In Victorian England, one of the first symbols of status to acquire as soon as one was able, was a servant. The more servants, obviously, the higher the social standing. The idea they were trying to convey was that they were so unused to doing for themselves, it was just all beyond them! Besides, there were very few household conveniences to make the work easier, so if they didn't do the work, who would? In a large, wealthy household, there could be an enormous number of servants. The duke of Westminster had fifty indoor servants at his Eaton Hall. For families with a town house and a country house, there might be a full set of servants for each house.
The status of each servant was a serious matter. Years may have been spent working their way up from a footman or housemaid until the station of housekeeper or butler was reached. The under staff accorded them the utmost respect, and was expected to wait on them as well as the household's family.
The upper servants were comprised of the butler, housekeeper, valet and the lady's maid. There were also a group of outdoor servants, of which the coachman and head gardener were also accorded upper staff status.
Often the upper staff ate in the housekeeper's room, being waited on by the lower servants. If not, they dined with the rest of the servants in the servant's hall where the butler and housekeeper sat at the head of the table followed by the lower servants according to their rank.
The word butler is from the french word bouteille. He was in charge of the wine cellar, announced visitors, and took care of the china and silver plate stored in the butler's pantry. He slept nearby as the silver was often stored in a safe (to which he had the key) in the pantry. The male staff reported to him, usually at least one or more footmen, and a boy or page. He had the power to hire and fire the male members of the staff. He often had to evaluate callers social stations, deciding if the lady of the house was "at home" to callers, and escorting them to the drawing room, while making sure callers of lesser status and tradesmen waited in the hall. He was always addressed as "Mr."
The housekeeper was in charge of all the lower female servants. She was always addressed as "Mrs." even though she may not be married. She had keys to all doors. She also had her own office for the overseeing of the household accounts. Her jobs were to oversee the work of all the maids, order the food, tea, and coffee, was in charge of the linen, made sure the fires were lit, fresh water was in the bedrooms, and made the preserves.
At the first of the century, there was not much difference in the way masters and servants dressed. Around the middle of the century, that changed. The proper dress or "livery" became the costume of the upper classes of the previous generation; the formal knee breeches and stockings for coachmen and other house servents. The outdoor servants' waistcoats had vertical stipes. The indoor staff's waistcoats had horizontal stripes. Grooms and coachmen wore the family crest, if any, on their buttons.
By the end of the century, maids wore print dresses in the morning, changing in the afternoon to a black dress with a white apron. They wore a cap with streamers.
Please continue on to the next page for information on the lower servants.
Graphics are the copywrited property of The Complete Victorian and may not be used by anyone.