Servants in the Edwardian Era

by Ruth Elizabeth Stiff about a month ago in history

Part Two

Servants in the Edwardian Era

TRUE STORIES OF THOSE WHO WERE IN DOMESTIC SERVICE

MARGARET THOMAS

Was employed as a kitchen maid: “I learned there was a footman as well as a butler --- I had their bedroom to keep clean, which was in the basement,” she recounted. “My own bedroom was at the top of the house but the under house maid cleaned it. I only had to make my bed.”

Remembers working with one cook who dispatched her with a parcel of groceries to send home each week, as soon as the orders arrived. ‘As well she had commission from the tradesmen every month when the books were paid, and woe betide them if they didn’t turn up with it, because there were complaints about their goods until they did. Because of these extras perhaps it didn’t matter that the cook’s wages were only £45 per year.

At 14, Margaret Thomas was told she must stop helping her mother around the house and find a job to buy ‘clothes for service.’ She started by looking after a baby, from early morning until late at night, for which she was paid a weekly wage of 2s., the equivalent of £5.70 today. Her employer let rooms and, when no rent was coming in, Margaret’s pay was reduced to 1s.6d. ‘I couldn’t save much out of my wages so when they dropped I got another job as well,’ she said. ‘I was paid one-and-six a week to clean boots and knives from 7.30am to 9.30am before I went to my other place.’ Eventually she saved enough money to buy the outfits she needed --- print dresses, aprons, black dress, stiff collars and cuffs, all packed into the small tin trunk which was the only luggage a new maid was permitted.

She first saw a footman in full livery when she went for an interview for a job in a Yorkshire household in the early 1900’s: ‘I remember a powdered footman was taking an airing on the area steps next door,’ she said. ‘He looked very grand with his scarlet breeches but he was the only one I ever saw, they were disappearing then.’

‘What a farce those prayers were for me,’ commented former kitchen maid Margaret, ‘for I worried all the time in case my fire had got low, as I had the toast to make the moment I got out.’

She reflected on one house where she was given alternate Sunday afternoons and evenings off. ‘Sometimes, when I went up to dress, I was too tired to go out so I lit the gas fire and thought I’d have a short rest. I was vexed when much later the cook coming up to bed found me there and discovered I’d “had” my day out.’

Enlightened employers, such as one Family who engaged Margaret as a house maid, allowed an overnight stay away. In Margaret’s case they also allowed her to save up her days off over a few months so she could pay a longer visit home.

“All we maid servants had to wear black, navy or dark grey whenever we went out, with small black hats or toques,’ recalled Margaret. ‘We had our own places in our pews at church, and I was agreeably surprised to find I ranked next to the head house maid.’

Spring-cleaning lasted up to 4 weeks and, according to Margaret, it was ‘a great business in those days.’ ‘As well as in the kitchen, we had to spring-clean when-ever the sweep came, which in Yorkshire, where I worked later, where we had the smoke jack, was every 6 weeks.’

Margaret remembered a London house where entertaining was a weekly event: ‘In Friday night we used to have a dinner party. They consisted of 8 to 9 courses and there was usually a luncheon party the next day. Everything was prepared in the kitchen, except salads and desserts. The butler had charge of those in his pantry. The cook made all the etcetera’s for the table, pastry sticks, candies, salted almonds.’

She remembered how she was summoned by the Lady of the House, a rare honour, only to be given her notice. ‘When the Family were going to Scotland for the shooting season, the Lady sent for me and told me they weren’t taking me as I wasn’t strong enough for the hard life there,’ she recalled. ‘I was upset because I was looking forward to the visit --- But I appreciated the fact that the Lady told me herself, it was the only time I saw her.’

In the large houses, the hierarchy among servants even extended to flirting, as Margaret found out. ‘The house maids always favoured the footmen but we in the kitchen didn’t care for them, for they used to stand silently, criticising us, tapping out a tattoo on the table if we weren’t ready with their meals.’ She revealed. ‘We in the kitchen found our friends among the outdoor staff. We didn’t go out much.’

Each house ran to a different timetable and Margaret remembered one Yorkshire home where the 2nd house maid ‘had to be downstairs at 4am every morning to get the sitting room done before breakfast. The 2nd house maid had a medal room to keep clean, were the medals were set out in steel cases, and had to be polished with emery paper every day.’

MARGARET POWELL

In her memoirs “Below Stairs” Margaret remembered the servants’ bells in the passage outside the kitchen in her first job as a maid, when she was 14.

‘In this passage, hanging on the wall, was a long row of bells with indicators above them to show where they rang from, and it was my job to run full tilt out to the passage to see which bell it was. If you didn’t run like mad out to the passage, the bell would stop ringing before you got there and you had no idea whether it was from the blue room, the pink room, first bedroom, second bedroom, fifth bedroom, drawing room or dining room. I was always in trouble over those bells at first, but at last I mastered the art, and no-body shot out quicker than me when they rang.

Margaret began her life in service as a kitchen maid at a House in Adelaide Crescent, Hove. She recalled, ‘the amount of food that came into that house seemed absolutely fabulous to me, the amount of food that was eaten and wasted too. They often had a whole saddle of mutton and sirloins. Sometimes with the sirloins they would only eat the under-cut and the whole top was left over, so we used to eat that for our dinner. Even so we couldn’t eat everything and a lot got thrown away. When I used to think of my family at home where we seldom had enough to eat, it used to break my heart.’

This was one rule that kitchen maid Margaret Langley, later Powell, fell afoul of when she started out in Hove. One morning, while she was cleaning the front door, the newsboy came by with the papers. As she took them her mistress, Mrs.Clydesdale, descended the stairs and Margaret offered her the papers:

‘She looked at me as if I were something subhuman --- she didn’t speak a word, she just stood there looking at me as if she couldn’t believe someone like me was walking and breathing --- I couldn’t think what was wrong. Then at last she spoke. She said: ‘Langley, never, never on any occasion ever hand anything to me in your bare hands, always use a silver salver. Surely you know better than that.’ I thought it was terrible. Tears started to trickle down my cheeks; that someone could think that you were so low that you couldn’t even hand them anything out of your hands without it first being placed on a silver salver.’

‘They don’t worry about the long hours you put in, the lack of freedom and the poor wages, so long as you worked hard and you knew that God was in heaven and that He’d arranged for it that you worked down below and laboured, and that they lived in comfort and luxury, that was alright with them,’ wrote Margaret. ‘I used to think how incongruous it was when the Reverend used to say morning prayers and just before they were over, he’d say “Now let us all count our blessings.” I thought, well, it would take a lot longer to count yours than it would mine.’

For many as the lower female staff, the initial interview for the job was the only time they would speak to the mistress or, in some of the larger houses, see her at all. Margaret remembered her first interview for a kitchen maid’s position in Hove, when she was 15. Her mother came with her and they were let in by the front door. ‘In all the time I worked there, this was the only time I ever went in by the front door.’ Margaret and her mother were shown into a nursery where the mistress of the house interrogated them. ‘My mother did all the talking because I was over-come with wonder at this room, for although it was only a nursery, you could have put all the three rooms we lived in into it. Also, I was overcome with shyness; I suffered agonies of self-consciousness in those days. And the Lady, Mrs.Clydesdale, looked me up and down as though I was something at one of those markets, you know one of those slave markets. ‘As the rules and conditions were outlined, Margaret’s spirits sank and she said, ‘I felt I was in jail at the finish.’ But like many girls, she was not given a choice. Her mother had made up her mind that she would take the job, and that was what she did.

Having worked for 3 years as a kitchen maid, Margaret applied for a job as a cook in Kensington. Although she was only 18 she lied about her age, telling the mistress of the house, Lady Gibbons, that she was 20, in order to seem more experienced. She had come a long way from the terrified teenager who had refused to speak at her first interview. During the ‘usual interrogation,’ she was asked how much money she expected: “I heard a voice that didn’t sound like mine saying,’40 pounds.’ ’40 pounds!’ she echoed, as if I’d asked for the Crown Jewels. There was a pause as if she thought I would reconsider it. I didn’t, ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘and I want a whole day off a month.’ Her face fell still further. ‘If I give you a whole day off every month,’ she said, ‘the house maid and the parlour maid will want one too.’ I said nothing. Just sat silent.” Margaret got the job, and on her own terms.

The expectation for maids to leave in order to marry continued well into the 20th century. Margaret commented in her own memoirs on the hypocritical attitude of the Upper class, who encouraged their own daughters to meet young men at parties and balls while the servants were allowed ‘no followers.’ And yet they saw marriage as the only acceptable reason for a young girl to leave service. ‘It was a funny thing that although none of them like you to leave if you were going to another job, if you left to get married, it was a totally different thing,’ she wrote. ‘It was acceptable and respectable. And yet the business of getting a young man was not respectable, and one’s employers tended to degrade any relationship.’

Margaret shared a room with an under-parlour maid named Agnes, who found herself in ‘the family way.’ ‘In those days it was slam the door, dismissal with no money, your own home probably closed to you, nothing left but the street or work-house,’ wrote Margaret. She was dismissed by the mistress, Mrs.Cutler. ‘Although Madam told her to leave at the end of the week she did give her a month’s wages. But the very fact she did this convinced me in my suspicions as to who the father was --- I suspected it was a nephew of Mrs.Cutler’s.’

When Margaret took her first cook’s position at the age of 18, she was shocked to find her new mistress was, in the words of a house maid, ‘mean as a muck-worm, eyes like a gimlet and a nose like a bloodhound.’ If the cook let the fire dampen and used the gas stove instead, she would appear at the top of the stairs and demand an explanation. She insisted on ordering supplies herself and, every morning, she marched into the kitchen and inspected the icebox, bread bin, vegetable rack and flour bin before making her list. She also had a locked store cupboard and ‘everything was doled out to me in minute quantities. I was never given a key.’

Margaret remembered a mistress called Mrs.Cutler who used to reward the maids for their efforts in Spring-cleaning with a trip to the theatre. ‘But I didn’t really enjoy it because we were in the expensive seats, sitting among the well-to-do, and I felt conspicuous wearing a somewhat shabby black coat and a pair of black cotton gloves which I didn’t dare take off because my hands were all red and raw.’

MANNY LANE

Minnie Lane’s brother Manny had always wanted to be a gentlemen’s valet and found a position at a house in Manchester. After a 3 month absence the family heard a knock at the window at 4am on Sunday morning as the prodigal son returned, complete with a northern accent. ‘We asked him why he’d come home and he said the gentleman he worked for wanted him to cut his toenails, and he wouldn’t do it. He’d do a lot of things but he wouldn’t do that.’

BEATRICE GARDNER

14 year old Beatrice Gardner remembered a particularly nasty trick played on her by one such ‘superior.’ “I well remember having to carry can of hot water up many flights of stairs when her Ladyship was changing for dinner, and being met en route by one of the house maids who, with a straight face, said that I must also take a certain china article (used in the days of no bathrooms) and give this to her in her room, together with a can of hot water. This I duly did and to my utter dismay, received a month’s notice for being ‘rude and insolent,’ which was really funny when I think how terrified I was to even speak to anyone. But, of course, no one knew it was the fault of this wretched house maid, playing a trick on a child who had just left home.”

Having also worked for a cook, Beatrice: “Used to run and hide in the coalhouse if I upset any milk or gravy. Her rage had to be seen to be believed.”

MRS.G.EDWARDS

Mrs.G.Edwards became an under-nurse in Kensington at 15. “The head nurse was above me. I called her “Nurse” and she called me by my Christian name. The house had a cook, a kitchen, a house maid, a parlour maid a coachman and a groom. My job involved attending to the children. I got up at 6am to walk the children’s dog round the square. Then I went downstairs to fetch anything for the children. I used to take their shoes and boots to be cleaned in the kitchen. The children lived in the nursery and we had our food sent up to us, but sometimes the two eldest children went down to dine with the Family and I would go down with them. I stood in the dining room with them.”

LILY’S STORY

Lily Graham was put into an orphanage in 1900, at the age of 7, after the death of her father. At 11, Lily was sent out to work in order to earn enough money to buy her maid’s uniform and spent 2 years as a messenger and general helper at a dressmakers. By 1908, she had saved enough money for her blue cotton dresses, white aprons, and caps and she went into service as a scullery maid in Mayfair. She rose at 5.30am to scrub the floors, clean and light the kitchen range and she toiled until 9pm or 10pm in the evening. She was 13 and she was paid just £6 a year.

ONE FORMER MAID

Said they had been banned from the Family’s two bathrooms. ‘We had a tin bath in our bedroom which was in the attic and we had a lot of stairs to take our hot water up.’ As they had no gas lamps in their rooms, they carried candles to bed with them at night.

DOROTHY SHAW

Was a tweeny in Newbury, told Arthur Dawes that she once asked her mistress for a candle to light her room, prompting the harsh lady to cut a candle in half with the comments ‘I don’t encourage my servants to read in bed.’

DOROTHY GREEN

Londoner Dorothy Green came from an orphanage and was put out to work at the age of 11 to save for her uniform: ‘I went to work at a local house for a few hours each day, scrubbing floors, sweeping up and cleaning the range. They weren’t grand enough to have a proper maid so they paid me two shillings a week and I wore my own clothes. It took 2 years to buy the material and sew my first cotton dress and aprons for service, and buy the plain black costume, but I was glad when I had because it meant I could get a position in a good house.

LILLIAN’S STORY

At the age of 15, in 1908, Lillian Westall started in domestic service in the middle-class home of a clerk and his wife, who had two children. She was a nurse and house maid and received 2s. a week. “In the morning I did the house work: in the afternoon I took the children out: in the evening I looked after them and put them to bed. My employers didn’t seem to have much money themselves but they liked the idea of having a ‘nurse-maid’ and made me buy a cap, collars, cuffs and apron. Then the mistress took me to have a photograph taken with the children grouped around me.

HARRIET BROWN

Frank Dawes writes of one home-sick teenager maid Harriet Brown, who wrote to her mother in 1870: ‘Dear Mother, I should of ask you over the next week only we are going to have two dinner parties, one on Tuesday, the other on Thursday, and we shall be so busy you must come after it is over. I should so like to see you but I cannot get away just now so you must come and see me soon.’ Although this was 30 years before the Edwardian age, little changed in that time and even Harriet’s won daughter was to go into service as child 20 years after her mother.

DOROTHY GREEN

Was the youngest maid in a London home in the early 1900’s and often had to wait up to let her colleagues in after a night out. ‘The younger ones had to be back by 8pm and the older ones by 9pm. If the maids were late, which they frequently were, I would be trembling with fear in the kitchen and hoping the mistress didn’t decide to check up on them because I knew there would be an almighty row if she found out.’

MILDRED RAMSON

Remembered an old lady who stood with her cow in St. James’s Park, every day, selling milk and cakes to passers-by. ‘Another sight was Mr.Leopold de Rothschild driving his tandem of zebras in the park,’ she recalled. ‘We used to admire, but not touch, the famous Piccadilly goat, we bowed as the old Queen, now deeply loved, drove slowly by, or the Princess of Wales passed with her three daughters packed in the back of a landau. Royalty passed with a stately step then.’

ONE LONDON GIRL

Whose memories are stored at the Imperial War Museum, had to present her mistress with the dirt she had collected each time she vacuumed so that it could be weighed. She soon learned to save the old dirt to add to the collection, in order to impress the stringent lady: ‘In the pothouse, I had one or two bags of different colour with dirt in so I could make my weight up. What was the weight she wanted? About a cup and a half of dirt for each room.’

VIOLET TURNER

Recalled to author Frank Dawes, ‘We weren’t allowed a young man near the House, nut I always let the cook’s young man in the back door on Friday evenings.’

KATE BROWN

Revealed she was sacked from her parlour maid’s job in 1911 for allowing her boyfriend into the House: ‘Of course, it was forbidden in those days in case your boyfriend might be a burglar. They could never imagine a servant choosing someone respectable.’ Her future husband was, actually, a baker from Fulham road.

ONE NORWICH MAID

Recalled entering into service in Kent after she was recommended by a neighbour’s daughter who already worked there. After packing her things into a wicker basket, she travelled up to London and on to Beckenham. ‘I quite expected a Rolls Royce to meet me at the station,’ she dais in ‘Cap and Apron.’ ‘Instead of that it was the gardener with the wheel-barrow.’

KITTY MARION

Recalled a close shave with one such woman after a trip to visit a friend in London, on her Sunday afternoon off. Kitty befriended the woman who had asked her for directions and was offered a bed for the night in a flat in Grey’s Inn Road. On the way there, they bumped into two men and Kitty struck up a conversation with one of them. He edged her out of earshot before asking: ‘Is that woman a friend of yours?’ Kitty continued, ‘I was surprised and told him how I had met her, and that she had invited me home, where upon he became most concerned and said: ‘Little girl, she’s no fit companion for you, come along, here’s your bus,’ and he haled me one. He helped me up the stairs and said: ‘Good night dear’ as if he’d known me all my life.’ Telling friends later she admitted: ‘I was a greenhorn. I had no ideas that women had ‘evil designs’ on others. This one was so ladylike too.’

HANNAH CULLWICK

Whose diaries were edited by Liz Stanley in 1984, was employed as a maid at Aqualate Hall in Staffordshire in the mid-20th century and lost her position after her mistress spied her and another maid laughing while going about their chores. ‘I go on very well as under house maid for 8 months, but Lady Boughey saw me and another playing as we was cleaning out kettles (we had about 16 to clean, they belonged to the bedrooms),’ she wrote. ‘I was vex’d to leave. I ax’d Lady Boughey if she would please forgive me and let me stop. But she said “NO” very loudly.’

ANGELA LAMBERT

According to Angela Lambert’s book “Unique Souls”, when the flamboyantly high-spirited, extravagant Edward Horner seduced Lady Cunard’s beautiful, young parlour maid in 1906, after a drunken lunch, the 14 year old Diana (Manners) though it “18th century and droit de Seigneur and rather nice.” The term droit de Seigneur, literally the ‘right of the Lord’ --- the use of it by this young aristocratic lady sums up the attitude of the upper classes to the predatory sexual behaviour which often ruined the life of a vulnerable maid.

CONNIE EDGERTON

Worked for an elderly gentleman named Mr.Huddleston and was thrilled when he bought her some soft kid gloves. ‘They were very nice gloves, so I thanked him. But the next time I threw them back at him because he wanted me to go with him,’ she revealed to Max Arthur. ‘Well this old fellow, he didn’t want to take no for an answer and every time from then on he started chasing me round this big oval table in the middle of the room. I used to set off and he would be running after me. I’ve had him on the floor many a time because he used to fall on the slippery floor and as soon as he fell, I ran out.’

MARY ANN BULLOCK

In the 19th century, Sir Harry Featherslonhaugh, 2nd Baronet, fell for dairy maid Mary Ann Bullock, after hearing her sing on his estate at Uppark in Sussex. After promoting her to head of the dairy he popped the question to the astonished girl and told her, ‘Don’t answer me now, but if you will have me, cut a slice out of the leg of mutton that is coming up for my dinner today.’ When his meal arrived, a slice was missing, and the engagement official. Before their wedding, Mary Ann was sent to Paris where she learned to read, write and embroider. Despite an age difference of 50 years and a huge social divide, the couple apparently enjoyed a happy 20 year marriage, until the Baronet’s death aged 92.

HANNAH CULLWICK

Another touching story involved barrister and civil servant Arthur Munby, who chanced upon Hannah Cullwick in the service of a London household and fell in love. The couple secretly courted for 18 years before he plucked up the courage to tell his father, who was so outraged and ashamed that Arthur never mentioned it again. When they finally married, it was in secret and although they lived together in the Temple, Hannah behaved as his servant whenever he had company.

A FORMER 3RD HOUSE MAID

In Lincolnshire in 1913 told Frank Dawes how she caught the eye of a superior servant. ‘The butler gave me more than one kiss as we passed on the back passage upstairs. I used to smile at him if he came in the servants’ hall to complain about the noise after supper. The head house maid said, “How dare you smile at the butler.” I think he was always afraid of me giving him away. I never did.’

JEAN HIBBERT

Although mistresses did their utmost to prevent romance below stairs, they could be generous where marriage was concerned. Jean Hibbert worked at the Duchess of Richmond’s House in Goodwood, where she fell for her future husband Spencer, the head gardener. When the pair handed in their notice, as was the custom when marriage was to take place, the Duchess, ‘knowing my family were far away and very poor, offered to organize and pay for the wedding from Goodwood House,’ she said in her memoirs. The Family laid on ‘a magnificent spread and lovely wine which the Duke gave as his present and a fine three-layered wedding cake. The kitchen had been working hard and in secret because I knew nothing about it.’

Whilst working at Goodwood House, Jean was told some scandalous tales regarding another big house in the area, called West Dean, where ‘the morals of the guests were supposed to be so loose that the garden boy had to ring the bell fixed at the corner of the house at 6am, called “the change beds bell” so that house maids would find the right husbands and wives together in bed when they delivered their morning tea at 7am!’

ONE FORMER MAID

In a letter to Frank Hawes, one former maid recalled working in a household for several years, before and after the First World War, in which the ladies gave the maids their cast-off clothes --- and then docked their wages to pay for them. While the main House was wired for electricity, a candle was still considered adequate in the maids’ rooms.

ANOTHER LONDON MAID

Recalled being allowed half a pound of cheese a week, ‘But I mustn’t have Their cheese --- I had the cheaper cheese.’ Butchers also sold ‘servants’ bacon,’ which were cheaper offcuts than the prime rashers served to the Family.

MALE SERVANTS

FRANK HONEY

The position of a hall boy, or house bot, could be taken by a local lad who still lived with his parents, as Frank Honey recalled in “Lost Voices of the Edwardians.” Working at the house of an army captain in Canterbury, he was expected to turn up at 6am in the morning at start his chores. ‘My first job was to groom the two big black retrievers they had and then I had to let them out into the garden. Then I used to have to chop the wood and clean the shoes, the knives and the forks. There was no stainless steel cutlery in those days. We used to use brick dust.’

ERNEST KING

In his memoir “Green Baize Door,” Ernest King said he went into domestic service at the very bottom, in a well-to-do north Devon house, and he spent all his time there waiting on the other staff. He had ‘the table in the servants’ hall to lay, the staff cutlery to clean and the staff meals to put on the table. In the butler’s pantry I spent most of my time at the washing up tub.’

FRANK HONEY

Coming from households where money had meant a steady diet of bread and potatoes, the majority of the servants were better fed than they had ever been. Canterbury lad Frank Honey, employed as a house boy while still at the local school, found the food a considerable perk in one house. ‘The beauty of that job as far as I was concerned was that I had a jolly good breakfast,’ he said. ‘Prior to that I might have taken a piece of bread and butter to school with me when I went out, but I used to get eggs and bacon there --- something I never got at home.’

ALFRED WEST

Was a groom and valet for an old gentleman in the Edwardian Era. He remembered taking him on shooting and hunting trips to Hertfordshire, where he was allowed to taste his share of the spoils. ‘The game was wonderful,’ he said in “Lost Voices of the Edwardians.” ‘I used to be treated very well. When I was working in the stables, washing down the horses after the hunt, I was able to go into the servants’ quarters in the “Big House” and I was given the same food the toffs had had, after they’d finished with it. There was pheasant, duck and venison. It built me up no end.’

HENRY LANSLEY

Former groom Henry Lansley recalled in “Lost Voices of the Edwardians” being sent to London to learn to drive in 1910: “The first car I drove was a new 16hp Wolseley. My employer had taken a hunting box in Warwickshire. On my way a terrific snowstorm set in and, as there were no windscreen wipers, I couldn’t see a thing. So I stopped in Rugby for the night and went on next day.” Only the rear wheels were braked, and as there were no self-starters, it was always necessary to swing the handle at the front.”

ALBERT PACKMAN

‘I went to the Bricks Music Hall and nearly fell over the front, right up in the gallery trying to look over, because it’s very high. There were acrobats on the stage and impossible things that I’d never thought of in all my life --- all for tuppence.’

ARTHUR INCH

In service for more than 50 years, was a footman at Londonderry House during one London season, and spent a busy day wearing a pedometer as he rushed up and down the stairs and along the vast corridors. He calculated that he had walked 18 miles without ever leaving the house.

ERIC HORNE

Footman Eric revealed in his memoirs “What The Butler Winked At”, ‘A London season is very tiring to servants. There is not only the day work but the night work as well. They would keep out regularly until one, two or three o’clock but we had to start work at the same time as the other servants. Often during the London season we were kept so short of our hours of sleep that I used to go to sleep on the carriage.’

FREDERICK GORST

The Duke of Portland’s footman Frederick remembered shooting parties at Welbeck Abbey. ‘We footmen served them from our stations at the sideboard which held roast game in season, leg of lamb, game pie, roast chicken and roast ham. There were always platters of egg Rochambeau, fish, a garnished entrée of chicken en gelee and salad. The sweet was often rice pudding.

ERIC HORNE

Eric recalled the country house of an unnamed peer where he worked as a footman, and the staff having to sit opposite the Family during the Sunday service. ‘One Sunday the Bold Bad Baron sent for the butler and asked him if we had been drinking too much beer as he noticed several of the men were asleep during the sermon. The parson was brother to the Baron, the living was in his gift, so of course he preached a sermon to please him; generally about the lower orders being submissive to their betters. No wonder we fell asleep.’

Eric also recalled a particularly happy posting in the castle of an Earl where the staff was permitted monthly dances. ‘Servants seldom wanted to leave that place, unless they had been there some time and wanted promotion,’ he said. ‘I think what kept them together to a great extent was that we were allowed a dance on the first Tuesday of every month.’

WILLIAM LANCELEY

In his memoirs “From Hall Boy to House Steward,” William commented that the war work many were asked to do ‘was a novelty to them, the pay was big and they had short hours, hundreds being spoilt for service through it. It made those who returned to service unsettled.’

All of these experiences come from the book "Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants" by Alison Maloney. This is a fascinating book to read and study about those in domestic service during this time.

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Ruth Elizabeth Stiff
Ruth Elizabeth Stiff
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Ruth Elizabeth Stiff

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