Number of Servants

I’m in the middle of reading this book called Not in Front of the Servants by Frank Victor Dawes, which explains what it was like to be a servant in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I’ve told you a few insane stories about employers having sex with their servants and what a moral minefield that was. I’ve also told you about the cheap, inconsiderate, and just plain strange habits of employers. Today we’re going to take a more practical look at things: how many servants made up an aristocratic estate.

“At the turn of the twentieth century, the kitchen staff at the Duke of Portland’s home at Welbeck Abbey comprised a steward, wine butler, under butler, groom of chambers, four royal footmen, two steward’s room footmen, master of the servants’ hall, two pageboys, head chef, second chef, head baker, second baker, head kitchen maid, two under kitchen maids, sundry vegetable maids and scullery maids, head stillroom maid, hall porter, two hallboys, kitchen porters and six odd-job men.

“The Duke also employed a head housekeeper, a valet, a personal maid for the Duchess, his daughter’s personal maid, head nursery governess, tutor, French governess, schoolroom footman and fourteen housemaids. There were six engineers and four firemen to look after the steam heating and the new-fangled electric plant, a telephone clerk and assistant, a telegrapher and three night-watchmen.

“Outdoors there were more than thirty servants in the stables and a similar number employed in the newly installed garage, although it was more than a decade ahead of the time when the motor car would oust the horse-drawn carriage. Other servants worked in the gardens, home farm, gymnasium, golf course and laundry. Also, there was a head window cleaner and two assistant window cleaners” (16-17).

This place makes Downton Abbey (even pre-war) look like a positive hovel. By my calculations (and conservative estimates when they didn’t specify exact numbers), the Duke employed 186 people for the maintenance of his estate (which, I grant you, was considerable) and for the care of four people. This isn’t even taking into account the servants that would be hired when his second son was born, or when his two boys got older and required tutors of their own.

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