Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Regency Servants’

Register Office for the Hiring of Servants, Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1800-05

Contrary to the image of a faithful servant who spends the better part of his life in service to his master, the domestic trade was in reality a transitory one. Servants could be hired and asked to start within a day. They could also be fired on the spot without references.

Servants came and went at a great rate; in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, ‘most men had left service before they were forty. This was partly because employers did not want middle -aged footmen or valets, but also because servants themselves tended to see the work as part of the life-cycle rather than a career for life.’ – *Below Stairs, p 95

In Memoirs of an Eighteenth-Century Footman, John MacDonald writes: “When I had been a week in London, I met the Irish Chairman that carried Mr Hamilton and Major Joass when in London. I said to him, ‘Do you hear of any place for me?’ ‘By G-d, Johnny, I do; go to Major Libbelier; he lodges at a hair-dresser’s in Lower Grosvenor Street; go to him, Johnny, early tomorrow morning.’ I went – the maid told him I was below. ‘Call him up.’ ‘Well, sir, what are your commands?’ ‘Where you ever in Ireland?’ ‘Look to my recommendations.’ ‘I know Colonel Skeene, and Major Joass in particular. Then you have been through Ireland?’ ‘I have, sir.’ ‘Very well, I’ll give you fourteen shillings a week; and if I go to Ireland, I’ll give you sixpence more a day on the road.’ I dressed him and he was pleased.”

The best way to hire a servant was to find one through an advertisement. A personal character, reference, testimonial or note written by a former employer was essential before taking someone on.

It is not a safe plan to go to a Registry unless you know all about it first, though there are some which are really trustworthy. But a servant who once finds his or her way to a Registry Office is almost always unsettled, and no sooner in a place than looking out for another. The average London wages may be set down as: Butlers, £40 to £100; Footmen, £20 to £40; Pages, £8 to £15; Cooks, £18 to £50; House. maids, £10 to £25; Parlour-maids. £12 to £30; “General Servants,” Anglice Maids of all Work, £6 to £15. [Note: these are 1840’s wages.] A month’s notice required before leaving or dismissing; but in the latter case a month’s wages (and board wages if demanded) will suffice. For serious misconduct a servant can be discharged without notice. When left in town, additional board wages will be required at the rate of about 10s. per week. Victorian London – Dickens

Read about the working conditions of servants in my previous posts. Click here

*Source: Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servants’ Portraits, Giles Waterfield, anne French, with matthew Craske, Foreword by Julian Fellowes, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2003.

Read Full Post »

“Marianne’s [letter] was finished in a very few minutes; in length it could be no more than a note; it was then folded up, sealed, and directed with eager rapidity. Elinor thought she could distinguish a large W in the direction; and no sooner was it complete than Marianne, ringing the bell, requested the footman who answered it to get that letter conveyed for her to the two-penny post. This decided the matter at once. – Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 26

Footmen appear prominently in Sense and Sensiblity, 2008, and Emma 1996. They stand at attention in a row with the other servants when John and Fanny Dashwood arrive at Norland Park to take residence, and flank a seated Mrs. Ferrars when she banishes Edward and Lucy Steele from her sight. A footmen, as mentioned by Jane Austen, conveyed Marianne’s first letter to Willoughby when she arrives in London.
In Emma 1997, the viewer is treated to the ridiculous sight of footmen moving kneeling cushions among the rows of strawberries as Mr. Knightley’s guests pick the fruit in his garden. By and large, footmen represented a status symbol. Chosen for their looks and height, they wore livery of a style that was popular a century earlier, with “knee breeches and braided coats with shoulder knots. At Clandon Park in Surrey in 1876, Lord Onslow provided his footmen with silk stockings, gloves and pumps, and one guinea per annum to pay for powder to dress their hair for state occasions.” (Household Management, p 18.*)
According to Daniel Pool, footmen knew their status, and were generally known for their self-importance and lack of humor. The popular saying went that “calves came before character.” Taller footmen were paid higher wages, but the best status symbol of conspicuous wealth was a pair of footmen who were matched in height and looks.
Although footmen were assigned duties both inside and outside the house, such as polishing the silver, or riding on the back of coaches, they spent an inordinate amount of time conspicuously waiting, either in an entrance hall, dining room, or wherever their services might be required at a moment’s notice. “Daily comfort is provided by servants who are almost always invisible in Austen’s novels. They are there to provide leisure and services for their superiors and to disappear—like Thomas, the footman in Sense and Sensibility: ‘Thomas and the tablecloth, now alike needless, were soon afterwards dismissed'”**

“Has no letter been left here for me since we went out?” said [Marianne] to the footman who then entered with the parcels. She was answered in the negative. “Are you quite sure of it?” she replied. “Are you certain that no servant, no porter has left any letter or note?” – Jane Austen, Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 26

When the man replied, “none,” Marianne turned her back to him dismissively and moved to the window.

Servants were regarded by the gentry much as a backdrop, like wallpaper or furniture. Such indifference did not go unnoticed. Eric Horne, author of What the Butler Winked At (1923) observed: “Do they ever ask themselves this question, ‘Where did I come from? And Why? Where am I going to, and when?'” (Below Stairs, p. 95.***) In most cases, apparently not.

Read more on the topic in these resources and links:

Read Full Post »

In romance novels footmen are depicted as tall, dark, and handsome men in fancy livery, preferably matched in height. Surprisingly, this description of these statuesque men, who were as much a status symbol as servant, is true. According to Daniel Pool in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, footmen wore:

“livery,” or household uniform of fancy coat, knee breeches, stockings, and powdered hair, a costume that endured to the end of th 1800s. Because of their appearance at dinner and in public with the family, footmen were supposed to be the most “presentable” of the male servants. They were evaluated on the basis of the appearance of their calves in silk stocking, and they often gave their height when advertising for positions in the paper–it was considered absurd to have a pair of footmen who didn’t match in height. (Poole, p. 221)

In olden days, footmen traditionally ran alongside carriages or to obtain items of importance, or raced other footmen of great houses in order to win bets for their masters. The Chamber Book of Days relates these stories of legend:

For example: the Earl of Home, residing at Hume Castle in Berwickshire, had occasion to send his foot-man to Edinburgh one evening on important business. Descending to the hall in the morning, he found the man asleep on a bench, and, thinking he had neglected his duty, prepared to chastise him, but found, to his surprise, that the man had been to Edinburgh (thirty-five miles) and back, with his business sped, since the past evening. As another instance: the Duke of Landerdale, in the reign of Charles II, being to give a large dinner-party at his castle of Thirlstane, near Lander, it was discovered, at the laying of the cloth, that songe additional plate would be required from the Duke’s other seat of Lethington, near Haddington, fully fifteen miles distant across the Lammirmuir hills. The running footman instantly darted off, and was back with the required articles in time for dinner!

Footmen acquired their names from their running duties, accompanying their masters or mistresses alongside carriages or horses. They carried a long cane containing a mixture of eggs and white wine for sustenance, but many accounts talk of thin, gaunt footmen who became too old before their time.

In the eighteenth century [footmen] were frequently matched to run against horses and carriages One of the last recorded contests was in 1770 between a famous running footman and the Duke of Marlborough, the latter wagering that in his phaeton and four he would beat the footman in a race from Windsor to London. His Grace won by a very small margin. The poor footman worn out by his exertions and much chagrined by his defeat, died, it was said, of over fatigue. In the north of England the running footman was not quite extinct till well into the middle of the nineteenth century. So recently as 1851, on the opening of an assize court, there the sheriff and judges were preceded by two running footmen. About the same date the carriage of the High Sheriff of Northumberland on its way to meet the judges of assize, was attended by two pages on foot holding on to the door handles of the carriage and running beside it. A Handy Book of Curious Information: Comprising Strange Happenings in the … By William Shepard Walsh, 1913

By the 18th century, footmen began to work under the supervision of a butler, taking on such duties as “carrying coals up to rooms, cleaning boots, trimming lamps, laying the table for meals, answering the front door and, at Erddig, sleeping in the butler’s pantry to ensure nobody stole the family silver” (Willes, page 18). The footman’s life was not an easy one. He arose at the crack of dawn and worked until 11 p.m. at night almost without pause. Frederick John Gorst, a former footman at the turn of the 20th century tells of the day he fainted:

Dr. Burton asked me how much time I had off for rest and recreation, and I told him that I had not had a day off since I began to work at Ashton-Hayes six months ago. Moreover, I had not had a holiday nor seen my family in more than three years. He shook his head in disbelief, and said:

“John, this is a very serious matter. How old are you?”

“I’m almost eighteen, Dr. Burton,” I said.

“You are very tall for your age, and your pale complexion leads me to believe that you need some sunshine and fresh air.”

To gain some insights into a footman’s day and duties, click on the following links:

The Footman: A Servant’s Day in London

Dear FRIEND,
Since I am now at leisure,
And in the Country taking Pleasure,
If it be worth your while to hear
A silly Footman’s Business there,
I’ll try to tell, in easy Rhyme,
How I in London spend my Time.And first,
As soon as Laziness will let me,
To cleaning Glasses, Knives, and Plate,
And such-like dirty Work as that,
Which (by the bye) is what I hate.
This done; with expeditious Care,
To dress myself I strait prepare;
I clean my Buckles, black my Shoes;
Powder my Wig, and brush my Cloaths;
Take off my Beard, and wash my Face,
And then I’m ready for the Chace.Down comes my Lady’s Woman strait:
Where’s Robin? Here. Pray take your Hat,
And go—and go—and go—and go—;
And this—and that desire to know.
The Charge receiv’d, away run I,And here, and there, and yonder fly,
With Services, and How-d’ye’does,
Then Home return full fraught with News.Here some short Time does interpose,
‘Till warm Efflucia’s greet my Nose,
Which from the Spits and Kettles fly,
Declaring Dinner-time is nigh.
To lay the Cloth I now prepare,
With Uniformity and Care;
In Order Knives and Forks are laid,
With folded Napkins, Salt, and Bread:
The Side-boards glittering too appear,
With Plate, and Glass, and China-ware.
Then Ale, and Beer, and Wine decanted,
And all Things ready which are wanted,
The smoaking Dishes enter in
To Stomachs sharp a grateful Scene;
Which on the Table being plac’d,
And some few Ceremonies past,
They all sit down, and fall to eating,
Whilst I behind stand silent waiting.

This is the only pleasant Hour
Which I have in the Twenty-four;
For whilst I unregarded stand,
With ready Salver in my Hand,
And seem to understand no more
Than just what’s call’d for, out to pour;
I hear, and mark the courtly Phrases,
And all the elegance that passes;
Disputes maintain’d without Digression,
With ready Wit, and fine Expression;
The Laws of true Politeness stated,
And what Good-breeding is, debated:
Where all unanimously exclude
The vain Coquet, the formal Prude,
The Ceremonious, and the Rude.
The flattering, fawning, praising Train;
The fluttering, empty, noisy, vain;
Detraction, Smut, and what’s prophane.

This happy Hour elaps’d and gone,
The Time of drinking Tea comes on.
The Kettle fill’d, the Water boil’d,
The Cream provided, Biscuits pil’d,
And Lamp prepar’d; I strait engage
The Lilliputian Equipage
Of Dishes, Saucers, Spoons, and Tongs,
And all th’ Et cetera which thereto belongs.
Which rang’d in order and Decorum,
I carry in, and set before ’em;
Then pour or Green, or Bohea out,
And, as commanded, hand about.

This Business over, presently
The Hour of visiting draws nigh;
The Chairman strait prepare the Chair,
A lighted Flambeau I prepare;
And Orders given where to go,
We march along, and bustle thro’
The parting Crouds, who all stand off
To give us Room. O how you’d laugh!
To see me strut before a Chair,
And with a stirdy Voice, and Air,
Crying—By your Leave, Sir! have a Care!
From Place to Place with speed we fly,
And Rat-tatat the Knockers cry:
Pray is your Lady, Sir, within?
If no, go on; if yes, we enter in.

Then to the Hall I guide my Steps,
Amongst a Croud of Brother Skips,
Drinking Small-beer, and talking Smut,
And this Fool’s Nonsence puting that Fool’s out.
Whilst Oaths and Peals of Laughter meet,
And he who’d loudest, is the greatest Wit.
But here amongst us the chief Trade is
To rail against our Lords and Ladies;
To aggravate their smallest Failings,
T’expose their Faults with saucy Railings.
For my Part, as I hate the Practice,
And see in them how base and black ’tis,
To some bye Place I therefore creep,
And sit me down, and feign to sleep;
And could I with old Morpheus bargain,
‘Twou’d save my Ears much Noise and Jargon.
But down my Lady comes again,
And I’m released from my Pain.
To some new Place our Steps we bend,
The tedious Evening out to spend;
Sometimes, perhaps, to see the Play,
Assembly, or the Opera;
Then home and sup, and thus we end the Day.

Norton Anthology: Robert Dodsley Poem: The Footman, 18th Century

Read Full Post »

Found on the Soil and Health Library website:

The estimated calorie requirements of a resting man weighing 160 lbs., is 2200 calories. Sleeping twenty-four hours, this man would expend only 1680 calories. The calorie requirements of woman are estimated to be much lower–a seamstress requiring 1800 calories a servant 2800 calories and a wash-woman 3200 calories.

I have no idea when this quote was written, but I imagine that this calculation would probably hold true over the centuries, and would vary depending on the person’s age and size.

Frank Holl, Song of the Shirt, 1875

Read Full Post »

During Jane Austen’s time, the British adhered to a strict class system, but every once in a while (and much like a fantastic plot in a romance novel), a titled gentleman would marry a servant. According to the National Trust,

Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh… lived a prodigal life at Uppark entertaining lavishly and included the Prince Regent among his frequent guests. In 1810, however, he withdrew from society and devoted his attentions to discussing improvements to the house and grounds with Humphry Repton. At the age of over 70 he took the extraordinary step of marrying his dairy maid, and left the entire estate to her on his death in 1846. She, in turn, left it to her unmarried sister and together they made provision for the estate to pass, after the life tenancy of a neighbour, to the second surviving son of another friend and neighbour, the fourth Earl of Clanwilliam, on the condition that he should assume the name of Fetherstonhaugh.

The dairy at Uppark, Sussex (above) designed by Humphry Repton. When Sir Harry passed by one day... he heard the dairymaid’s assistant, Mary Ann Bullock, singing. Sir Harry presented himself and asked for her hand in marriage. Mary Ann Bullock, aged twenty-one, was sent to Paris to be educated before being married to Sir Harry in September 1825. (Household Management, National Trust, p 30. ISBN 0-7078-0241-5)

How is this tale connected to Jane Austen and her world? By the merest thread. In Mansfield Park, Mr. Rushworth discusses changes for Sotherton Court after he had toured Compton, where he had viewed the improvements of the grounds by Humphry Repton. This short scene illustrates “the popular and expensive trend of improving one’s grounds to give the appearance of wealth both outside and inside the country home.” (Kerrie Savage, JASNA)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: