No Servants

I found the following story in E.S. Turner’s What the Butler Saw.

We’ve talked a bit on this blog before about servants needing to be invisible to their employers. This takes it to a new level.

“It had always been the custom in great houses that servants, more especially women servants, should keep out of sight as far as possible, but in some houses the custom had hardened into a rule, which was liable to be severely enforced. Mrs Edward Ward, the artist, who was a guest of the third Lord Crewe, an aged and eccentric bachelor, reports that no housemaids were ever to be seen at Crewe Hall except in chapel, ‘when a great number would muster, only to disappear mysteriously directly the service was ended.’

“One morning, needing the services of a housemaid, Mrs Ward looked out of her bedroom door and saw a black dress ‘flash down the corridor’ and vanish. She gave chase but in vain. The incident seemed so odd that she mentioned it to the housekeeper, an elderly cousin of Lord Crewe. ‘What, don’t you know Lord Crewe’s orders?’ said the housekeeper. ‘None of the servants are allowed to be seen by visitors; if they break the rules they are dismissed. Lord Crew hates women and thinks all his guests must detest them too.’ From the servants’ point of view this ban was probably more tolerable than the rule, inflexibly enforced, that no fires were to be lit in Crewe Hall except between December 1 and May 1, irrespective of the state of the weather.

“The tenth Duke of Bedford (d. 1893) also hated the sight of women servants. ‘To cross his path,’ says Lady Troubridge, unless he wished to see you, was little short of a crime, and any of the women servants who met him after twelve o’clock in the day, when their duties might be supposed to be done, were liable to instant dismissal; yet he exacted almost royal observances from them.

“The Duke was ‘decidedly peculiar,’ in Lady Troubridge’s view. She thought he was actuated by ‘some great hidden pride in his own rank and station in life, some consciousness that he was set apart from the rest of the world by it.’ The next Duke of Bedford carried his dislike of being seen by underlings to a perhaps greater pitch: the electricians wiring Woburn Abbey used to bundle into a cupboard when their lookout reported his approach” (263-64).

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One Response to No Servants

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 3 Years | BizarreVictoria

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