Could You Fall In Brit Love?

Hot, contemporary romances with a distinctly British flavour. Gorgeous heroes, beautiful heroines and iconic locations.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Who's Who In The Servants' Hall

As any watcher of Downton Abbey will know, there was a strict pecking order below, as well as above, stairs.   Therefore, to celebrate the return of the series to British screens tonight, here’s a quick who’s who of the servants’ hall in a big country house.

The butler was the most important male servant and commanded a great deal of power and respect.   Although he was in charge of the wine cellar and served wine at dinner, his main role was to supervise the other servants.  He’d preside at the dinner table, oversee life in the drawing room and be there to welcome important guests to the house.   

The butler, like the other senior servants, would have worked his way up to the position after a life spent in domestic service.   During that time, he’d have been a footman who cleaned the family silver, answered the door and cleaned the shoes (unless the house was large enough to employ its own boot boy).   Whilst the butler might greet visitors to the house, it would be the footman opening the door and taking their coats.   Very large households might also have an under footman who was learning the role.

The housekeeper saw to the domestic details and was in charge of the female servants.   She kept the accounts, dealt with tradesmen and ensured the smooth running of the house, above and below stairs.   She employed chambermaids – for cleaning the bedrooms – and parlour maids – for cleaning the day rooms.   These maids, as well as the footman, might also double up as table servants when the family dined.   

The kitchen was ruled by the cook who would have at least one assistant.   The lowest ranking kitchen servant was the scullery maid who did all the worst jobs like washing up, cleaning the cooking range and floors, or lighting the kitchen fires.   In the days before central heating, she was also responsible for ensuring those above stairs had hot water by heating it in huge coppers.   This meant getting up before dawn to light the kitchen range and put the water on the boil.   The other domestic drudge was the “between” maid, or tweenie, who helped clean both upstairs and in the kitchen.

The lord and lady of the house would each have had a personal servant – a valet and a lady’s maid – and these servants had a very high status within the household.   The maid and valet both took care of their employer’s clothes, helped them to dress and ran personal errands for them.   Their close relationship with the heads of the house meant they were often privy to many of the family’s secrets so a sense of discretion would have been essential.

Children would have been seen and not heard in this age, and spent most of their time in the nursery.   New babies might have had a wet nurse – in the days before powdered baby milk, the upper-class new mother would have employed a local woman who’d also recently given birth to breastfeed the aristocratic newborn.   Nursery maids looked after the older children and took their meals with their charges, probably sleeping in an adjacent room, rather than with the other servants.   This meant they were slightly detached from the servants’ hall, like the governess, who was employed to tutor girls who were rarely sent away to school.   These governesses may have been impoverished gentlewomen themselves, forced to work, and therefore inhabiting a space above the servants but not quite part of the family.

Beneath these came a veritable army of laundry maids and minor domestic servants, not to mention those who worked out in the stables or the gardens.   And whilst it might look romantic on Downton Abbey, the hours were long, the pay was small and the work was very often cold and dirty.   However, for many it meant regular employment and a chance to better themselves by working their way up through the ranks.

I’m currently working on a new hot romance set in a large stately home.   Eve Byrne, sister of Radford from Lovers In Law, takes a job at Eastfield Abbey to recover from a broken heart.   From the moment she sees Joe, Lord Raybourne’s groom, she decides he might be exactly what she needs to put her broken heart back together.   But everything at Eastfield Abbey is not quite what it seems.

To see some photos that have inspired the story, as well as some snippets from the novel itself, visit my Pinterest board.
You’ll never look at Downton Abbey in quite the same way again!

Have fun,  Avis xx

1 comment:

  1. loved the post Avis. When i went to visit Winton House. They told us about the old duchess there had Queen Elizabeth to dinner and used the very old family china. She was so afraid that a maid would break some, that her and the old butler washed it all