Archive for the ‘Servants’ Category

The valet (rhymes with pallet) is a personal manservant who tends to his master’s every need, from a clean room to seeing to his clothes to making sure that his entire day goes smoothly from the moment he rises to the time he goes to bed. Also known as a gentleman’s gentleman, the valet is the closest male equivalent to a lady’s maid.

Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) dresses with the help of his valet, who stands ready to put on his coat. In this scene, Mr. Darcy changes his mind and chooses another coat before visiting Elizabeth at the inn. Image @Pride and Prejudice, 1995

Mrs. Beeton describes a valet’s duties in her excellent 1861 book on household management:

His day commences by seeing that his master’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before his master is expected, he will do well to throw up the sash [open the window] to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to recover the temperature which he knows hismaster prefers. It is now his duty to place the body-linen on the horse before the fire, to be aired properly;

Edwardian clothes horse. Image @Denhams.com

to lay the trousers intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned, on the back of his master’s chair; while the coat and waistcoat, carefully brushed and folded, and the collar cleaned, are laid in their place ready to be put on when required. All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.

Barry Lyndon (Ryan O’Neal). While the master shaves, his footmen assist him, making sure his implements are at hand. His valet would have overseen the arrangements and will sharpen the razor and clean the shaving brush after Barry has finished shaving. Image @Barry Lyndon

Gentlemen generally prefer performing the operation of shaving themselves, but a valet should be prepared to do it if required; and he should be a good hairdresser. Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, where that appendage is encouraged, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the age and style of the countenance. Every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the points of the whiskers trimmed as often as required. A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; afterwards, the body-linen. Neck-tie, which he will put on, if required, and, afterwards, waist-coat, coat, and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.”

Other valet duties:

Ian Kelly (Brummel) and Ryan Early in Beau Brummel (2006 play)

  • As his master goes out, the valet hands him his gloves and hat, opens the door for him, and receives his orders for the rest of the day.
  • He puts his master’s dressing-room in order, cleaning combs and brushes, folding clothes and putting them in drawers.
  • If his master has no clothes sense, the valet will select suitable clothes, making sure they are clean, particularly the collars, and maintained in good repair.
  • He consults with the tailor, perfumer, and linen-draper.
  • He awaits his master’s return, making sure that his drawing room is picked up by the maids, and dusted and swept by them, and that the room is made ready with a lit fire and candles.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates (Brendan Coyle) assists Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) in Downton Abbey. A valet and his master become close over the years. Image @Downton Chaser

  • The valet stands ready to help his master dress for dinner or any other occasion.
  • He makes sure that the washing table is ready, filling the ewer and carafe with fresh water, and placing the basin towels, brushes, hot water, and shaving apparatus near at hand.
  • In case of wet weather, when his master has returned from riding, the valet lays out a change of dry linen and clothing, and is ready to assist his master out of the damp clothing.
  • He helps his master prepare for journeys, packing enough linen and other clothing for the trip. At the Inns, he takes charge of his master’s comfort as he would at home, and has everything ready to assist his master in dressing and undressing.
  • If no footmen is available during the journey, the valet will also see to these services, even at table.
Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham's service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates' reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Bates at the moment he is informed that he must leave Lord Grantham’s service. Despite their long association, it was imperative that a valet was physically capable of performing all his duties, including standing in as footman when the occasion required. Bates’ reliance on a cane prevented him from carrying a tray. (We all have learned that Lord Grantham is a softie and kept Bates on.) Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

The valet keeps his master’s clothes in good repair:

  • Hats are kept well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handerchief.
  • Clothes placed in a wardrobe are covered with brown holland or linen wrappers to secure them from dust.
  • He places boots and shoes cleaned by the under footman in the dressing room.
  • Slippers are aired by the fire.
  • As soon as his master finishes shaving, the valet will clean the razor and brushes.
  • Before he hangs damp clothing by the fire, he rubs the cloth with a sponge until the smoothness of the nap is restored. If the clothes are allowed to dry before brushing, then later brushing might not remove the roughness.
Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

In Downton Abbey, Matthew resists Molesley’s services, causing an undue amount of stress to the butler, who also acts as his valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Nick Wall/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE

Valets in humbler households:

The butler in a second or third rate establishment takes on the duties of the house steward, valet, and footman as well. He is likely to pay market bills, assist his master in dressing, serve at table and oversee the wine and silver, and superintend other male servants.


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Inquiring readers, from now until the U.S. airing of Downton Abbey, this blog will explore the facets of living in an English country house during the Edwardian era, and drawing upon the similarity and differences between the Edwardian and Regency eras.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servants await the arrival of guests. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Many of us today cannot understand why servants in country manors such as Downton Abbey would consider catering to the whims of others as a desirable occupation. In reality, service in great houses was preferred over other jobs that were available during the 18th and 19th centuries, such as tedious and often dangerous labor in factories or backbreaking work on farms.

Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, the countess’s ladies maid, Rose Leslie as Gwen, housemaid, and Joanne Froggatt as Anna, head maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Unlike their poorly paid counterparts, servants were housed and fed by their masters. They had the ability to save a large portion of their salaries, or send money to support their families back home. At the end of their stay with their hosts, guests paid servants a tip for their services. Housekeepers, as Jane Austen famously showed in Pride and Prejudice, served as tour guides when the family was absent. Mrs. Reynolds no doubt received a tip from the Gardiners after showing the public rooms of Mr. Darcy’s great estate.

Jane Austen's World

Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, escorts Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners through Pemberley

Although servants began their careers at the bottom, working menial jobs and catering to the upper servants as well as their masters, they could move up in the servant hierarchy. It was not uncommon for a scullery maid to be promoted to kitchen maid and eventually up to a cook.

Downton Abbey. Jane Austen's World

The registry office

A good and reliable servant was a prized commodity. Young, able servants were in a constant state of flux (they worked on average for 2-3 years before moving on), always looking for a better position, which they could acquire as long as their masters gave them good references. Servants found new work in registry offices, where they would enter their name in the registry book, or through word of mouth. (Read more about this topic in my post, Hiring Servants in the Regency Era and Later.)

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Anna (Head maid) and Gwen (house maid) in their room. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Upon rising, servants would labor first and eat only after the family had risen, dressed, and breakfasted. When Downton Abbey opens, the camera follows the servants as they rise and ready the house for the day. The earliest rising servant was the scullery maid, or tweeny, who sat lowest on the pecking order. She would stoke the kitchen fire for the cook and boil water. The kitchen maid would perform these offices if there were no tweeny or scullery maid.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Daisy, the kitchen maid, lays a fire in the library. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Housemaids would tread silently up the servant (back) stairs unseen and unheard with fresh water and carrying covered slop pails. Quietly, so as not to wake their masters, the servants – maids and footmen – would empty chamber pots, remove cold ashes in the fireplace, carry up coal and stoke a new fire, and tidy any messes away from the previous day.

The servant stairs. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Downstairs they would continue making preparations for the day, opening drapes and shutters, dusting and polishing, and sweeping floors. The only time that the servants might be visible to family or guests was when they cleaned and polished the main halls and stairway. At all other times they were expected to remain invisible as they worked around the house, using the servant’s stairs and working in a room when the family was not expected to use it.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Breakfast at Downton Abbey. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

With or without guests, the daily routine for a family at its country house was unalterable, due in part to the servants, whose meal-times were rigid, and in part to Edwadian era tradition. At nine 0’clock, housemaids and valets arrived to draw bedroom curtains and deliver a cup of teac as ordered by the hostess the night before.” – The End of High Society

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servants quarters. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Servant’s dining space and table, Downton Abbey

The hierarchy among the servants was strictly defined. At the top stood the butler and housekeeper. Dowton Abbey, the series, highlights eleven servants who ran the household, but in 1912, Highclere Castle, where the exterior and interior shots were filmed, used the services of 25 maids, 14 footmen, and three chefs. Although Downton Abbey follows only 11 of the upper servants closely, one can see other servants (housemaids, a scullery maid, young boys, coal men, and the like) in the background going about their business.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Back of the house. In the background, a servant scoops coal.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In addition to the main house, servants worked in the service buildings, such as the stables, garage, dairy, bakehouse, laundry, gun room, and pantry. The kitchen in these great houses often sat away from the house (to prevent cooking smells from wafting up to the public and private rooms) and were connected to the main house via underground passages. This meant that the food often arrived at the dining table cold or, at best, lukewarm.

Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The servant bells behind William, the second footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

In the lower common area, servants were summoned by the family via a system of bells connected to each room. In theory, even when servants had finished with their duties and were finally sitting down to eat their breakfast, they were subject to be called at a moment’s whim. But was this always the case? While the servants of Downton Abbey are shown to be loyal and proud of their positions, the Punch cartoon below shows a group of shiftless servants who are slow to respond to their master’s summons.

‘Oh, ah, let ’em ring again!’ by George Cruikshank

The servants of Downton Abbey worked hard, but as shown in the series, they knew their place and were proud of their positions.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Jim Carter as Mr. Carson, the Butler. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Butler: Jim Carter, who you may remember as Captain Brown from Cranford, portrays Mr. Carson, the butler, with grave dignity. He is as protective towards the Crawley family as he would have been to his own. While Mr. Carson is fair, he does not hesitate to reprimand a servant or even fire one if he thinks it is for the benefit of the house. Mr. Carson was not only in charge of the male servants, but also of the wine cellar and the butler’s pantry, which contained the family plate and silver. In addition to his managerial duties, he is shown in several scenes either polishing the silver or pouring over the books and counting the bottles of wine.

Downton Abbey 2010. Jane Austen's World

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes, Housekeeper. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Housekeeper: Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes is Mr. Carson’s counterpart. Head of the female servants, she consults with her mistress daily about the meals, family plans, and any guests that are expected. Mrs. Hughes (even if they are single, which Mrs. Hughes was, housekeepers were given the distinction of being a Mrs.) was also responsible for the linen and china. A kind and observant woman, Mrs. Hughes nevertheless keeps her female team in line. She begins to wonder if, by devoting her life to this household, she has missed out on managing one of her own.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Brendan Coyle as John Bates, the Valet. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Valet: (Brendan Coyle) In small households, such as Matthew Crawley’s, the position of butler and valet was combined. But Downton Abbey is a great house, and there are servants aplenty. Mr. Bates’s arrival creates a stir that causes the lady’s maid and first footman to plot against him. A stoic and capable man who served the earl as batman during the war, he must perform his duties of dressing the earl and seeing to his wardrobe regardless of the war injury that requires him to use a cane. For Mr. Bates, the flights of steep stairs can be daunting, and he is incapable of carrying large trays or helping with dinner service when more hands are needed.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Joanne Froggatt as Anna, Head Housemaid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Head Housemaid: Joanne Froggatt as Anna is a pretty, quiet, and dependable presence. She works with a positive attitude and champions those who need defending. As head housemaid, she assists the daughters of the house with their hair and wardrobe, but she also performs the duties of a regular maid, dusting, cleaning, and changing the bed linen.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the Cook. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Cook: Lesley Nicol as Mrs. Patmore, the cook, is hiding a secret, one that threatens her very livelihood. The viewer will be struck by the sheer volume and variety of dishes that she creates and oversees daily. Although only her kitchen maid, Daisy, is seen as her regular assistant, there would have been others in a house this size. At the very least, Mrs. Patmore would have needed a permanent person in the scullery, and other assistants to help maintain order in the kitchens.

Downton Abbey 2010. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

Siobhan Finneran as O’Brien, Lady’s Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Lady’s Maid: Siobhan Finneran plays O’Brien as a cold, ruthless woman, who trusts no one. When the Countess of Grantham states that she and O’Brien are friends, for they are often in each others’ company,  O’Brien knows better than to disagree, but disagree she does. A lady’s maid caters to her mistresses’ every whim, making sure that not one coat button is missing or one strand of hair is out of place. Such a close daily association often develops intimacy over time. The countess mistakenly thinks that O’Brien is as fond of her as she is of her maid.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rob James-Collier as Thomas, First Footman.Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The First Footman: Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is a piece of work. An ambitious man, who cares only for his own advancement, he will use anyone to achieve his goals, even if it means destroying another’s reputation. A first footman will serve as valet to the male guests if they arrive without a male servant. Footmen are expected to wear livery and are generally tall and handsome. Only the very rich could afford footmen, and thus they were a form of status symbol.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the Chauffeur. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Chauffeur: Allen Leech as Tom Branson, the chaffeur, demonstrates how very different Edwardian England is from Regency England. Carriages are being replaced by automobiles, but the infrastructure for maintaining cars is not yet in place. A chauffeur not only drove the family around, but he was also its mechanic, keeping the car in top shape, acquiring parts when they were needed, and making sure there was enough petrol on hand to satisfy the family’s needs. This chauffeur can also read and has been given permission by the earl to check books out of his library.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Thomas Howes as William, the Second Footman. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Second Footman: (Thomas Howes) William’s position among the upper servants is low, for he must answer to the butler, housekeeper, and first footman. Young, fresh-faced, and just starting out, William misses his loving family. Yet service allows him to better himself and someday work his way up to the position of butler. One wonders if William will ever achieve that ambition, for times are changing and the aristocracy will be hard pressed to hang onto their lands and houses after the second world war.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Rose Leslie as Gwen, House Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The House Maid: (Rose Leslie) Young Gwen is a housemaid with a goal – that of becoming a typist. Towards this end, she has been secretly taking typing courses. When her secret is uncovered the other servants are astounded – how could anyone prefer working in as some faceless office over service in a great house? Yet Gwen represents the future, in which political and socio-economic changes for women will end their dependency on the men of their family and force many to start fending for themselves.

Downton Abbey 2010.

Sophie McShera as Daisy, Kitchen Maid. Credit: Courtesy of © Carnival Film & Television Limited for MASTERPIECE

The Kitchen Maid: (Sophie McShera) Poor Daisy is at the bottom of the status ladder. Subject to the cook’s every whim (and to the housekeeper’s and anyone else who happens nearby) she goes about her duties cheerfully. When disaster strikes, Daisy not only steps in but demonstrates that she is more than ready to step up the servant hierarchy.

Downton Abbey will be shown Sunday night on your local PBS station starting at 9 p.m. Click here to view the video clips.

More about the series:

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Created by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), “Downton Abbey” depicts the lives of the noble Crawley family and the staff who serve them at their Edwardian country house. It is April and the Titanic has just sunk.The world will never be the same for the Crawleys, for both the heirs to Downton Abbey went down with the ship.

Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham. This image speaks of power and privilege.

The earl and countess of Grantham’s three daughters cannot inherit the estate, which is entailed to the male next in succession. He is Matthew Crawley, a third cousin, son of a doctor and a nurse, and a lawyer by trade. Matthew knows nothing about running such a vast estate, and cares little about the niceties of protocol.

Dan Stevens plays Matthew Crawley. He also played Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility.

The answer to the earl’s predicament is simple really – Lady Mary, his eldest daughter, should marry Matthew. But nothing is simple in Downton Abbey, for Lady Mary is stubborn and has a mind of her own.

The Crawley sisters: Lady Edith, Lady Mary, and Lady Sybil

The series is lushly produced and the story lines are riveting. In its depiction of the intertwined lives of servants and aristocrats, Downton Abbey recalls one of television’s most beloved programs, Upstairs Downstairs, which aired on MASTERPIECE (then MASTERPIECE THEATRE ) in the 1970s. One of the thrills of MASTER PIECE’s 40th season is a new three-part Upstairs Downstairs with a new cast of characters set in the same house at 165 Eaton Place, taking the story from 1936 to the outbreak of World War II .

The Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern)

Episode 1
Sunday, January 9, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
When the Titanic goes down, Lord Grantham loses his immediate heirs, and his daughter Mary loses her fiancé, throwing Downton Abbey and its servants into turmoil. The new heir turns out to be Matthew, a handsome lawyer with novel ideas about country life.

Matthew and his mother are formally received by the servants and family during their first visit to the Abbey

Episode 2
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Mary entertains three suitors, including a Turkish diplomat whose boldness leads to a surprising event. Downstairs, the shocking former life of Carson, the butler, is unmasked, and Bates risks his health to remain valet.

Jim Carter (Cranford) as Mr. Carson, the butler

Episode 3
Sunday, January 23, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
Growing into his role as heir, Matthew brings out the bitter rivalry between sisters Mary and Edith. Servants Thomas and O’Brien scheme against Bates, while head housemaid Anna is increasingly attracted to him. Lady Violet’s winning streak in the flower show is threatened.

The Countess (Elzabeth McGovern) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) at the flower show.

Episode 4
Sunday, January 30, 2011, 9 to 10:30pm
The heir crisis at Downton Abbey takes an unexpected turn. Meanwhile, rumors fly about Mary’s virtue. Her sister Sybil takes a risk in her secret political life. Anna unearths Bates’ mysterious past. And O’Brien and Thomas plot their exit strategy.

The Countess of Grantham with her daughter Lady Edith

My posts about Downton Abbey


Hugh Bonneville (Daniel Deronda, Filth)…Robert, Earl of Grantham
Jessica Brown-Findlay…Lady Sybil Crawley
Laura Carmichael…Lady Edith Crawley
Jim Carter (Cranford)…Mr. Carson
Brendan Coyle (Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act)…John Bates
Michelle Dockery (Return to Cranford)…Lady Mary Crawley
Siobhan Finneran (The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard)… O’Brien
Joanne Froggatt (Robin Hood)…Anna
Thomas Howes…William
Rob James-Collier…Thomas
Rose Leslie…Gwen
Phyllis Logan (Wallander)…Mrs. Hughes
Elizabeth McGovern (A Room with a View)…Cora, Countess of Grantham
Sophie McShera…Daisy
Lesley Nicol (Miss Marple)…Mrs. Patmore
Maggie Smith (Harry Potter)…Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Dan Stevens (Sense & Sensibility)…Matthew Crawley
Penelope Wilton (Wives and Daughters)…Isobel Crawley
Charlie Cox (Stardust)…Duke of Crowborough
Kevin Doyle (The Tudors)…Molesley
Robert Bathurst (Emma)…Sir Anthony Strallan
Bernard Gallagher…Bill Molesley
Samantha Bond (Miss Marple)…Lady Rosamund Painswick
Allen Leech (The Tudors)…Tom Branson
Brendan Patrick…Evelyn Napier
David Robb…Dr. Clarkson
Helen Sheals…Postmaster’s Wife

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Copryright (c) Jane Austen’s World. This post is in honor of Thanksgiving and all the cooks, feminine or masculine, who toil hard in the kitchen to feed their families on this special holiday.

I am sure that the ladies there had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving-pan” – James Edward Austen-Leigh, writing about his aunts, Jane and Cassandra Austen, and grandmother, Mrs Austen, when they lived at Steventon Rectory.

18th century kitchen servants prepare a meal. Image @Jane Austen Cookbook

In 1747, Mrs.Hannah Glasse wrote her historic The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, an easy-to-understand cookbook for the lower class chefs who cooked for the rich. Her recipes were simple and came with detailed instructions, a revolutionary thought at the time.

The Art of Cookery’s first distinction was simplicity – simple instructions, accessible ingredients, an accent on thrift, easy recipes and practical help with weights and timing. Out went the bewildering text of former cookery books (“pass it off brown” became “fry it brown in some good butter”; “draw him with parsley” became “throw some parsley over him”). Out went French nonsense: no complicated patisserie that an ordinary cook could not hope to cook successfully. Glasse took into account the limitations of the average middle-class kitchen: the small number of staff, the basic cooking equipment, limited funds. – Hannah Glasse, The Original Domestic Goddess forum

Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy

Until Mrs. Glasse wrote her popular cookery book (17 editions appeared in the 18th century), these instructional books had been largely written by male chefs who offered complicated French recipes without detailed or practical directions. (To see what I mean, check Antonin Careme’s recipe for Les Petits Vol-Au-Vents a la Nesle at this link.) Like Jane Austen, Hannah signed her books “By a Lady”.

Antonin Careme's cookbook

Mrs. Glasse had always intended to sell her cookery book to mistresses of gentry families or the rising middle class, who would then instruct their cooks to prepare foods from her simplified recipes, which she collected. “My Intention is to instruct the lower Sort [so that] every servant who can read will be capable of making a tolerable good Cook,” she wrote in her preface.

Frontispiece from William Augustus Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, 6th edition, c.1800. This same picture appeared in the very first edition of c.1791and it shows the mistress presenting the cookery book to her servant, while a young man is instructed in the art of carving with the aid of another book.*

Hanna’s revolutionary approach, which included the first known printed recipe for curry and instructions for making a hamburger, made sense. In the morning, it was the custom of the mistress of the household to speak to the cook or housekeeper about the day’s meals and give directions for the day. The servants in turn would interpret her instructions. (Often their mistress had to read the recipes to them, for many lower class people still could not read.)

In theory, the recipes from Hannah’s cookbook would help the lady of the house stay out of the kitchen and enjoy a few moments of free time. But the servant turnover rate was high and often the mistress had to roll up her sleeves and actively participate in the kitchen. Many households with just two or three servants could not afford a mistress of leisure, and they, like Mrs. Austen in the kitchens of Steventon Rectory and Chawton Cottage, would toil alongside their cook staff.

The simple kitchen at Chawton cottage. Image @Tony Grant

At the start of the 18th century the French courtly way of cooking still prevailed in genteel households. As the century progressed, more and more women like Hannah Glasse began to write cookery books that offered not only simpler versions of French recipes, but instructions for making traditional English pies, tarts, and cakes as well. Compared to the expensive cookbooks written by male chefs, cookery books written by women were quite affordable, for they were priced between 2 s. and 6 d.

Hannah Glasse's practical directions for boiling and broiling

Publishers took advantage of the brisk trade, for with the changes in agricultural practices,  food was becoming more abundant for the rising middle classes. Large editions of cheap English cookery books by a variety of female cooks were distributed to a wide new audience of less wealthy and largely female readers who had money to spend on food. Before Hannah Glasse and her cohort, cooks and housewives  had been accustomed to sharing recipes in private journals (such as Marthat Lloyd’s) or handing them down by word-of-mouth.

Martha Lloyd's recipe for caraway cake written in her journal.

Female authors tended to share their native English recipes in their cookery books. As the century progressed, the content of these cookery books began to change. Aside from printing recipes, these books began to include medical instructions for poultices and the like; bills of fare for certain seasons or special gatherings; household and marketing tips; etc.

Bill of fare for November, The Universal Cook, 1792

By the end of the 18th century, cookery books also included heavy doses of servant etiquette and moral advice. At this time plain English fare had replaced French cuisine, although wealthy households continued to employ French chefs as expensive status symbols.  In the mid-19th century cookery books that targeted the working classes, such as Mrs. Beeton’s famous book on Household Management, began to be serialized in magazines, as well as published in book form.

Family at meal time

Before ending this post, I would like to refer you back to James Edward Austen-Leigh’s quote at top. In contrast to what he wrote (for he did not know his aunts or grandmother well), Jane Austen scholar Maggie Lane reminds us that housewives who consulted with their cook and housekeeper  about the day’s meals still felt comfortable working in the kitchen. She writes in Jane Austen and Food:

“though they may not have stirred the pot or the pan themselves, Mrs. Austen and her daughters perfectly understood what was going on within them…The fact that their friend and one-time house-mate Martha Lloyd made a collection of recipes to which Mrs. Austen contributed is proof that the processes of cookery were understood by women of their class.”

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This book from Shire Classics describes the 19th-Century servant class in Great Britain in satisfying detail. Combined with another book I purchased at the National Portrait Gallery of portraits taken of the servant class, my DVDs of Gosford Park and Upstairs/Downstairs, and my recent viewing of Edwardian House and Regency House, I think that I am getting a fairly good idea about how a great house operated in days of yore.

The Victorian Domestic Servant reveals that the Duke of Bedford (died 1839) employed 300 servants and the Duke of Portland employed 320. These were excessive amounts to be sure, but most respectable Victorian households employed servants. An income of 250 a year allowed a family to employ a maid of all work, but an income of 100 would barely pay the rent, much less pay for help. As an aside, Jane Austen, her mother and sister were able to afford a maid of all work and a male servant on their modest income. After moving to Barton Cottage, the Dashwood women employed two servants as well. Yet both the Austen and Dashwood women, while not destitute, had to count every penny. People like Mrs. Smith from Persuasion and the Bates women in Emma could afford no help at all.

In 1851 domestic service represented the second largest occupation in England after agriculture, although the servant class was in constant flux. People frequently moved positions looking for higher pay or for promotions or for a way out. Although many servants felt professional pride towards their work, they often left service because the deference their employers expected wore them down. For the lower servants, the constant need for showing respect was even worse. The servant hierarchy Below Stairs showed as many distinctions as Above Stairs, with lower and upper servants rarely commingling. Lower servants were expected to remain silent unless spoken to at the table when dining, for example. They were expected neither to be seen nor heard as they worked.

Most of the work that servants performed had to be done out of sight of the family that employed them. This meant they had to rise early to do their tasks, stopping when the family arose and restarting late in the evening. Tasks were repetitive and laborious, such as filling a tub with water, which meant heating pails and pails of water and trudging up and down the stairs, or bringing coal to fireplaces and stoves and removing ashes. Much time was spent removing coal ash from fireplaces, and then dusting rooms and sweeping floors clear of the substance.

The preferred servant was raised in the country, for these people tended to show more respect and deference than their urban counterparts. A symbol of status was the footman, who wore livery and had actually not much work to do other than to look handsome and open and close doors, help the butler serve food at table, and sleep in the Butler’s Pantry to protect the family plate and silver from thieves.

While The Victorian Domestic Servant is only 32 pages long, I found so much information packed in its pages that I will have to read it again soon. For those who are curious about the servant class, or for writers of the Victorian Era, I cannot recommend this book enough. If this were a regency book, I would give it three regency fans. In this instance, I think I shall give it five out of five dust bins, broom sticks, and wash cloths.

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Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Shire; illustrated edition edition (March 4, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0747803684
ISBN-13: 978-0747803683

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