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Glamorgan Antiques Newsletter

September 2002 - Newsletter # 6

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© Glamorgan Antiques - Reproduction of these newsletters forbidden without the express permission of the Author


Welcome all to this sixth newsletter from Glamorgan antiques.We hope that it will appeal to all lovers of Antiques, whether newcomers or more experienced Collectors.Anyway, the learning process in Antiques never ends,we all get to be more experienced but we never stop learning.

In This Edition

In this Newsletter we discuss the Victorian servants role in the houses of the Middle classes.





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The "Nouveaux Riches" of the Victorians, modelled themselves and their households on those of the British Landed Gentry, or the upper classes..Servants, therefore, were essential for the smooth running of their large households, and more to the point,servants were seen as a status symbol, and played an important part in displaying the new found wealth of their masters and mistresses whose sole intent was to be seen "climbing the proverbial ladder of success"The more servants you employed, then the more important you were seen to be.Some up and coming families often scrimped on the basic essentials,including their own dining table, in order for them to employ yet more servants.
The Servants hall was a large but simply furnished room, near to the main kitchen of the household.The room was always warm and cosy, and it was here that the entire domestic household staff ate all their meals together and relaxed in whatever time that they had between the many demanding chores.They enjoyed playing card games, and conversing with each other, but even in the servant's room a rigid hierarchy of Victorian social life was followed, so that it extended below stairs as well as above stairs.
Everyone, from the Butler down to the youngest housemaid, knew his or her place, and furthermore, they were expected to keep to it.There were more servants in Victorian Britain than ever before in any century.Women were entering service in large numbers, and because their wages were very low, they came to outnumber the men servants by 5 to 1.In consequence of this, the male servants came to be known as a particularly important measure of social standing and status.
The landed Gentry,required on average 50 servants to run each of their great houses, and a prosperous middle class family, such as a pottery owner, would have employed around 15 servants.
The essential 3 servants always required were as follows, Cook,Parlourmaid and housemaid.Next came the kitchen maids and the Nursery maids.Also required would be a Governess and a Nanny for the children.Outside, as with all large establishments there was a great need for transportation staff such as Stable boys and Coachmen.If the house belonged to a farming family, then the need for servants would be extended to provide houses and living accomodation for Bailliffs and farm workers including shepherds.
The Lady's maid attended on the Mistress of the house, and the Valet did the same for the master of the household. A footman was much valued, and always selected for his good looks and height, his gracious manner and above all his immaculate apppearance.If a household managed to find a footman over 6 feet tall,then they would have to be prepared to pay this man extra wages, as his height would always look very impressive when accompanying the Master and Mistress on outings.. Tall men servants were much in demand in Victorian days, taking into account that in those days,the average male would stand at only 5foot 6inches tall.
Over everyone dominated the Housekeeper.She would have been a formaidable lady dressed all in black, and wearing an immaculate white lace cap and always, at her waist would hang a Chatelaine.Chatelaines were an array of essential Housekeeper tools, such as Scissors,Pens,Needlecases or Etuis to give them their correct title.Depending on the financial status of the family, this would be reflected also,in the metal used in the Chatelaine.If the household was of the landed gentry then the Chatelaine would normally be of Silver and even gold.Lesser households would use brass or white base metal.The other awesome figure in the household was the Butler.These 2 people dominated every Victorian home of standing, and even the Master and the Mistress of the various households did well to respect these 2 most important of Servants, as the whole household ran according to the wishes of these 2 personalities.Each house represented itself as a miniature town or large village, and the atmosphere from day to day could vary from electric to smooth and balmy!.
The furniture in the Servant's hall was very basic and countrified, there would have been of course a large central table, well scrubbed and much loved.The chairs would have been ladder backed with rush seats.The walls would have been covered up with large wall to wall dressers that were laden with old Blue and White China and the various parapehenalia of the Upstairs households dining table....Jugs abounded everywhere,no plastic jugs in those days, also great dinner services and enormous meat platters that were used for the various banquets and repasts that were thrown for neighbours and friends in the Upstairs rooms of the household.
Gas lighting was found in most large households but only in the Upstairs section of the house.Below stairs the Servants hall and rooms were lit by candles and oil lamps using paraffin or kerosene. There would have been an open fire that would rarely have been allowed to go out even in the hottest of Summers. This was one of the best parts of being a Victorian servant to a large household, as invariably servants worked in a warm safe environment, surrounded by people they knew and trusted with the Housekeeper and the Butler acting as the father and mother figures to them all.
The household routine was very strict and never varied. The day began with the gruelling round of cleaning chores, which entailed starting work at 5am.The breakfast for the servants was served at 8am, and by this time they were all ready for this most welcome of daily meals.Seated in strict order around the table, they would consume leftovers from the previous days roasts, usually cold meats and pies, and mountains of home baked bread and butter washed down with gallons of cups and mugs of welcome tea.The servants meals were nothing as grand as the Upstairs meals,as upstairs would eat eggs, bacon,kidneys,cutlets, chicken and fish all temptingly presented on silver and china serving trays.
As soon as the Servants finished their meals, they would be expected to resume their daily work schedule, and all household duties were expected to be finished by midday.
The segregation of servants from the families upstairs,was firmly enforced, and the geography of the house was specifically designed to allow minimum contact. The upstairs did indeed treat most of the servants with disdain quite openly too.Mrs Beeton noted that many employers denigrated their servants at every opportunity, saying "it is the custom of "society" to abuse its servants,, and wax eloquent over the greatest plague in life while taking a quiet cup of tea".
Generally the children of the household enjoyed a more relaxed attitude with the servants and mixed more freely with them, using both upstairs and downstairs for their own personal amusements.Often attaching themselves to one particular servant that they personally liked..Here in the Servants hall, the children could watch life in action, listen to gossip,help the housemaids and hear all manner of exciting stories to brighten up their quiet little lives.
Sometimes, servants were allowed to be visited by their own personal families and friends, but usually these visits were very rare as so many of them were recruited from isolated country areas, where there was no transportation available.We tend to forget that many people lived in absolute isolation, never leaving their villages or areas.Indeed, a visit to a fair or town was something to be extremely cherished.
Work was indeed long and hard for the servants of these great household,but at least they escaped the appaling filth and poverty that so many others suffered everyday of their miserable lives.At least they were assured of a warm meal,a roof over their heads and a clean bed to sleep in..Sometimes, depending on the kindness of their Masters, they would be able to dance and feast in their hall, and given permission to invite their friends around for one of these informal parties,usually at Chrstmas time.Many nights after the housekeeper and the Butler retired, they would relax in their hall, and entertain each other by playing fiddles or whistles or violins, and dance around the great central table enjoying the warmth and company of each other.Many servants married each other and lived with the same households for the rest of their working lives.Even rearing their own children under the same roof.
To summarise,Servants lives were not all bad, indeed many made careers out of their employments to better themselves,starting off as young underservants and ending up, many years later as top butlers themselves.Living and often dying, under the same roof that they were born under. a World so far from our modern times that it all seems so unreal when we read of how they lived.Would you have liked to be a servant then?

September 2002. Copyright©.Glamorgan antiques.

Reproduction of these newsletters forbidden without the express permission of the Author

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