Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs. Part 1 of 3 – Knowing Your Place.

a century ago one and a half million of us worked as servants astonishingly that’s more than worked in industries or on the land my great-grandmother’s were servants and coming from this background I want to find out about the reality of their lives country houses like these simply wouldn’t have been able to function without a whole army of staff working away above and below stairs when I come to places like this my first instinct isn’t to go through the grand formal entrance but to find the servants door and going that way in this series I want to dispel the nostalgia and fantasies that we have around domestic service and reveal a much more complex world I’m going to tell a very different sort of history one of suppressed passions strict hierarchies and an obsession with status and class digging through the archives I’ll track down the lost lives of real servants whose voices have largely been forgotten who’s this we were underdogs we weren’t on the same level as them and we we ought to know our place I’ll visit the homes of the super-rich and the anxious middle classes in order to understand how servants actually lived and worked but above all I want to ask some difficult questions that have been left unanswered for decades amazing our country was based on an ideal around service for so long why was that why did that world disappear and what uncomfortable truths can we uncover by looking at the reality of servants lives [Music] between the mid 18th and mid 19th century grand country-houses sprung up all over Britain new wealth from the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution transformed feudal homes into the grand estates of a new ruling class one of these was earthly call in North Wales ethic was home to local landowners the orcs and their staff 30 outdoor estate workers plus 15 indoor servants in the servants quarters the first thing you see is a poem blessing them all may heaven protect our home from flame or hurt or harm of various name and may no evil luck be tied to any who therein abide or who from homes beyond its gate bestow their toil on this estate and toils the word the hall was built on a generous scale 200,000 square feet of house with six formal reception rooms a chapel a grand dining room and nine family bedrooms in order to service these rooms there were twice as many rooms downstairs and in the out houses each with their own specific function from the kitchen and the scullery to the laundry and the bake house the family upstairs could summon the servants to any part of the house at any time her big might seem quiet now but in its prime the economic scale of the work that kept it going was staggering every week three tons of coal were carried around to fuel 51 fireplaces five ovens and three coppers two to three hundred gallons of water were carted around different parts of the house for cooking cleaning and washing and for washing we’re talking up to 600 items per week then there’s the food four meals a day for up to 30 people that would be the family and their staff guests and their staff and all this was done by hand by a small army of servants working 17 hour days all year round with no modern technology this scale of service was repeated in country houses across the British Isles but what’s so unusual about ethic is that the family had a long-standing tradition of having portraits made of their servants this is the family of servants a terrific in 1852 family of Serbs at the front the real family at the back in that window there each servant is depicted carrying an implement or a tool relating to their role in the house and historians call these loyalty portraits you find them up and down the country in servant keeping houses we’ve got the butler with his bottle the housekeeper with abrasive fowl the lady’s maid with her sewing kit what’s particularly nice about this one is that the employer’s wrote poems to go with the portrait here’s what they say about the butler our butler in the foreground shown as Thomas Murray well was known he who does nice sent a stand with bottle class with in his hand clever was he at drawing caulk and a good hand at knife and fork and I really like this one about the ladies maid they don’t seem to like her so much nearby our Butler mrs.Hale of whom our memories much do as ladies maid she’s sojourned here black was her dress her face or steer and when she did for Brighton leave no one here a sided heave would tear the photograph on the poem give us a revealing glimpse into life below stairs they hint at the tension between the staff themselves whose lives were governed by a strict hierarchy in houses like ethic the butler was at the top of the pile overseeing the coachman and footman he was in overall charge of the house alongside the housekeeper who hired the housemates the cook dominated a separate world controlling kitchen maids to prepare food dairy maids to make butter and cheese and scullery maids for the washing up the governess and head nurse took care of the children’s universe while the lady’s maid in valence close to their mistresses and masters stood separate from the other servants and at the very bottom of the pile were the laundry maids and Hall boys the hall boy usually slept in the servants dining hall on a fold-out bed sadly we don’t know much about the hall boy at earthing in the 1850s a lad called Edward Davis but Hall boys in other houses did recall their 16-hour days in gruelling detail the hall boy at longleat was their lad called Gordon grimace and he wrote in his memoirs that every day he had to trim clean and fill all the lamps and candles in the house and that could be up to 300 and every morning before the other servants even woke up he had to polish 60 pairs of staff boots every servant acquired a very specific set of skills learning from senior servants or from household manuals how to clean ladies boots the following is an excellent polish replying to ladies boots mix equal portions of sweet oil vinegar and treacle with one ounce of lampblack when all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated rub the mixture onto the boots with the palms of the hand and put them in a cool place to dry the pecking order was even played out when the servants ate their meals together in the servants Hall mealtimes wire a time when the status the hierarchies between servants were enforced there would be a strict order of coming in to eat and strict rules about where different ranks of servants might sit and you might also have rules such as no speaking unless you were addressed by one of the senior servants and the senior servants had a great deal of power so the butler for example in some households would put down his knife and fork and everyone else had to finish eating whether you finished or not so service had to learn to be fast eaters some houses had a strict set of rules governing behaviour in the hall you even had to pay a forfeit if you broke them for instance rule for that if any person be heard to swear or use any indecent language at any time when the cloth is on the table he is to forfeit thruppence rule 7 whoever leaves any pieces of bread at breakfast dinner or supper forfeits one penny but there was also divisions between the different branches of domestic service so famously cooks were often very protective of their space and the kitchen staff sometimes wouldn’t eat here you know in in the servants Hall but had the privilege of being able to eat in the kitchen and the other servants always suspected that they had better food and of course I imagine some servants had to serve the other servants that’s right you would have had the very junior servants learning their trade if you like by serving in in the servants Hall way above the hall boy the most powerful female servant at her big was the housekeeper and her room is still immaculately preserved from here she did the accounts and tradesmen’s orders marshaled the female staff and looked after the most precious items such as the china and the linen in 1852 the housekeeper here was mrs.Webster one of the most iconic objects associated with a housekeeper were her keys and here’s mrs. Webster a housekeeper at Ehrlich with her keys in her lap in fact it was said that it was a mark of a good housekeeper that she could strike fear into the hearts of the lower servants with a mere jangle of the keys mrs. Webster didn’t just look the part her employers poem paints her as the perfect frugal employee who rose through the ranks upon the portly form we look of one who was our former cook no better keeper of our store did ever enter at our door she knew and pandered to our taste allowed no want and yet no waste and for some 30 years or more the cares of office here she bore although ethics law LT portraits and poems suggest a coziness between masters and servants the reality is starkly different most big houses were specifically designed to keep the Masters and their servants apart one of the best examples of this idea of separation is Petworth it’s Sussex estate was 15 times larger than Ehrlich and at its height it employed 300 indoor and outdoor staff most of the indoor staff lived and worked in a separate servants wing at the back of the main house but that wasn’t enough in order to keep the servants actually hidden from their employers and guests the architect designed a tunnel which connects the servants wing to the main house low-ceilinged and damp you can just imagine what it was like with dozens of servants brushing past each other carrying trays of food and dirty dishes you can think of the country house rather like a giant Swan gliding gracefully on the surface but underneath there’s an army of servants paddling furiously to keep the whole thing moving tells us a lot about the reality of servants lives most big employers didn’t know their servants by name some didn’t know how many they had in one house in Suffolk if a junior member of staff came into contact with a member of the family that she had to flatten themselves against the wall anonymity and visibility were very big part of the job [Music] as if a tunnel wasn’t enough the main house itself was designed for invisibility with its hidden passages secret doors and back stairs allowing the servants to shadow their employers every move from here a hidden army could service their masters needs with invisible hands turning up beds lighting fires filling their baths and jugs with water brought up from the range scuff marks and slop buckets [Music] the contrast between the sumptuous richly decorated family areas and the dull colored servant quarters is startling the very top floor of the house wasn’t only designed to keep servants away from their employers it was also built to keep servants separate from each other up here in the Attic is where the senior servants slept the butler the housekeeper the valet the ladies maids the lower servants slept in dormitories above the servants wing men up one end women down the other separated by a locked door in fact I think you’ve got to think of this house as a physical embodiment of nineteenth-century values with separation and segregation at its heart it’s segregation by sex by skill by age and of course in a house like this by class here in Petworth vast private archive with records dating back 700 years we see what this segregation actually meant for the servants a huge difference in pay between the highest and the lowest here we’ve got payments for servants and servants wages and these are the servants in 1860 they more or less go in hierarchical order we’re starting with Henri Upton who was the surveyor fifty pounds a quarter is roughly fourteen and a half thousand pounds a year today he is by far the highest earner and so we go on down through the the house maids the kitchen maids and probably somewhere at the bottom though they don’t tell us at the laundry maid people like Christine Anderson who and he gets three guineas a year just seven hundred pounds a year in today’s money they have to remember that the staff here were fed provided with uniforms and lived rent-free surprisingly in spite of the master-servant segregation the archives have a very rare book an informal photo album compiled by the Masters daughter-in-law all the dear servants at Petworth from 1860 yes this was collected by mrs.Percy Wyndham she had photographs taken of all her favorite servants regardless of the house design mrs. Windham clearly got to know the servants and wrote affectionate notes giving us tiny hints of their lives and this is Thomas who was made to mrs. Percy Wyndham who married Owen the valet Thomas is presumably her surname yes this is dear old bowler the nursemaid a butler or under butler named forgot him forgot would have Petworth but not for very long it’s still got a photograph oh yes there’s mr.Upton the clerk of works who we know got fifty pounds a year from the wage book a dairy maid mrs. Greenfield a laundry maid Reynolds who was John dine whose Butler for a long time they didn’t really want him to be Butler they didn’t think he was quite up to it because he was so nervous and if he brought them a cup of coffee in the morning his hand would shake so much that you wouldn’t have much coffee left in the cup but he stayed with them for you though they kept some on anyway yes yes it’s quite tantalizing because you get sense of who they are from here where they worked what they looked like but there’s still so much more I think yes you’d like to ask them what they thought of it yes the Fallen servant portraits in this album most standing proud in their uniform are very familiar to us and yet these uniforms were actually a Victorian invention 100 years earlier in the 18th century servants had dressed much more individually [Music] this is a wonderful collection of portraits they look like lords and ladies in the latest fashions in fact they’re all servants up here is Mary Hayes down here is Mary Wells they’re both house maids look at them beautifully dressed look at their bonnets and their beautiful lace collars which is another lovely hood this is the housekeeper mrs.Edwards he looks more like mary antoinette in that powdered wig the menservants also really well turned out this is a lower groom Frances Yeates but look at his orange silk waistcoat they’re up here we’ve got the gardener and his wife beautiful bonnet and roses beautiful silver buttons down his jacket this is Stevens who is a general manservant but if we take him off the wall have a look at the back get some lovely detail on him Stevens alias lumpy the famous player at cricket I think he was the Dukes cricket coach and no doubt about why he was hired you think about them as a group really comes across is their personality individuality with their own looks and style the most fashionable couple of all placed in the very center looked like they are the master and mistress but they too are servants if you compare these 18th century portraits with 19th century photographs one very clear difference uniforms this is a mid 19th century photograph of a servant staff at a country house and they’re all in uniforms different uniforms for different ranks for different purposes very clear division of labor very clear what people do because you can read it from their dress it’s even more pronounced in this one this group of maid servants from the early 20th century they’ve not only got the same clothes they’ve even got the same hair this lovely roll at the front some can clearly carry it off better than others I think what is happening here clothing is serving a purpose clothing is denoting class it’s putting servants back in their place it’s almost like individual identities are being flattened to a type and this even happened with names fancy or high-ranking names could be changed by employers to more suitable lower ranking names so Florence could become Flo Elizabeth could become Betty in some houses footmen were given the names Henry or William regardless of what their actual names were as the 19th century progressed service became more sharply defined as a profession with specific uniforms and dress codes as well as particular rules and customs tracts and manuals spelt out these rules clearly how to be a Victorian servant this is a 19th century pamphlet very snappy title for servants hints to domestic servants addressed more particularly to male and female servants connected with the nobility gentry and clergy and it’s written by a butler in a gentleman’s family 1854 so note he’s not a master he’s a butler and this is his view of how servants should behave page 74 cleanliness the first thing I would recommend is cleanliness no person will make a good servant who is not habitually clean clean in person and in work nothing is more offensive to a lady or gentleman that you have a dirty slovenly servant about them male or female page 78 be uniformly obedient to your masters page 81 a slothful servant is a wicked keep your masters secret never reveal what he intends should be prevent your masters honor and the honor of his seize on every opportunity to promote their and especially by praying for the renewing grace of God [Music] service with its particular codes of behavior and dress became ever more sharply defined as the rich is extracted from the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution flooded into cities like Liverpool Manchester and London this wealth fueled a massive building boom giving rise to the terraced houses with attics and basements of the newly emerging Victorian middle classes and one way these new middle classes felt they could cement their status was by keeping servants one such servant William Taylor gives us a rare personal view inside these middle-class households William was manservant to a wealthy widow on great Cumberland Street in London back in the 1830s this was a very smart row of houses the fact that it’s a hotel now with its own doormen it’s really quite apt in a way William Taylor had grown up on a small farm and came to London to look for work he wrote a diary which is incredibly revealing of servant life in the bustling social city and remarkably it survived may the 14th mechanics and trades people speak disrespective lee of servants if they meet a servant in company they will say one to the other it’s only a servant but everyone must know that servants form one of the most respectable classes of person that is in existence they must be healthy clean honest a sober set of people May the 18th we’re going to have a party this evening something larger than usual it is quite disgusting too modest eyes to see how the young ladies dress nearly naked to the waist to attract the gentlemen naked on the breast except to cover the nipples if anyone wants to see all the ways of the world they must be a gentleman servant amazingly William Taylor’s diary and his scrapbook have been handed down through four generations of his family and are now treasured by his great-great-great niece here is the diary do we know why he wrote the diary yes he says so he says he wanted to practice his writing as I am a wretched bad writer many of my friends who advised me to practice so he writes the styrene it’s a year in his life 1837 yes his duties cleaning the lamps and the shoes and the knives because you had didn’t have stainless steel knives in those days and then you would be taking the meals up and clearing them away and he appeared on the wall she come from upstairs which you thought you might think the maid servants would do which across heroes marriage wasn’t he William yes he was it was unusual for servants to be married at that time and where the wife and child living in respectable lodgings round the corner but he also kept a scrapbook and I think he was something of an artist is that right yes yes he made a scrapbook to send home to his family for their entertainment is it her this is it yes it’s bit fragile it’s obviously be much looked at yes a book of entertainment composed of drawing scraps memorandums by William W Taylor all the drawings in this book that a mark WT are drawn by William Taylor self-taught artist that’s his frontispiece he’s got nothing picture him a lion and a tiger but he also gives us an insight into his life in service like the way the carpet is so carefully done the servants helping themselves behind the screen in the dining master and mistress having no one having the swig from the bottle one drink eating well the swim meet yeah just before they bring them in you imagine this yes it’s you’ve got the master the mistress fantastic I do wonder what his family made of him when he went home one visit but there is one picture of him of going home William Taylor going home and alarming his friends him arriving dressed quite smartly loses mr.T button trousers there and a top hat to gaiters yes hands in his pockets Marcus his uncle James very much alarmed focus he’s still wearing the small yes and he’s very much an arm of the eye that’s great there are two passages here that I think really sum up William Taylor’s life in service the first one is from one of his days off in March and he says I made to town on the Omnibus got there by five o’clock went to see a friend came to Cumberland Street at 7:00 went to the Opera House at 8:00 to see in here a lecture on astronomy the man showed us how the world turned around and how fast it goes we turn around at the rate of 17 miles a minute we saw how the Eclipse took place and he showed us everything belonging to the Sun Moon and stars so he’s really seeing life the world the universe as a result of his life in service but at the end of the diary it strikes a much more melancholic note 30th of December have been very busy and at home all day the life of a gentleman servant is something like that of a bird shut up in a cage the bird is well housed and well fed but is deprived of Liberty and liberty is the dearest and sweetest objects of all Englishmen and it’s really interesting that he talks about Liberty because a lot of other kinds of workers working men were beginning to talk about liberty at that time lost to the French Revolution and you kind of don’t expect here a servant talking about it in London men servants has to sleep downstairs underground which is generally very damp so he’s been so a lecture about the Stars but he has to sleep back down on the ground underground even and many men lose their lives by it by this damp or otherwise get eaten up with rheumatics one might see fine blooming young men come from the country like himself to take service but after they have been in London one year all the bloom is lost and a pale yellow sickly complexion in its stead and the very end of the diary 31st of December he says now all the readers of this book might gain an idea of what service is so here’s a diary that started off as an exercise to improve Williams handwriting but it ended up being much much more than that in fact it ended up being one of the most rare and most moving records of service that we’ve got as the middle-class expanded so did their voracious demand for staff by 1851 an astonishing 1.3 million people were servants keeping a servant was a badge of respectability it marks your status as a member of the middle class in 1859 a woman wrote a letter to Charles Dickens journal all year round in it she says I am the wife of an assistant surgeon my husband has the entire charge of a branch practice with a salary of 80 pounds a year we are expected to keep up a genteel appearance the clergyman and his wife our rich neighbor and his wife and a few of the gentry call on us occasionally I must not do our household work or carry my baby out or I should lose cast we must keep a servant but the new mistress’s had no experience of how to keep a servant so they looked to the aristocracy with their centuries experience of servant keeping 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington was the home of punch cartoonist Lindley Sanborn and his wife Marion and is a perfect example of how aristocratic ideals of the big house played out amongst the new middle classes [Music] the house is a remarkable time capsule stuffed full of things and people Lindley and Mary and Sanborn their two children Lindy’s mother but also five servants a cook a parlormaid a housemaid a nurse and even a groom the only one reporting directly to the master what’s striking about these houses is that they’re very narrow there’s only one staircase here no back staircase so the geography of the house is very different to that of the big house but styles of service are really similar and I think what’s happening here is that the middle classes are using their new money to buy into old values what’s really central to those old values is the idea of separation so here we have the servants pushed into the attic or down in the basement illusions of space created by doors by curtains by speaking tubes and of course those bells but the irony is everyone in this house is within calling distance of each other Mary and Sanborn kept meticulous Diaries and accounts as well as advice manuals the fattest and most famous of all is mrs.Beaton’s book of household management it’s not just recipes it’s full of information about how to run the household and of course she’s well known for this quote at the beginning as with the commander of an army or the leader of an enterprise so it is with the mistress of a house her spirit will be seen through the whole establishment and just in proportion as she performs her duties intelligently and thoroughly so will her domestics follow in her path and for me what’s lovely about these Diaries although the Marian’s Diaries the mistress’s Diaries we do get a sense of the servants lives we just little window on their world so yes definitely it does seem from the diaries that Matt the Marian was quite a good mistress well in this diary for instance she’s obviously having a lot of trouble with cook she had a cook who was left and she has been trying out various other cooks and they’re all very unsatisfactory but kimly this one Mrs T who obviously overspends because not only other books very heavy but mrs. t drinks an awful lot of beer generally that was one of cokes perks you’re provided free beer and would have a little Barrel in the kitchen for cooking to help herself thirsty work well it was I mean you were literally slaving over a hot stove and saw Mrs T about beer twenty nine gallons went in a fortnight she either sold it on or she entertained her friends so after that new arrangements were made and on the 10th mrs.T gave notice under land as punch cartoonist the master of the house needed photo models as the basis of his sketches using not just himself but the family servants and above all his groom oddly here we have some of the photographs which show what fun Lindley and oddly had together we’ve got thousands of pictures of art literally thousands and this is one of my favorites because he’s dressed up as the Emperor Nero and he’s fiddling while Rome burns you see he’s twanging a harp which is actually a far scream Otley reported directly to his master he wasn’t nearly as strict as Marian Autry clearly never works as hard as the maid [Music] Marian’s home like many mistresses of her status was full of new furnishings rugs wallpaper the ceramics glassware mahogany from the new industries and across the empire Marian put her housemates to work keeping all these objects in pristine condition this is Marian sambong’s household rota it’s a to-do list really for her servants this is what she wants the housemaid to do seven o’clock bring in my hot drinking water sweep down thoroughly clean the stairs get the bathroom ready and lavatory and then servant has her breakfast eight o’clock bring my hot water draught blinds empty and take away bath always use basin cloth and wipe tumblers 8:30 clean great and drawing-room thoroughly sweep and dust room white rum parquet clean or brass got a brass in here as well open windows front and back water and wipe with a wet cloth all plants a lot of plants in here [Music] how to clean a lookingglass blow the dust off the gilt frame as the least grit would scratch the surface of the glass first sponge it were the little spirits of wine or gin and water so as to remove all spots then dust the glass over with the powder blue tied in muslin rubbing it lightly and quickly off and polishing with the silk handkerchief [Music] what you’ll see here is that every minute is accounted for taking us through to the evening seven o’clock we find her tidying drawing-room where we’re sitting now put the cushions tidy and tidy the papers dust tables and the piano seats the lights and sweep the fires 8 o’clock a system wait at table and after see two bedrooms turn down beds washstands wiped hot-water chambers and so on 9 o’clock she has her own supper in the kitchen 10 o’clock she can fall into bed and that’s the end of her day until of course she gets up and does it all again the next day now that sounds like a day from hell for me but I guess this is the housemaids lot just reading that out gives me a real sense of the control that’s going on here the servants every minute is accounted for nothing’s left to chance every detail is covered also gives you a sense of the sheer scale of the work it’s boring it’s repetitive it’s demanding and ultimately I think it’s pretty lonely as well [Music] we think the housemaid would get some privacy up here finally asleep in her own bed but Lindley Sanborn clearly thought it was fine for him to take one of his photos of her looking at Leigh exhausted the servant certainly had a tough life but the mistresses weren’t happy either it was challenging for both sides living so closely alongside each other this closeness bred anxiety with mistresses worrying about what the servants were really up to so much so that their paranoia was even sent up in a book this is called the greatest plague of life or the adventures of a lady in search of a good servant and it’s full of wonderful illustrations and graphic illustrations of servants behaving badly so here the nurse taking the baby out for a walk in the park but baby’s fallen out of the pram she’s not noticed because she’s chatting to a gentleman follow her one here with a servant sitting down in the kitchen having a chat bells ringing up above them they just say oh just let them ring again they’re not gonna get up for anybody I think one of the most telling is this one the mistress has gone out she’s come back in she’s found the servants not downstairs working upstairs partying in her drawing-room this is an important one because it shows this is the world turned upside down and what happens when the order is overturned chaos ensues this one I love here’s the mistress in the center of a totally chaotic scene baby on the floor mirror being cracked somebody’s swinging the wine now okay these are cartoons they’re satire they’re meant for a joke but they do tell us an awful lot about the neuroses fears and anxieties of this new servant keeping class the greatest plague of life was such a best-seller that it was turned into a magic lantern slideshow for the entertainment of both the servants and they’re anxious employers and how did they prevent such bad behavior by attempting to control not just the outward manners but also the inner morals of their servants we’re better than every Sunday at church [Music] religion reminded everyone of their place Christians were all the servants of God real servants had time off to come to church that’s quite a strict seating hierarchy masters and mistresses would be at the front now finest clothes service would be behind them much more modestly dressed than out do the mistress the message conveyed through seating arrangements but even more directly from the pulpit was about accepting one station in life can you tell me about the importance of Christianity to Victorian society for 19th century I mean the thing I think that’s hard for us to remember is that in the 1840s 50s and 60s Britain is a Christian nation and is becoming a very convinced Christian society the home and the family becomes much more important and the role of the mistress and master in relation to their servants is a huge part of that and part of that moral transformation of the nation what you do in your home how you educate your children and your servants this is where as it were the moral regeneration of the nation can begin so what this seems to be telling us is that there’s a much bigger picture here about service service isn’t just about the domestic work the cooking and the cleaning and washing and important as those things are there’s a moral side to it as well would you say so would it be a mistake to think that servants are somehow passive in all of this and this is all coming from the top down well I think it’s a complete mistake to think that because for one thing it means that people are just dupes and rather foolish sort of absorbing the views of their betters many servants were rural migrants and many of them would have grown up in villages where they went to church on a Sunday and they heard the rector or the vicar telling them about their station in life and telling them that the best thing they can do to serve God is to do good and honorable work and that’s the station to which they are called what’s the darker side to all this for me service is almost entirely a darker side and I’m trying to give you a sense of its idealism but in reality it’s not a mechanism for social mobility you know your average kitchen maid or groom you know they don’t move up the scale they don’t get richer they remain in their place as the wealth of the country continued to grow a new category of people wanted to join the ranks of servant keepers the lower middle class most of them could afford just one servant the kind who is largely ignored by history but who came to dominate domestic service the maid of all work he looked in the 1871 census you see that 2/3 of all servants fell into this category and if you want an idea of what their lives were like you can turn to mrs.Beeton she said the general servants or maid of all work is perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration her life is a solitary one and in some places in the maid of all work all the different branches of domestic service were combined into one leaving her with an endless list of daily duties as outlined in instruction manuals and how-to books brush up the range light the fire scrub the kitchen floor sweep the dust the first sheet of the map polish the brass scrub the doorstep clean the boots strip the pair empty the slops air the bedrooms dust the pile scrape and peel potato dinner change uniform serve at dinner lock and bolt the doors 24 che Nero London was home to perhaps the best documented maids of all work amazingly a photographer has captured a glimpse of one of them peeking out of the ground floor window today this is a really well-to-do area but it wasn’t always like that you think back over a hundred years ago this was not a high-end address it’s too close to the river got sewage got stench you’ve got fog rolling up here but what this is is a typical example of a house lower down the social scale that would have employed just one servant and she would have lived and worked down there two of my great-grandmother’s were maids of all work employed in houses just like this I find it quite daunting coming down here so this is the world if the maid of all work it’s very dark down here it’s a sunny day up there but it still feels dark down here and I think in the winter even dark wouldn’t it she’s got what she needs down here these are the tools of her trade aren’t they the sink range table even her beds over there she’d be working all day she’d fall into bed at night she’d start all over again feels very closed in [Music] [Music] the maid who slept here in this bed would have been employed by traders or professionals doctors dentists coal merchants beer merchants those kinds of people in fact my great grandmother worked for a doctor’s family just up the river in Chyzyk it’s always made me feel a bit sad that we never knew what she did or how she worked but there are other ways of getting a glimpse inside the world of the maid of all work here’s one this is mrs.H he remembers that she left school at 14 her mother had found her a job as a local builders and she had to look after three children she’s only 14 herself she says terribly homesick cried to sleep lived in kitchen separate from household so very like where we’re sitting now here’s another one this is from the morning Chronicle in the 1850s when I was 10 I was sent to service as a maid of all work in a small tradesmen’s family it was a hard place my mistress used me very cruelly beating me often when I’d been in the place three weeks my mother died I stood my mistress’s ill treatment for about six months she beat me with sticks as well as with her hands I was black and blue and at last I ran away now we don’t know if all maids of all work were treated this badly probably they weren’t all but as these voices tell us some of them definitely were I hope my great-grandmother’s had a better time than that the mistress of this household certainly didn’t treat her maid servants as badly but she did have a very complicated relationship with them this was the home of eminent historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane also a woman of letters she evocatively documents her daily trials and tribulations and leaves us with an eloquent record of the bond which dominated her life extraordinarily fractious challenging relationship between her and her maids of all work there are reams and reams of this stuff Jane wrote letters nearly every day and the loss bit about the relationship with her servants and although it’s from the mistress’s point of view yet again we do still get more than a glimpse of the servants lives and characters coming through there’s Isabella who’s described as a fiery Scottish maid who basically tells Jane where to go she says no one woman living could do my work and when Jane says well actually someone’s been doing this for years she says well there’s some women that like to make Slater themselves but I will never slave myself for anybody’s pleasure and she packs her bags and off she goes and I guess what what this means for me really is that it shows us where power lies in this story the powers not just with the mistress with her power to hire and fire the powers also with the maids who had the power to leave and leave they did Jane went through 34 maids in 32 years we simply don’t know how many was sacked and how many walked Jane was not unusual in her troubles around servant keeping like many Victorian middle-class mistresses she struggled with this idea of being a manager and moral guardian knowing that her personal reputation was based on the way her servants behaved and something happened in this tiny back room with her maid servant Mary that put Jane’s personal reputation on the line well the story that Jane tells in a letter is that a neighbor came and said we need to tell you because everyone in the neighborhood knows okay and the story she told was that the maid had given birth in this room Jane wasn’t at home but Thomas was not only at home Thomas was there Thomas was a couple of feet away okay or at least a period while the woman was in this closet giving birth he was having says Jane his after dinner tea and sitting there while this story reflects on the serpent the interesting thing to me is the way Jane tells your story yes it’s how it reflects on Jane yes Jane had failed in this duty and I certainly read the letter to a degree that she is setting out precisely why she didn’t fail precisely to indicate to her friends and her family that she wasn’t feeling unwell and mistress which would have indicated a moral failing in her it wasn’t simply that the woman giving birth had failed but that Jane had failed to teach her the ways of middle-class righteousness so she’s repairing herself as moral mistress absolutely so what happened in the end to this servant Jane’s acts her most employers tried to prevent getting into such a tricky situation by encouraging their charges to read the wealth of moral literature aimed specifically at servants in the basement of the British Library we’ve unearthed some rare copies these are just a small selection of a vast vast literature aimed at servants produced in the 19th century and there’s all kinds of things here there are magazines there are prayer books there are fables there are personal stories there’s a really vast amount of stuff how would they get this material well some would be given to them by their masters or mistresses we’ve got one here a present for servants from their from their masters others would be given to them by perhaps their parents or relatives before they left the service others still they might just by themselves there’s one here the servants magazine which i think is a commercial publication and it’s fascinating because it shows us that journey that the servant is expected to make from disordered country cottage to ordered family home where she’s stoking a fire a crucial part of that journey for her is is a moral and religious teaching that helps her to make this journey so here we’ve got the servant kneeling by her bed saying her prayers the servant made those servitudes my destined lot and I am doomed to roam far from my native peaceful cot far from my friends and home if God saw fit to make me great he would not this deny and while I’m in a meaner state he will my once supply the message there is that servant should be happy with their position in life God’s looking after them they’re doing the right thing there’s a another one here which is a daily prayer book for servants from the 1850s we’ve got prayers for a housekeeper or Butler or any place in authority and then prayers for a lady’s maid a nurse and under maid servants and a manservant there are also specific prayers on specific themes and just listen to these themes humility meekness contentment honesty truthfulness it’s the one about contentment that really gets me for contentment Almighty father who alone art wise yayyyy wisdom itself make me to feel that in thy Providence thou orderest all things for the best and grant that I may be able to be satisfied with the station in which thou has placed me not envying those who are richer and higher than I but content to be poor and lonely in this world and I think that says it all [Music] to see one of the most telling examples of the ideal loyal and moral Victorian servant I’m going back to Erlich miss Harriet Rogers worked her way up from housemaid to housekeeper over an impressive 40 years and her portrait has earned its place in the servant wind corridor what’s really striking about Harriet is that she devoted her whole life to service she climbed to the top of the career ladder this is how her poem ends then with her lifelong task complete did Harriet Rogers secret reach and found it in our neighboring town amid the kindred of her own may all such years as yet remain be peaceful and unspoiled by pain and at the last may have an accord her faithful work it’s blessed reward if anyone deserves her loyalty portrayed its Harriet Harriet’s letters and personal possessions still survive in a house near Stockport a number of objects associated with Harriet a picture of her father ethic carpenter Thomas Rogers a painting of earth egg and a room full of memorabilia are treasured by her great-great niece this looks like almost a shrine to a life in service we’ve got there we’ve got her diary we’ve got her cookbooks instruction manual prayer books the workbook lamp so it’s got her initials here yes HR stamped there and she would have used this in the halls of her yes yes it has a spare candle holder spare candle in there and racks matches own just here I haven’t tried them one of Harriet’s letters is profoundly revealing of how she sacrificed her personal friendships for loyalty to the York family this is 1870 one day miss Rogers if I say I was pleased to receive your letter I should say was I did not feel so often we’ve looked forward to the pleasure of your visit but as often as we have looked we have been disappointed and for what reason because miss Rogers had not the courage to ask mrs.You walk for a week’s leave we’ve made up our minds if you do not come and see us we will never call again yes servants didn’t get much time off even senior servants so perhaps there was an issue there with just sheer amount of time she had but well yes they didn’t have much time off and if she had to do Missy horse hair every time she dined out or hung people to dying he’s bracing her for not having the courage to ask mrs. York but Jimmy that’s quite difficult time well I you think it would be yes yours very sincerely JC medics did she get lots of Valentines like a number yes it is amazing though that she kept all these Bell antagonist it’s just exquisite aren’t they the way they’re just the work on these just wonderful yes and this is quite a delicate one it’s got little messages written yes in the folds and the name of the chappie at the belly the very end I think it was a her but this says pray let us join both hearts in one sounds like it’s quite serious yes she was engaged three times she knows she never married him you know I think she liked working for mrs.York she was very loyal just the fact that she kept all these objects formal photos of herself in uniform a prayer-book inscribed from mrs. York are a testimony to Harriet’s loyalty this is a really extraordinary collection paints such a vivid portrait of Harriet no personality and it seems to me that Harriet really preferred her life as the housekeeper in the big house in many ways Harriet stands as the ideal of the Victorian servant which is selfless quite religious very proper indispensable to her mistress clearly really enjoying her work but this came at quite some personal cost puts a strain on her friendships she puts her Valentine’s cards away she turns down a few proposals of marriage she stays single and what this says to me is that servants like Harriet could and did make choices but if they chose to remain in service they really have to accept the limits of that life over the course of the 19th century the startling uniformed servants we are so familiar with today had become clearly defined and standardized through hierarchy segregation uniforms and a strong sense of knowing your place highly individual talented people like William Taylor housekeeper mrs.Webster and the maids of all work became just cogs in the machine of Victorian society [Music] being an ideal servant was ultimately about accepting your station in life and this wasn’t just an elite view this was a view shared by many many servants especially the successful ones and for me it’s that word station that’s so revealing here it implies that people have to somehow stand still even though the world around them is changing very fast and it’s this ideal that was going to be seriously challenged in questioned by the next generation of servants in the next episode servants in the run-up to the First World War start to challenge their station in life in private and public and it doesn’t go down well with the masters and mistresses [Music].

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