Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remember When . . . The Servants Were Invisible?

I'm back to work on my Victorian-turned-Edwardian historical romance--I thought I'd be working on my second Culper Book this week instead, but alas. When an editor asks to see more, I must be flexible. ;-)

In order to achieve the right balance in this one, I have to have a solid understanding of servants of the day (one of my POV characters is a head maid, soon to be promoted to lady's maid). So much of my day yesterday was spent in research. Naturally, I thought you'd enjoy a look at some of it. ;-)

First, I'd like to recommend you to the Jane Austen World blog, if you don't frequent it already. She has some truly beautiful and insightful posts put together, using Downton Abbey as her example.

But I'm going to post here some Servant Rules, provided by PBS's Manor House site.

  • Never let your voice be heard by the ladies and gentlemen of the house, except when necessary, and then as little as possible.

  • Always "give room" if you meet one of your employers or betters on the stairs.

  • Always stand still and keep your hands quiet when speaking to a lady or being spoken to and look at the person speaking to you.

  • Never begin to talk to ladies and gentlemen unless it be to deliver a message or ask a necessary question.

  • Servants should never offer any opinion to their employers, nor even to say good night or good morning except in reply to salutation.

  • Never talk to another servant, or a person of your own rank, or to a child in the presence of your mistress, unless for necessity then do it as shortly as possible, and in a low voice.

  • Never call from one room to another.

  • Always answer when you have received an order or reproof.

  • Outer doors are to be kept constantly fastened, and their bells to be answered by the Butler only, except when he is otherwise indispensably engaged, when the assistant by his authority will take his place.

  • Every servant is expected to be punctually in his/her place at meal times.

  • No servant is to take any knives or forks or other article, nor on any account to remove any provisions, nor ale or beer out of the Hall.

  • No Gambling of any description, or Oaths, or abusive language are on any account to be allowed.

  • The female staff are forbidden from smoking.

  • No servant is to receive any Visitor, Friend or Relative into the house; or to introduce any person into the Servants' hall without the consent of the Butler or Housekeeper.

  • Followers are strictly forbidden, and any maid found fraternising with a member of the opposite sex will be dismissed without a hearing.

  • No tradesmen, nor any other persons having business in the house are to be admitted except between the hours of 9am and 3pm and in all cases the Butler or Chef must be satisfied that the persons he admits have business there.

  • The Hall door is to be finally closed at half-past ten o'clock every night, after which time no person will be admitted into the houses except those on special leave.

  • The servants' hall is to be cleared and closed, except when visitors with their Servants are staying in the house, at half-past ten o'clock.

  • No credit upon any consideration to be given to any person residing in the house or otherwise for Stamps, Postal Orders etc.

  • Any breakages or damage to the house will be deducted from wages.

Now, let it be noted that there are plenty of responsibilities for the "betters" in master/servant relations too! Maybe we'll take a more detailed look later on, but the one that struck me most was they were strictly instructed in ignoring the servants if they came upon them (in one of those instances when the servants "gave way"), lest they embarrass them by calling attention to them when they were trying to be invisible.

So now that I have my guide, time to get writing!


  1. This is a handy list of rules! And very interesting. Thanks for sharing, Roseanna.

  2. Roseanna,
    What a great list!!! Have this printed out already for my own researching purposes.

    Have you ever heard of the book Below Stairs by Margaret Powell? Although she was a servant in the 1920’s, many of the practices and way of life for the servants, stayed pretty much the same. It was SUCH an excellent read for my own below stairs research. It was also very funny and very fun to read. I read it once and then we read it as a read aloud, because we’re all Downton fans at our house. :) Highly recommend it!

    Also, the reality TV show Manor House is a great resource and right around the era your book is set in. It gives a really accurate picture of the way things operated in an Edwardian house, both upstairs and down. Although around 5 or 6 hours long, it’s well worth the watch. You could probably get it from the library. Also the companion book has a lot of good info. It was one of my favorite research books while writing my Downton esque novel.

    The TV shows Upstairs Downstairs and Berkeley Square are also great. We just finished Berkeley Square and although it’s about nannies, it gives a good all-around picture of below stairs life.

    Sorry to be so long winded and you may have already heard of all of this. Just wanted to share in case you hadn’t.

  3. Wow! I knew that it was not an easy job, but I did not know that it was that tough! So many rules.

    I hope you have a great day writing!

  4. Sooo glad that's not me. Enjoy your writing time, Roseanna!

  5. Great post, Roseanna. Thanks for sharing your research!