Throughout Britain domestic service was the largest occupation of women in the nineteenth-century, and certainly a major
employer of men also. The living and working conditions for domestic servants changed dramatically during the Victorian period. In the early 1800s, some servants could be found sleeping in the kitchen or underneath the stairs, but, later in the century, were given rooms in the attics. Time off, too, was rarely given earlier in the century but by the 1880s, servants were given a half-day off on Sundays, starting after lunch (and only if all their chores for that morning had been completed), and they were usually given one day off each month, starting after breakfast, and again, their chores all had to be finished first. By the 1890s, servants also received one week’s holiday per year (in later years this increased to two weeks). All domestic servants experienced long working hours, although some (i.e. lady's maid, who were expected to rise before their mistress and sleep only when she retired for the evening, and scullery maids who were generally the first to rise in the household) worked longer hours than others.
Played servants are encouraged to speak with the players of their employers to establish how much time off they would receive!
The number of servants depended entirely on the size of the household and/or estate; a small household was unlikely to employ the stereotypical assortment of ‘upper’ servants we see in shows such as Downton Abbey
, e.g. the butler, valet, lady’s maid, footman, housekeeper etc. Instead, the priority was to install a general maid or perhaps two to do the “dirty, heavy work” (the cooking, scrubbing, cleaning etc) of the household. As the household expanded, the number of servants increased, possibly a cook to begin with, and then a butler who would also act as valet/footman. For those of you who have seen Downton Abbey
, Isobel Crawley’s household is an excellent example of the sort of servants that would be find in smaller household; there is a general maid, a cook and a valet (Mr Molesley) who also does the duties of a butler/footman. This is a household of two
middle class people, so take note. In comparison, Downton Abbey itself has an abundance of servants but I doubt anybody on Charming has an estate that size so it is unlikely any of our families would have so many servants. Also it is important to keep in mind that a wizarding
family would likely have house elves to do a lot of the work, so the number of human servants would therefore be reduced.
As the number of servants increased, a servants’ hierarchy therefore emerged. The ‘upper’ ranks of servants were entitled to respect and deference from the understaff. Upper rank servants would take the head places at dinner, unless they ate separately in the Steward's or Housekeeper's rooms. Another class of servant was the 'senior' class. These servants were of neither 'Upper' or 'Under' rank. They were accorded some of the same privileges as the upper servants, such as being waited upon by the under ranks and eating with the upper servants. But they rarely had the full privileges of an upper servant, such as the master or mistress's castoff clothing. This
is an example of the typical servants’ hierarchy, indicating precisely who would report to who.
An upper servant
. The Butler was the highest ranking servant in any household, and usually worked his way up from the very bottom of the domestic service ladder. His responsibilities included the laying of tables, the replenishment of drinks, answering the door, and the polishing of the silver. He also held the keys to the wine cellar and oversaw table service like a master of ceremonies. In the Servants’ Hall the butler always
sat at the very head of the table. His workload increased or decreased depending on the size of the household, and in houses with only one footman he may also have assumed some of the pantry work.
An upper servant
. The housekeeper was responsible for all female employers with the exception of the lady's maid, governess and nanny. It was her duty to engage, manage and dismiss the female servants, with the exception of lady's maid, nurse and cook, whom the mistress of the house engages. She also manages the stores, both ordering and dispersing them. She tends to the house linen, both repairing it and replacing it as necessary. She supervises the china-closet, and oversees the arrangement of bedrooms for visitors and their servants. She also replaces supplies such as candles, writing paper and soap, makes sure the rooms are clean and in order. The housekeeper was always referred to as Mrs., regardless of marital status, i.e. Mrs Hughes
An upper servant
. The cook was responsible for the 'cooking proper' (the actual cooking e.g. frying, boiling etc - the ingredients are prepared for their use by the kitchen maids). He or she has responsibility for all meals, and also prepares the menus for review and possible alteration by the mistress of the house. They sometimes have control of stocking up the kitchen stores, although sometimes this responsibility is shared with the housekeeper, or managed by the housekeeper entirely. In town, she orders from the tradespeople who serve the house. It is also often his or her duty to lock the doors and windows of the basement, to let the kitchen fire burn low, and to turn off the gas in the kitchen and passages before retiring. In smaller households, the cook assumes the duties of the head kitchen-maid and even scullery maid. A female cook was always referred to as Mrs., regardless of marital status, i.e. Mrs. Patmore. A male cook was 'Mr. ___'.
An upper servant
. The valet is responsible for all matters relating to the man of the house, and is employed directly by his master rather than the butler or house steward. A valet brushes his master's clothes, cleans his boots, carries up the water for his bath, puts out his clothes for dressing, shaves him if necessary, assists him in dressing, packs and unpacks his clothes when traveling. He also loads his rifle when shooting, attends to the master's wardrobe and sees that everything is in repair and order. The valet usually worked his way up the career ladder in the same way that the butler did, but more infrequently an old friend or colleague (i.e. Mr. Bates - Lord Grantham's former batman in the Boer War) is engaged. A valet was always referred to by merely his surname, and this was considered a badge of honour.
The Lady’s Maid
An upper servant
. The lady’s maid has sole responsibility for the mistress of the house and is employed directly
by her employer. She does not
have to report to the housekeeper, as the majority of the other female servants do, and instead answers to her mistress. She is, simply put, responsible for all of the lady of the house’s needs and whims, including dressing and undressing, mending her misstress’ clothes, fetching up tea and breakfast (it should be noted that married women had the luxury of eating breakfast in bed rather than with the rest of their family), and preparing her outfits for any given occasion etc. A lady’s maid had usually begun at the very bottom of the ladder and worked their way up, sometimes benefiting from courses in hairdressing and the like—they were therefore never usually young
women, and generally a more mature and experienced maid was preferred by an employer. A lady’s maid was always referred to by merely her surname, and this was considered a badge of honour.
A senior servant
. A governess taught the children of middle and upper class households until they were old enough to go away to school, college, or to a private tutor (as was the case with most boys of a certain age). She was generally a well-educated middle-class girl who needed to earn her own living. But although she was expected to have the bearing and education of a 'lady', she was treated as a servant. This often left her in limbo—neither an insider or an outsider, as the other servants resented her as too educated and too good for their ranks. The governess was engaged by the mistress directly, rather than the housekeeper, and reported to the lady of the house.
A senior servant
. The nurse is in charge of caring for the household's children from the time they are born, until they are turned over to the care of the governess. She washes and dresses the children, feeds them, takes them on outings, and puts them to bed. She makes the children's ordinary under-clothing, and repairs their general clothing. As with the governess, the nanny was engaged by the mistress directly, rather than the housekeeper, and reported to the lady of the house.
An under servant
. A typical day for a footman is the following routine: He takes coals to the sitting-room, cleans the boots, trims the lamp wicks, cleans the plate, lays the breakfast table, carries in breakfast, waits at breakfast, removes breakfast, answers the door in the morning after 12 o'clock, delivers notes, lays the luncheon table, takes in and waits luncheon, clears the table and cleans the silver, lays the dinner table, goes out with the carriage in the afternoon, attends to fires throughout the day and evening, prepares table for tea, cleans up after tea, waits at dinner, clears the dinner table, helps clean the plate, washes the glass and silver used at dinner, takes in coffee and dessert after dinner, waits in attendance in front hall when dinner guests are leaving, attends to the gentlemen in the smoking room, attends to lighting in the house at dusk, goes out with the carriage in the evening and valets the young gentlemen in the family. Footmen dress in livery
. The head footman is known as the First Footman and the next superior as the Second Footman.
. In large households, the head housemaid undertook lighter jobs such as making beds and tidying bedrooms. She made sure rooms were supplied with the necessary linens, and that they were kept in repair. She dusted the china ornaments, and tended to the flower arrangements. She kept an eye on the lower housemaids, who would light the fires, clean the living rooms, polish the brass, carry water upstairs for washing, and empty the chamberpots. Some maids were assigned to specific rooms, such as the still-room, laundry, dairy or nursery. They were referred to by first name alone.
The Kitchen Maids
. In large households, the head kitchen maid is an under-cook and assumes many of the plain-cooking responsibilities. In small households, the kitchen maid prepares vegetables, game and poultry, does the dairy-work, and bakes the bread. If there is no stillroom maid, she makes the cakes for luncheon, tea and dessert and the rolls for breakfast. She keeps the kitchen clean and keeps things in order. They were referred to by first name alone.
The Scullery Maid
. Her chief duty is to clean and scour the pots and pans, as well as the cooking utensils. She cleans the scullery, servant's hall, larders, and kitchen passages. She usually dines in the kitchen with the kitchen maid. They were referred to by first name alone. In wealthier wizarding families, they’re often replaced by house elves or the cook’s own magic.
There is also the Head Gardener
and the Coachman
, both of whom are self-explanatory (the gardener attended to all duties concerning the garden and the coachman or coachmen
drove the coach and attended to the stables and related supplies). Both are senior servants
. The Groom
was responsible for feeding, cleaning and exercising the horses, and readies the stables for inspections and was an under servant
. Most families that reside primarily in Hogsmeade will not have their own horses on-site.
It is difficult to know precisely how much domestic servants were paid for their services as the amount varied for a number of factors, for example regional differences and the generosity of any given employer. For our purposes though, you can find more information on salaries for domestic servants in wizarding households here
. The exact salary would depend on the generosity of the employer, but it should somewhere within the pay range specified for that particular occupation.
Documentation written by Bex exclusively for Charming.
Many thanks to the following sources:
Maloney, Alison, Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants
(New York, 2013)
May, Trevor, The Victorian Domestic Servant
(Princes Risborough, 1998)