personal affairs. With new-found wealth in China, demand has surged for European trained butlers.

Posted in Victorian Servants | 2 Comments »

Victorian Servants – Scullery Maid and House Maid

Friday, November 13th, 2009

In the early nineteenth century, it was common for young children to go into domestic service at a very early age, usually around ten years of age but sometimes as young as eight. The daughters of working class men and women had to earn their living and domestic service was considered an ideal occupation for young girls and single women.

The life was gruelling and exhausting. Working hours could be up to 17 long each day, from 5.30 a.m. in the morning until 10.30 p.m. The work was endless and physically demanding.

Servants were seen as dispensable creatures, barely human, solely in existence for the comfort of the family and so health and safety issues for the servant were not considered the employer’s responsibility.

The issue of servants’ injuries was finally included in the Workman’s Compensation Act of 1907. Maids and cooks had to endure lack of fresh air, monotonous, long hours of work and accidents in the course of their work such as burns, falls and cuts.

Servants slept in the kitchen or in cupboards under the stairs or in attics. They were often forbidden to sing or laugh and had to remain as noiseless and invisible as possible.
If they came into contact with a member of the household, they were to keep quiet, avert their eyes and walk out of the room backwards. If anything was broken or damaged, the servant was made to pay and the sum would be deducted from their wages.

Victorian Scullery Maid

This was the lowest occupation of all, usually taken up by very young girls. The scullery maid’s day was filled with duties such as emptying and cleaning chamber pots, polishing brass work and silver, scrubbing the front stairs, washing dishes and scouring pots.

The Victorian scullery maid cleaned the kitchen floor as well as stoves, lit bedroom fires first thing in the morning, and carried heavy cans of warm water up the stairs for bathing, each load would weigh around 15kg. She would usually stumble into her bed in the attic, exhausted, at around 10.00 p.m. She would have her food and clothes provided for and earn a wage of between 10 to13 pounds per annum.

Victorian House Maid

The Victorian house maid came under the supervision of the Housekeeper and depending on the number of servants kept by the family, could fulfill a number of different positions such as chamber maid, parlour maid, in between maid (commonly known at the time as a tweeny), kitchen maid or laundry maid.

The work performed by these servants was back-breakingly strenuous and included duties such as changing linen, making up beds, dusting and cleaning bedrooms, cleaning out fireplaces, polishing grates, hauling coal up to the bedrooms and lighting fresh fires.

Other duties would include scrubbing floors on hands and knees, brushing carpets, beating rugs and cleaning and filling lamps each day. Laundry maids would typically soak loads of laundry, wash, rinse, wring out the washing and then iron the household’s laundry when dry. The Victorian house maid could expect a wage of between 15 to 20 pounds per annum, the tweeny earning the least.

Victorian House Maid

Victorian House Maid

Posted in Victorian Servants | 5 Comments »

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