How Much Do You Know About…Edwardian Servant Life?


April 28, 2014

1. Servants were expected to have matching:

A. Hairstyles.
B. Uniforms.
C. Names.

2. In the hierarchy of servants, those at the bottom of the ladder were:

A. Footmen.
B. Valets.
C. House maids.
D. Chauffeurs.

3. The most important servants:

A. Dined regularly with the master.
B. Were waited on at dinner by their inferiors.
C. Ate their meals on fine china.

4. Servants’ duties included:

A. Ironing shoelaces.
B. Cutting the master’s toenails.
C. Ironing newspapers.

5. When her mistress passed by, a house maid was expected to:

A. Curtsy.
B. Drop four steps behind.
C. Face the wall.

ANSWERS:

1.  A, B, and C.

In addition to wearing mandated, matching uniforms, servants were expected to have matching hairstyles. They were sometimes renamed and given generic names. Popular names for footmen were William, Henry or James. Favorite maid’s names were Sarah and Emma . It was the custom in the oldest houses that, when entering into new Service, “lower servants” took on new names given to them by their masters.

2. C.

In class-dominated Britain, there was a strict hierarchy among servants that kept them apart from one another. At the bottom of the ladder were the young girls who could enter service when they were 13, earning a few pounds a year. At the top was the butler, who was paid 10 times more.

3. B and C.

The more important servants, known as “the Pugs”, were waited on at dinner by their inferiors and ate from fine china. The Butler was the most important of the downstairs people. He kept the servants away from the owners and the gentry and liaised between the two groups. He was responsible for the servants and answerable to the gentry.

4. A, B,  and C.

Apparently nothing was considered too menial. Records show that a personal valet’s duties included ironing shoelaces, newspapers, and cutting their masters’ toenails.

5. C.

Lower servants, especially house maids, were supposed to be neither seen nor heard. When the gentry passed by, they were expected to “give way”. This meant to face the wall (avert eyes and look away). Documents from the time read as follows: “While the Housemaids will clean the House during the day, they should make every care and attention never to be observed by you doing their duties. If by chance you do meet, you should expect them to “give way” to you by standing still and averting their gaze, whilst you walk past, leaving them unnoticed. By not acknowledging them, you will spare them the shame of explaining their presence. It is not expected that you take the trouble to remember the names of all your Staff. Indeed, in order to avoid obliging you to converse with them, Lower Servants will endeavour to make themselves invisible to you. As such they should not be acknowledged.”

More information on this subject can be found in the BBC program, “Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs,” presented by Dr Pamela Cox (senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex), and the book “Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants” by Alison Maloney.