Victorian Era Servants in homes: Duties and rules

The servants during the Victorian period were young girls between eight years to twelve or thirteen years.

Victorian servant’s duties

Most of the houses, including the middle-class homes, had servants and they formed an integral part of the household. The servants did jobs like washing clothes, washing the dishes and preparing meals and at times even took care of the children. During the Victorian times, there were servants who lived with the family they worked for and were provided with food and a place to live.

victorian servants

Servant life in Victorian times

In the early years of the 18th century, the servants used to sleep in the kitchen or at times in the cupboards. But as the time went by, they were accommodated in a room which was small, cold and had insufficient lights. The rooms had limited but basic furniture like chair, bed, and wooden dresser. Initially, there were no holidays for the servants and they had to obtain the consent of their masters if they needed a holiday.

However, the permission could be taken back by the masters anytime they wanted servants. Around 1880, the servants were given half-day off on Sundays and at times they were given an entire day off in a month. A change came in the 1900s when there was a fashion to give servants a break in the evenings which later on transpired to an entire day off per week.

victorian servants

List of types of servants

There was a hierarchy among the servants based on the job they did for a family. The Housekeeper was also known as Mrs. even if she was unmarried. She was at the top of the female servants and was responsible for maintaining the house and give orders to the other female staff. It was essential that she had knowledge of accounts as she dealt with the expenses incurred while maintaining the house.

She was also required to make a note of everything in an accounts book. The House Maid was directly under the Housekeeper and was appointed to different positions like being a chamber maid, parlor maid, kitchen maid, laundry maid or in between maid, etc. The work done by these servants was excruciating. Other duties carried out by them included scrubbing the floor, brushing the carpet, beating rugs, filling lamps every day and many such duties.

The Lady’s Maid was regarded as a more honored position as she was expected to be educated, have exceptional needlework skills and be honest. She would help the Lady of the House dress and undress, style her hair, etc. She was expected to be pretty and preferably French.

Other servants were the Land Steward, House Steward, Butler, Housekeeper, Cook or Chef, First Footman, Second Footman, Footman, Head Nurse, Nurse, Under cook, Page of Tea Boy, Head Groom or Stable Master, Groom, Stable Boy, Head Gardener, Game Keeper, ground Keepers, Governess, Gatekeeper and lastly Scullery Maid.

The servants formed a crucial part to the functioning of the upper and middle-class houses during the Victorian period. Servants or the number of servants engaged by the upper or middle-class families were regarded as a status symbol and a sign of luxurious living.

Servants were engaged even by those who could not afford to have a huge army of servants. Though the job of working as a servant was taxing, many appreciated it as working as a servant gave them the job security that industrial work failed to give. The servants had their duties allotted and were required to wear a uniform.

Servants in middle-class families

In case of families who were not so rich, the servants were responsible for all the household work from cleaning, washing to taking care of the children. Women who had servants to do the chores were able to take rest during pregnancy and this increased their chances of survival after childbirth.

Housemaids were responsible for almost everything like lighting the fire, changing bed linens, drawing the curtains, etc. Then there were Dairymaids who milked the cows and churned butter. Nursemaids took care of the children which also included taking them out for walks.

There were servants who were called Parlor maids who answered the door, announced the arrival of guests and served at dinner. Servants included not only the female staff but also the male servant and the Steward topped the hierarchical ranking.

The male servants consisted of footmen and pages who were engaged for jobs like trimming the lamps, carrying coal, serving at meals, etc. The footmen would even accompany the family on their outdoor trips and served the purpose of a servant and a bodyguard.

The footmen were tall and these men were engaged especially because the guests and the employers favored tall footmen. The staff employed for the outdoor job included the coachmen and grooms, gardener and at times even a gatekeeper. By the turn of the century, it was difficult to categorise servants, though the hierarchy was more or less the same in every house.

Victorian servants hierarchy

victorian servants list
Courtesy BBC
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