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WEDDINGTON CASTLE - An Online History



KEY PEOPLE: The Victorian Servants of Weddington Castle
19th Century Maids

Whilst history inevitably tends to focus on the high profile, influential individuals who are much better-documented in historical archives, it is important not to forget the equally-important millions of ordinary people who make up the society of any given era.

In the case of Weddington Castle, whilst much is covered in this site about the various owners over the centuries, and their influence in shaping its history; the contribution of the many and various servants and household staff must also be acknowledged. These people were not simply faceless minions: they were all individual personalities, with their own unique stories to tell. This section, therefore, attempts to allow a glimpse into these lives and into the day-to-day running of the Weddington estate.


 

Below is a list of all of Weddington Castle's household staff as listed in the 1881 census (along with images of the actual 1881 Census pages).  More general information on the lives of Victorian servants can be found by clicking here.

 

Name Age Gender Where born Occupation (click for more information)
         
M. Britton 49 Female Yorkshire Lady's maid
Emma Collite 36 Female Pinesthorpe, Warks Housemaid
Charles Cooling 26 Male Broughton, Oxfordshire Groom
M. John Davis 20 Male Billing, Northamptonshire Footman
Elizabeth Davy 32 Female Roborough, Devon Laundry Maid
Maria Ellison 46 Female Hatton, Warwickshire Housekeeper
Amelia Jane Fry 25 Female Somerset Parlour Maid
Emily Harris 18 Female Rugby, Warwickshire Kitchen Maid
Matilda Koch 40 Female Detmold (For), Germany Boarder
Elizabeth Roberts 25 Female Fillongley, Warwickshire Cook
Robert Thompson 36 Male Great Donnington, Northamptonshire Butler
Elizabeth Watkin 23 Female St Martin, Hereford Laundry Maid
Lucy Young 18 Female Axbourne, Warwickshire Housemaid

Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881.


You can see the actual 1881 Census pages for the Parish of Weddington by clicking on the images below:

1881 Census page 1

1881 Census page 2

1881 Census page 3

1881 Census page 4


DESCRIPTIONS OF SERVANTS' DUTIES:

LADY'S MAIDLady's Maid

The Lady’s Maid was hired by and reported directly to the mistress of the house, rather than the Housekeeper. Because her position necessitated a close proximity to her mistress, the lady’s maid was often mistrusted and generally disliked by the lower servants, who possibly felt that she was haughty, or might “tattle” on them.  Often, this treatment of the lady’s maid caused her to feel isolated, as if she didn’t quite fit into either world: her position allowed privileges of comfort and luxury not enjoyed
by the lower servants, yet no matter how high-ranking her position was, her station remained among the “poor domestic servants”.

To qualify for the position, the lady’s maid was to be neat in appearance; have stronger verbal skills; be pleasant; be able to read and write well; be proficient with her needle and handwork; and was expected to tell the truth, without gossiping. Honesty was an absolute necessity, as the lady’s maid would be handling her mistress’ clothing, jewels and personal items.

The daily duties of the Lady’s Maid included helping her mistress dress and undress, and maintaining her mistress’ wardrobe, including laundering the most delicate items and using her dressmaking skills to create new articles of clothing for any and all occasions. In addition, the lady’s maid prepared beauty lotions for her mistress’ delicate skin, and she styled her mistress’ hair.

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HOUSEMAIDS

Under the supervision of the Housekeeper, there were several house maid positions, including parlour maids, chambermaids, laundry maids, still-room maids, “between maids”- these maids performed double-duty as both kitchen and housemaid, and maids-of-all-work. These were the employees who really maintained the house. Housemaids

Each had their own set of duties and responsibilities, which included lighting fires and keeping them stoked, bringing up clean hot water for washing and bathing, and removing the dirty water after (four times a day—before breakfast, at noon, before dinner, and at bedtime); emptying and cleaning chamber pots; thoroughly cleaning all the public rooms of the house, making beds, sweeping, dusting and cleaning the bedrooms, as well as all the other rooms and areas of the house, scrubbing floors on their hands and knees, sweeping ashes, cleaning and polishing grates, candlesticks, marble floors and all the furniture,, brushing carpets and beating rugs, washing loads of laundry, which needed to be soaked, blued, washed, rinsed, rinsed again, wrung out, hung to dry and then ironed.

The housemaid’s work was back-breaking and exhausting, more so than we can truly imagine. There were lamps to clean and fill, each and every day, and because the working area was in the basement, maids frequently had to lug hot water up to the third floor of the house where the bedrooms were. In addition, in order to tend the fires in the house and keep them lit, a maid also had to carry loads of coal up each flight of stairs to all the fireplaces in the house.

Indeed, the housemaid’s day was long, intensive and painfully strenuous, beginning at 6:00 a.m. when she rose and dressed, then made tea for the Lady’s Maid and Housekeeper and served them by 6:30 a.m. on until 10:30 p.m. or later, when she could finally retire for the night with the house completely in order and ready for her to start all over again the following day.
 

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GROOM

"The Groom’s first duties are to keep his horses in condition; but he is sometimes expected to perform"Held by a Groom" 1760 George Stubbs the duties of a valet, to ride out with his master, on occasions, to wait at table, and otherwise assist in the house: in these cases, he should have the means of dressing himself, and keeping his clothes entirely away from the stables.

"In the morning, about six o’clock, or rather before, the stables should be opened and cleaned out, and the horses fed, first by cleaning the rack and throwing in fresh hay, putting it lightly in the rack, that the horses may get it out easily; a short time afterwards their usual morning feed of oats should be put into the manger. While this is going on, the stable-boy has been removing the stable-dung, and sweeping and washing out the stables, both of which should be done every day, and every corner carefully swept, in order to keep the stable sweet and clean.

"The real duties of the groom follow: where the horses are not taken out for early exercise, the work of grooming immediately commences. “Having tied up the head,” to use the excellent description of the process given by old Barrett, “take a currycomb and curry him all over the body, to raise the dust, beginning first at the neck, holding the left cheek of the headstall in the left hand, and curry him from the setting-on of his head all over the body to the buttocks, down to the point of the hock; then change your hands, and curry him before, on his breast, and, laying your right arm over his back, join your right side to his left, and curry him all under the belly near the fore-bowels, and so all over from the knees and back upwards; after that, go to the far side and do that likewise.

"Then take a dead horse’s tail, or, failing that, a cotton dusting-cloth, and strike that away which the currycomb hath raised. Then take a round brush made of bristles, with a leathern handle, and dress him all over, both head, body, and legs, to the very fetlocks, always cleansing the brush from the dust by rubbing it with the currycomb. In the curry-combing process, as well as brushing, it must be applied with mildness, especially with fine-skinned horses; otherwise the tickling irritates them much. The brushing is succeeded by a hair-cloth, with which rub him all over again very hard, both to take away loose hairs and lay his coat; then wash your hands in fair water, and rub him all over while they are wet, as well over the head as the body.

Groom"Lastly, take a clean cloth, and rub him all over again till he be dry; then take another hair-cloth, and rub all his legs exceeding well from the knees and hocks downwards to his hoofs, picking and dressing them very carefully about the fetlocks, so as to remove all gravel and dust which will sometimes lie in the bending of the joints.” In addition to the practice of this old writer, modern grooms add wisping, which usually follows brushing. The best wisp is made from a hayband, untwisted, and again doubled up after being moistened with water: this is applied to every part of the body, as the brushing had been, by changing the hands, taking care in all these operations to carry the hand in the direction of the coat. Stains on the hair are removed by sponging, or, when the coat is very dirty, by the water-brush; the whole being finished off by a linen or flannel cloth. The horsecloth should now be put on by taking the cloth in both hands, with the outside next you, and, with your right hand to the off side, throw it over his back, placing it no farther back than will leave it straight and level, which will be about a foot from the tail. Put the roller round, and the pad-piece under it, about six or eight inches from the fore legs. The horse’s head is now loosened; he is turned about in his stall to have his head and ears rubbed and brushed over every part, including throat, with the dusting-cloth, finishing by “pulling his ears,” which all horses seem to enjoy very much.

"This done, the mane and foretop should be combed out, passing a wet sponge over them, sponging the mane on both sides, by throwing it back to the midriff, to make it lie smooth. The horse is now returned to his headstall, his tail combed out, cleaning it of stains with a wet brush or sponge, trimming both tail and mane, and forelock when necessary, smoothing them down with a brush on which a little oil has been dropped".

Text taken from "Beeton's Book Of Household Management" (pub 1861)

Sergeant Sydney John Vine  - Groom at Weddington Hall, 1911

Sergeant Sydney John VineAn interesting reminder that these servants had fascinating lives of their own can be demonstrated in the case of one Sydney John Vine. Born in 1887, Sydney is listed as being, by 2nd April 1911, "Groom in household of Henry Cunliffe SHAWE including a son Charles SHAWE, Rifle Brigade Captain b. 1874."

However, by 1912 he had followed Captain Shawe to New Zealand, working at Government House there. Records show that he sailed out from Southampton with Captain Shawe from Weddington Castle, on 13th November 1912. They arrived in Auckland just over a month later. The Evening Post, 17 December 1912 records: "Auckland, This Day. Passengers by the Makura included Captain Shaw (sic), A.D.C. who joins the Governor here; also the members of the Australian football team, which recently toured America."

Vine was obviously still in New Zealand in two years later as the Shipping Departures section of the Evening Post of 15 Jan 1914 record "January 14 - Wahine, s.s. (8 pm) foe Lyttelton. Passengers: Saloon" includes Captain Shaw (sic), Vine." Sergeant Vine was at this time listed as Captain Shawe's "chauffeur and manservant", although he enlisted in the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force during this year.

He went on to see extensive action in World War I and was awarded the Military Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his actions. He died in Wellington in 1922, leaving behind 6 children. You can read more about this individual here (courtesy of the website: www.bobvine.gen.nz).

 

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THE FOOTMAN

Directly below the butler was the footman. The footman’s position was multifarious, and included aFootman and carriage wide variety of duties that ranged from accompanying the mistress in her carriage as she paid calls or went shopping, to polishing the household copper and plate; or from waiting at table, to cleaning knives, cutlery, shoes and boots.

Other duties of the footman (who was frequently referred to as “James” or “John”, no matter what his real name might have been), would have included acting as the Lady’s personal footman. That is, among his other duties, he would have prepared her early morning or breakfast tray; cleaned her shoes; brushed any mud off her dress hems and riding habits; paid small charges of her travelling expenses such as toll gates and handsome cabs (he could reclaim these expenses from the Housekeeper); and if she owned a dog, he would be the one to take it for a walk. He would also accompany her when she went out in the carriage, sitting on the box with the coachman (then in later days, with the chauffer), and would open and close for her the carriage door, as well as the door to any stores she entered, unless there was already a doorman. He waited for her return, carried any packages for her, and once he helped her back into the carriage, he covered her knees with a blanket or fur rug. When the mistress went calling and no one was at home, she waited in the carriage while the footman left her visiting card at the front door.

The footman also acted as valet to the eldest son, and sometimes to the master, himself. He was responsible for laying the luncheon table; he cleaned all the mirrors in the household; he carried coal and wood, and similar tasks. Other general duties of the footman included trimming lamps; running all errands; carrying coal; lighting the house at dusk; cleaning silver and gold; answering the drawing room and/or parlour bells; announcing visitors; waiting at dinner; attending the gentlemen in the smoking room following dinner; and attending in the front hall as dinner guests were leaving.

Because of their public exposure at dinner and to guests, footmen were xpected to be the most presentable of the male servants. In addition to there being an “ideal height” requirement for footmen, they were also assessed on their appearance in “full livery” (Uniform), which for outdoors consisted of an ornate tail coat, knee breeches, stockings, white gloves, buckled shoes and powered hair with cocked hat. For indoors their livery was sometimes a bit less formal. Instead of a tail coat and buckled shoes, they usually wore a dress coat and pumps. Later in the century it was more common to see a uniform of white tie and tails with brass buttons that were stamped with the family crest.

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LAUNDRY MAIDLaundry Maid

"The laundry-maid is charged with the duty of washing and getting-up the family linen,—a situation of great importance where the washing is all done at home; but in large towns, where there is little convenience for bleaching and drying, it is chiefly done by professional laundresses and companies, who apply mechanical and chemical processes to the purpose. These processes, however, are supposed to injure the fabric of the linen; and in many families the fine linen, cottons, and muslins, are washed and got-up at home, even where the bulk of the washing is given out. In country and suburban houses, where greater conveniences exist, washing at home is more common,—in country places universal.

"The laundry establishment consists of a washing-house, an ironing and drying-room, and sometimes a drying-closet heated by furnaces. The washing-house will probably be attached to the kitchen; but it is better that it should be completely detached from it, and of one story, with a funnel or shaft to carry off the steam. Adjoining the bleaching-house, a second room, about the same size, is required for ironing, drying, and mangling. The contents of this room should comprise an ironing-board, opposite to the light; a strong white deal table, about twelve or fourteen feet long, and about three and a half feet broad, with drawers for ironing-blankets; a mangle in one corner, and clothes-horses for drying and airing; cupboards for holding the various irons, starch, and other articles used in ironing; a hot-plate built in the chimney, with furnace beneath it for heating the irons; sometimes arranged with a flue for carrying the hot air round the room for drying.

"The laundry-maid should commence her labours on Monday morning by a careful examination of the articles committed to her care, and enter them in the washing-book; separating the white linen and collars, sheets and body-linen, into one heap, fine muslins into another, coloured cotton and linen fabrics into a third, woollens into a fourth, and the coarser kitchen and other greasy cloths into a fifth. Every article should be examined for ink— or grease-spots, or for fruit— or wine-stains.

"Every article having been examined and assorted, the sheets and fine linen should be placed in one of the tubs and just covered with lukewarm water, in which a little soda has been dissolved and mixed, and left there to soak till the morning. Early on the following morning the fires should be lighted, and as soon as hot water can be procured, washing commenced; the sheets and body-linen being wanted to whiten in the morning, should be taken first; each article being removed in succession from the lye in which it has been soaking, rinsed, rubbed, and wrung, and laid aside until the tub is empty, when the foul water is drawn off. After this first washing, the linen should be put into a second water as hot as the hand can bear, and again rubbed over in every part, examining every part for spots not yet moved, which require to be again soaped over and rubbed till thoroughly clean; then rinsed and wrung, the larger and stronger articles by two of the women; the smaller and more delicate articles requiring gentler treatment.

"The operations should be concluded by rinsing the tubs, cleaning the coppers, scrubbing the floors of the washing-house, and restoring everything to order and cleanliness.

"Thursday and Friday, in a laundry in full employ, are usually devoted to mangling, starching, and ironing."

Text taken from "Beeton's Book Of Household Management" (pub 1861)

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THE HOUSEKEEPER

Always referred to as “Mrs.” by the other servants, whether she was married or not, the housekeeper was second in command of the household, and was the immediate representative of her mistress. HousekeeperIt was necessary for the housekeeper to have an understanding of accounts. She was expected to keep an account book where she accurately and precisely noted all sums paid for any and every purpose, the current expenses of the house, tradesmen’s bills, etc. These accounts were balanced and examined
by the Mistress.

The housekeeper was responsible for maintaining order in the house and directing the female staff. She allocated duties and made sure that they were satisfactorily completed. In addition to overseeing the female staff, the housekeeper was also in charge of the household linens. She kept inventory, and made sure that the family and staff always had a clean supply of linens and bedding. The housekeeper was responsible for the inventory of other household necessities, such as soap and candles, sugar, flour and spices. As well, she supervised the china closet and the stillroom department, where cordials and preserves were made and stored.

In addition, she was to see that all the furniture in the house was cleaned and polished, and she attended to all the necessary marketing details, and ordering goods from the tradesmen.

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PARLOUR MAID

The Parlour Maid would have risen at 6.00 am to begin their duties whParlour Maidich would have included

sweeping and dusting the drawing room, dining room, front hall and other sitting rooms, as well as tidying the grates and light the fires. They would also have had to clean the lamps and polish the candlesticks, carry up the cans of hot water to the bedrooms, make the other servants beds, sweep, dust, arrange the rooms and clean the front staircases and front hall. They would then make the beds of  rest of the household, dust under the beds; shake the curtains,wash paintwork and light the fires.

 

Each bedroom would need to be supplied with soap, candles, clean towels, writing paper and the Parlour Maid would have to answer the bell at all times.

 

On special days their work might also include:

  • Clean knives, rub up table sliver and tidy pantry

  • Dress for luncheon

  • Clean away luncheon, wash up table silver

  • Fill coal scuttles as needed

  • Prepare guest bedrooms, turn down the beds, fill the jugs with water, close curtains, put in order and take up hot water

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KITCHEN MAIDKitchen Maids at work

In larger homes, where there was a “Professed Cook”, she was assisted by both kitchen maids and scullery-maids, whose duties included lighting the kitchen fires early in the morning, and cleaning the kitchen for Cook’s use during the day. In some households, it was the responsibility of the senior kitchen maid to cook meals for other servants, while Cook focused her attention on provisions for the household "above stairs".

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COOK

A professed cook would not do any general housecleaning, nor any ‘plain cooking’, and her ingredients would generally be Cookprepared for her by the kitchen staff.

The busiest times of the day for the cook were the morning and the early evening. In the morning hours, Cook would first meet with the mistress of the house for her to review and approve menus, then she would prepare soup for the following day, as soup was “not usually meant to be eaten the same day it was made”. Next, Cook would prepare the jellies, pastries, creams and entrées required for the evening meal, and then luncheon was prepared for those “above stairs”. The afternoon hours allowed Cook a little bit of down time, unless guests were staying in the house, or if a dinner party was to be held. Then, on such occasions as these, servants found no time for rest.

The hours between 5:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. were extremely hectic for Cook. Once dinner had been served, Cook’s work for the day was finished, and the remainder of the clean up and chores fell to the kitchen maids and scullery maids. These remaining chores, in and of themselves, were extremely laborious, as a full dinner for 18 people could easily produce some 500 separate items of china, glassware, kitchenware and cutlery that needed to be cleaned

The “Plain Cook”, unlike the aforementioned “professed cook”, would have general housekeeping duties to perform, many which were not related to cooking at all, especially in households where there were no kitchen or scullery maids. She might be expected to dust and sweep the dining room or parlour, light the fires, sweep the front hall and/or door-step, and even clean the grates—all in addition to maintaining the work of the kitchen. She would need to rise early, 6:00 in the summer months, and 6:30 in the winter, to light the kitchen fire, and then complete all her work upstairs before cooking breakfast. Plain Cooks were usually expected to only cook simple meals. For example, for luncheon, she might serve a joint of meat, vegetables and pudding. For dinner, she would prepare much the same meal, or she might vary it by serving fish, vegetables, potatoes and tarts.

Following dinner, the plain cook would need to clean the dishes, and scour tables and kitchen counters, and perhaps mop the kitchen floor so that it would be clean for the next morning. These were all tasks that the scullery maid would typically perform, but in a household where there was no scullery maid, these chores were left to the plain cook. She was to see to it that all these duties were completed before going to bed, and finally, it was her responsibility to see that the kitchen fires had burnt low; that the gas (in homes that had gas) in the kitchen and passages was turned off; and that the basement doors and windows were securely fastened. At last, she could retire for the night.

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THE BUTLER

The butler wore gentlemen’s period-fashions. He was often a distinguished figure of a man with an imposing presence, which demanded respect from his Victorian Butler and housekeepersubordinates. The list of duties required by the butler varied with the position and status of his employer. In smaller households, the butler’s work was fairly difficult. He hired and dismissed the lower staff (male), and he was personally responsible for their conduct. He was to be certain that all the work of the staff ran smoothly, and that any issues were quickly handled.

If the house contained a plate room, it was usually located near the butler’s pantry. Each night the butler would need to be sure it was securely locked. Either the butler or the footman was expected to sleep nearby, as guard. In the morning the butler passed out the pieces of plate that needed to be cleaned, and occasionally he cleaned them himself, at the same time he cleaned the household’s ornamental items of silver.

The butler was responsible for the arrangement of the dining table and the announcing of dinner. Together with the footmen, he waited at table. It was the butler’s job to carve the joint of meat, and to remove the covers from other dishes. He served wine and set out each additional course. While dessert was being enjoyed, the butler made sure that the drawing room—where the family would soon retreat for coffee or tea—was in order. He made sure that lamps or candles were in proper working order, and that the fire was warmly glowing. He then returned to his pantry and awaited the ring of the bell, which signalled he may return to the company. He would then announce that the drawing room was ready. Once the family had settled into the drawing room, the butler would hand around cups and saucers, while the footman followed behind, carrying a pot of tea or coffee. The butler’s final tasks of the day were to see that all doors and windows were locked; that the plate was safely secured; and that all the fires in the house were safe.

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Servants descriptions and selected images copyright © 2004-2008 The Webmaster of Our Ward Family Web Site (Peter Ward). All rights reserved.

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