This is a series of short blogs on the differences between the classes. From maids to the ladies they served, from merchant gentlemen to their valets. Yes, there are a lot of little positions, but I’ll generally cover them over the next few months.
The housemaid rises between 5 and 6:30 a.m. and accomplished many of her chores before the rest of the family rose. It was an offense to those gently born to hear or see the maid.
The under house maid opened shutters in downstairs rooms, shook the hearth rug, covered the furniture and piano (if there was one) with sheets, then strew moist tea leaves over the carpet and sweep with the carpet broom—gently—toward the door or fireplace. Gather the dust and remove it at once!
To clean out the fireplace: black lead, brushes, leathers and clothes, brick dust and emery paper, and the cinder pale. Ashes were tossed but the cinders were kept for the fire or kitchen stove. She’d then lay the wood and cinders for that evening’s fire. In the summer months, arrangements of paper or ornaments were placed in the grate. Once the dust settled, she’d dust the room, polished until they shone.
Everything was done. I need someone like that in my house!
Before the family came down for breakfast, and after she ate, the front stairs and passages needed to be done—wood oiled, marble cleaned, brass polished, etc., etc., etc. My house sorely lacks. Meanwhile, the ladies maid if there was one, or the downstairs or upstairs maid if there wasn’t, laid out the lady’s toilet, morning clothes, swept and dusted the dressing room and lit the fire. THEN she woke the lady of the house. In the bedroom, she needed to search and exterminate ‘unwelcomed inhabitants’ in the bed. Yeah. All of that. Shudder.
Wood floors weren’t to be scrubbed on wet or foggy days—took longer for it to dry. In winter, fires were lit so the rooms were dry by nightfall. Servants rooms were cleaned and scrubbed 2-3 times a week.
A maid of all work! She did it all, got paid very little, and only if she was very lucky advanced in position. I’ll file this under jobs I don’t want to do.
Source: Victorian Household Hints by Elizabeth Drury