Rules for Servants

I found the following guide in Frank Victor Dawes’s Not in Front of the Servants. The original source was Rules for the Manners of Servants in Good Families (Ladies’ Sanitary Association, 1901).

Do not walk in the garden unless permitted, or unless you know that all the family are out; and be careful to walk quietly when there, and on no account to be noisy.

“Noisiness is considered bad manners. [Yeah, yeah, we get it.]

“Always move quietly about the house, and do not let your voice be heard by the family unless necessary. Never sing or whistle at your work where the family would be likely to hear you.” [Chist almighty, we get it!]

Do not call out from one room to another; and if you are a housemaid, be careful not only to do your work quietly, but to keep out of sight as much as possible. [Is ‘be quiet’ going to be every rule?]

“Never begin to talk to the ladies or gentlemen, unless it be to deliver a message or ask a necessary question, and then do it in as few words as possible. [Yep, I guess so.]

Do not talk to your fellow servants, or to the children of the family in the passages or sitting rooms, or in the presence of ladies and gentlemen unless necessary, and then speak to them very quietly. [sigh]

“When meeting any ladies or gentlemen about the house, stand back or move aside for them to pass.

“Always answer when you receive an order or a reproof, either ‘Yes, Ma’am or ‘I am very sorry, Ma’am,’ to show that you have listened.

Do not speak to a lady or gentleman without saying ‘Ma’am,’ ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir,’ as the case may be, and do not speak to ladies or gentlemen or their friends or of their private residences as ‘Green’s’ or ‘Turner’s,’ say always ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ or whatever the title may be, before the name.

‘Always speak of the children of the family as ‘Master’, ‘Miss’.

“When you have to carry letters or small parcels to the family or visitors do so upon a small salver or hand tray. If obliged to take anything in the hand, or to lift it off the salver, do not give it to the person to whom it belongs, but lay it down on the table nearest to him or her.

“Shold you be required to walk with a lady or gentleman, in order to carry a parcel, or otherwise, always keep a few paces behind.

Do not smile at droll stories told in your presence, or seem in any way to notice, or enter into, the family conversation, or the talk at table, or with visitors; and do not offer any information unless asked, and then you must give it in as few words as possible. But if it is quite necessary to give some information unasked at table or before visitors, give it quietly to your master or mistress’ (35).

“The booklet advises servants to wash themselves all over once a day, to avoid bad smells (their italics) and to wear strong, decent underclothing” (36).

UPDATE: One of my livejournal readers (hairyears) just added the following, which I think makes some very important distinctions about servants:

“I recall reading that maids in the country houses received a clean uniform every week, and disguised the smell of the sweat from their labours with patchouli.

“So servants have a smell: stale sweat and patchouli.

“It’s worth pointing out that the instructions to “wash all over’ are from a time when there was no running water – and definitely no hot water – in the servants quarters. We’re talking about a rag, the washstand, and a jug: no comfort on a cold morning and another chore – being servants, they fetched their own water from the kitchen.

“In the cities, maids ‘living out’ were responsible for their own uniforms, and different rules would apply – and the book you’re quoting is aimed at the middle classes, who would hire in – anyone with live-in staff would”ve been brought up knowing how to handle their staff.”

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One Response to Rules for Servants

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 3 Years | BizarreVictoria

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