There's a great David Lean/Noel Coward film called This Happy Breed. It chronicles the lives of an average lower-middle class family between the two wars. The family live in a suburban semi, Celia Jonston plays the mother and she drops her "hs", John Mills is the boy next door and gets a bit "gor blimey guv'nor" every now and then. However, the film is a realistic protrayal of life for the middling family between 1918 and 1939 and for much of that time the family have a servant.
In most of my pre-war homemaking books it is assumed that the reader will have at least one servant, otherwise she would be reading books which specifically cater for the wives of working men, penny cookery books and so on. The wives of clerks, butchers, craftsmen and skilled labourers etc., would have had a girl to help them in their homes unless hard times forced them to economise.
It seems however, by 1910 things were beginning to change. In How to Keep House, by C S Peel, the writer laments that
The young working girl of today prefers to become a Board School mistress, a post-office clerk, a typewriter, a shop girl, or a worker in a factory - anything rather than domestic service; not because the work is lighter or the pay better, but because in these professions she has the full use of her hours of liberty, and, more important reason than all, she enjoys a higher social position: she is in point of fact a "young lady."
Many other books of the period are slightly panicky in tone when discussing servants and the servant crisis, and magazines from the 1920s/30s, such as Good Housekeeping are full of suggestions on how to manage with limited help: how to use new time saving equipment, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines and gas stoves and fires. Victorian attitudes to social class were crumbling fast and by the end of the second world war it is assumed, by the writers of most post-war books I own, that their readers will be managing their homes without help.
I hope to be posting a few post-war examples of "the daily round" over the next few days, but first I thought I would post an example of the duties of the average Victorian maid. I think it makes an interesting comparison between what my modern day routine is (see this post) and what the 1950s housewife's routine was and what was expected of the 1860s maid of all work. Just to give a little social background, a maid of all work would have been the only live-in servant in the household, and she would probably work in the home of a single woman or a lower-middle class family. She may have been very young, between the ages of 11 and 13 when starting work, and was perhaps a daughter of farm labourers. In the book, from which I've taken the following extract, Warne's Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book, her list of duties lasts for three, closely printed pages. I'll just give you the gist of it.
The general servant must be an early riser.
Her first duty, of course, is to open the shutter, and in summer the windows of all the lower parts of the house.
Then she must clean the kitchen range and hearth, sifting the cinders, clearing away the ashes, and polishing with a leather the bright parts of the stove, or range.
She must light the fire, fill the kettle, and as soon as the fire burns, set it on to boil.
She must then clean the room in which the family breakfast. She must roll up the rug, spread out a coarse piece of canvas before the fireplace, an (if it is winter) she must remove the fender, clean the grate, and light the fire. The she must lightly rub over the fire-irons with a leather, replace them, and the fender, and sweep the room over, first pinning the curtains up out of the dust.
She should then let the dust settle for a few minutes, turning meantime into the kitchen to get the breakfast things ready to bring in. In five minutes or so she must return, and thoroughly dust all the furniture, the ledges about the room, the mantelpiece, and all ornaments. Not a speck of dust shall be left on any object in the room. Then she lays the breakfast cloth ready for breakfast, and shuts the dining-room, or breakfast-room door.
Her next duty is to sweep the hall, or passage, shake the doormats, clean the door step, and polish the brass knocker, if there is one. Then she cleans the boots, washes her hands and face, puts on a clean apron, and prepares the toast, eggs, bacon, kidneys, or whatever is required for breakfast.
Previously, however, she will carry the urn that her mistress may make the tea.
She then has her own breakfast, goes up tot he bedrooms, opens the windows, strips the bedclothes off, and leaves the mattresses or beds open.
By this time probably the bell will ring for her to clear away the breakfast things. She should do this quickly and carefully; bring a dustpan, and sweep up the crumbs, put back the chairs, make up the fire, and sweep up the hearth.
I am half way down the first page of this list of duties, but they end on the third page with the writer addressing the maid of all work directly.
Find time for your own work of an evening, and take care to leave no holes in your stockings or rents unmended. "A stitch in time saves nine;" and if every Saturday night you men all your fractures, both in clothes that return and those that are going into the wash, you will keep your needlework nicely under.
Be personally clean. It is the great charm of ladies; and a good wash all over every night before going to bed will refresh you, make you healthy, prettier, and more cheerful that if you fell asleep still dirty from your daily toil.
Be active, cheerful, good-tempered and obliging, and you will find work easy and employers kind.
Do your daily duties with all you might, remembering Whose eye is always on you; and believe that the Great King who gives us our daily work to do, will not leave unmarked the efforts of even a little maid of all work.
Well, I think there's much to mull over, here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it all.