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Domestic service in Victorian and Edwardian England

Reproduced by permission of Historic EnglandDomestic service was a major employer in Britain, and continued to employ large numbers until World War II: in 1901 over 1.5 million people were in domestic service. Their duties were arduous but essential. With few labour-saving appliances, everything was done by hand - from laying the grate in the morning, through cleaning and cooking, to the laundry. A large house required a large staff in order to run from day to day, while even a modest middle class home would employ one or two servants.

There was a strict hierarchy among servants, with each knowing their place. It was also a very stereotyped world, in which some tasks were seen as approriate for women and others for men. In larger households, the duties were divided between the housekeeper and the butler. The housekeeper was responsible for 'domestic' activities, particularly cooking and cleaning. The butler waited on the household and guests and looked after the wine cellar and silverware. In a smaller household, these divisions might be less clear cut.

In addition, a large outdoor staff was maintained. A team of gardeners was required to maintain the grounds of a country house. Before the internal combustion engine, grooms and stable boys were needed to look after the horses while one or more coachmen might be necessary. The adoption of the private motor car reduced the numbers of grooms and coachmen, but created the job of chauffeur/mechanic.

Story author: English Heritage

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