During Victorian times the industrial revolution brought great wealth to the elite of society, and Victorian households of the wealthy could afford many service staff. In fact, the amount of servants a person had displayed how wealthy they were. All upper-class houses and most middle class families had servants, and to be in servitude was a respected and highly popular vocation. Towards the 1870’s, almost 5% of the population of Great Britain were in-service and the greater percentage of them were women.
The Victorian Household
Never before in Britain did so many homes have servants, and just like Victorian society as a whole there was a strict hierarchy to life downstairs. One of the great advantages of being a servant was being housed and fed, but the flip side of this was the amount of hours work that servants had to endure. Working hours were very regimented, long and there was little time off. But compared to other manual jobs such as agriculture or factory work the pay was good, especially as board and lodgings were thrown in free gratis.
The Victorian household was under the strict observation of the butler, most butlers came from a long line of family who were also butlers. The respect the butler held within the household from other servants and indeed the property owners themselves was of the highest level.
A country estate was defined by the butler, and it was he who dictated the policies of the master of the house. He supervised all the other male servants, had the responsibility of the wine cellar and advised the master of the house on protocol. He supervised the needs of the family and any guests, and was in attendance particularly in the drawing and dining room. Downstairs in the servant’s quarters his word was gospel.
Where the butler was responsible for male servants, it was the housekeeper that supervised all female staff. And it was her job to oversee the running of the whole house. Parts of her duty were to keep household accounts and pay the many tradesmen that would have day to day dealing with the household. She was also responsible for the well being of the servants and their living quarters. Propriety was the order of the day, as any scandal concerning servant staff reflected upon the household and the family that owned the house.
The second most senior male servant in the Victorian household was the valet, and unlike all the other household servants that looked after household matters, the valet was solely required to service the master of the house. His duties would be to make sure the master of the house had the correct grooming equipment, help with his dressing in the morning and for dinner, and any other personal requirements his master had.
The valet was one of the few servants that would travel away from the house with his master if required. He would often be a confidant to his master and offer words of advice when called upon to. In part two we look at the other servant posts in the Victorian household.