Friday, September 26, 2014

The Scullery Maid of Victorian England

“In great houses, scullery maids were the lowest-ranked and often the youngest of the female servants and acted as assistant to a kitchen maid” (Wikipedia). 
(Oil painting of a scullery maid by Jean-Siméon Chardin)

The Scullery Maid of Victorian England. 

In Mrs. Beeton’s 1861 Victorian house manual, The Book of Household Management, the scullery maid is the lowest ranking servant and the only servant in which Mrs. Beeton had some empathy towards, “…perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration: her life is a solitary one, and in some places, her work is never done.  She is also subject to rougher treatment” (Beeton).   This ‘rougher treatment’ of young scullery maids was not unheard of, or, all together that uncommon,
“One sixteen year old reported…’I am an orphan.  When I was ten I was sent to service as maid-of-all-work, in a small tradesman’s family.  It was a hard place, and my mistress used me very cruelly, beating me often.  I stood my mistress’s ill-treatment for about six months.  She beat me with sticks as well as with her hands.  I was black and blue, and at last ran away’” (Flanders, 139).  

Mrs Beeton describes the position of scullery made accurately, writing, “The position of scullery-maid is not, of course, one of high rank, nor is the payment for her services large. But if she be fortunate enough to have over her a good kitchen-maid and clever cook, she may very soon learn to perform various little duties connected with cooking operations, which may be of considerable service in fitting her for a more responsible place. Now, it will be doubtless thought by the majority of our readers, that the fascinations connected with the position of the scullery-maid, are not so great as to induce many people to leave a comfortable home in order to work in a scullery” (Beeton). 

(Young Scullery Maids with Upper Servant)

Scullery Maids were often young ladies, some as young as 9 or 10, and whose families were often the poorest of the poor.  The opportunity afforded a scullery maid was that of a roof over her head, food in a consistent manner and the possibility of learning new trade skills to improve her station in life.  It was above the horrors of the Victorian Work House or being destitute.  

Still, the life a scullery maid was extremely hard and taxing. The hours of the Scullary Maid were long ones, and the days off were far and few between.  Servants often did not have every Sunday off but perhaps every other Sunday… if they were lucky.  The entire household staff might not even have a reduced workload on Sundays, “If the family expected an elaborate Sunday dinner, then Sundays were like any other day for the servant.  When a half day was given, the servant was expected to get through the regular twelve hours’ work by five o’clock before being allowed out” (Flanders).  

The Scullery Maids had a vast amount of duties to perform.  She literally worked before sunup until well after sundown.  According to PBS Historians and featured in the program ‘Manor House,’ the Scullery Maids daily chores were as follows:
 “Morning Duties: You must rise at six o'clock and wash and dress, with your hair tied neatly back beneath your cap. Your bed must be made and you must be downstairs at work within half an hour of waking. You first task of the day is to stoke the Kitchen range to a good heat, to boil water for early morning tea. You must then empty the chamber pots of all the female Servants, and wash them around with a vinegar soaked rag kept only for this purpose. You should also assist the Lower Servants in preparing the early morning tea for the Upper Servants. You must then set about cleaning the Kitchen passages, the Pantries, the Kitchen and Scullery. When the Chef de Cuisine arrives in the Kitchen at half-past seven you will be expected to curtsey and bid him "Good Morning". At a quarter-to eight you should lay the table in the Servants' Hall for Breakfast. Breakfast is served in the Servants' Hall at a quarter past eight. You should clear the table afterwards and wash the dishes. At a quarter-past nine you must appear in a presentable state, attired in a clean apron, for Morning prayers in the Main Hall. This is the only time that it is acceptable for you to be seen above stairs, and it is compulsory for all members of Staff to attend. Your duties resume in the Kitchen at ten o'clock, when you must wash up all the dishes from the Servants' Breakfast, as well as the pans and kitchen utensils used in preparing both the Servants' and Family's Breakfasts. At half-past ten you should lay the table in the Servants' Hall for tea. At eleven o'clock tea is served in the Servants' Hall. You should clear the table afterwards and wash up. You should then assist the Kitchen Maid and Chef with preparations for the Servants' Dinner and Family's Luncheon, should they require you to. You must ensure the Kitchen is kept spotless at all times and continuously wash up after both the Chef de Cuisine and the Kitchen Maid as they make their preparations. At Midday you are to take your Dinner in the Kitchen with the Kitchen Maid so that you may watch over the Family's Luncheon, whilst the Chef takes his Dinner in the Servants' Hall with the other Servants. The Second Footman will lay the table, serve, and clear away the dirty dishes.
Afternoon Duties:  Your duties resume at one o'clock when you must begin washing up after the Servants' Dinner, and the Family's Luncheon. Providing your work is done, you may have one hour at your leisure between half-past two and half-past three. At half-past three you should lay the table in the Servants' Hall for Tea. Tea is served in the Servants' Hall at four o'clock, you should clear the table afterwards. At half-past four, you should resume your duties in the Kitchen, washing up after the Servants' Tea and the utensils used in preparation for the Family's Tea. You must assist the Kitchen Maid with any food preparation for the Family's dinner and Servants' Supper and continuously wash up any pots and pans used.  After the Family's Dinner has been served you must clean the Kitchen Passages, Pantries, Scullery and Kitchen. Supper is served in the Servants' Hall at half-past nine. The Second Footman is to lay the table, serve, and clear away afterwards. Providing you work is done, from half past nine until you are required to go to bed, you may enjoy your leisure” (PBS).  

On top of daily chores, the Scullery Maid was also expected to help in assigned duties for the purposes of specialized cleaning.  An example could be, "Monday: laundry; Tuesday: servants' room, one bedroom; Wednesday: remaining bedrooms; Thursday: drawing room, breakfast room, morning room; Friday: dining room and polishing the silver; Saturday: hall, stairs, kitchen, passageways; [and] Sunday: collect, sort, and soak laundry, to ready for it Monday" (Flanders, 144).  

(Hannah Cullwick, photographed by her future husband Arthur Munby)

A description of a 'maid-of-all-work' named Hannah Cullwick was described to a man named Arthur Munby (who would go on to later marry Hannah).  He had a sordid fascination with working-class woman and he described a scene in which he vividly casts a poignant light upon the working conditions of a Scullery Maid.  He noted about what he saw when he visited Hannah at a house located in Kilburn in North-West, London, England, "She stood at a sink behind a wooden dresser backed with choppers and stained with blood and grease, upon which were piles of coppers and saucepans that she had to scour, piles of dirty dishes that she had to wash.  Her frock, her cap, her face and arms were more or less wet, soiled, perspiring and her apron was a filthy piece of sacking, wet and tied round her with a cord.  The den where she wrought was low, damp, ill-smelling; windowless, lighted by a flaring gas-jet; and , full in view, she had on one side a larder hung with raw meat, on the other a common urinal; besides the many ugly, dirty implements around her" (Flanders, 103-104, Davidhoff, 79).  

The life of a Scullery Maid was a far cry from the cleaned up versions portrayed in such shows as Downton Abbey and Upstairs/Downstairs. Yet, we have a sort of fascination with Domestic Service. They were a hardworking lot who often came from less than desirous circumstances and they tried to eek out an existence while working for those whose stations in life could afford the service of others. The class system was fully apparent in Victorian, London, England but perhaps never more so than in the houses of the wealthy with a full staff of domestics.  

All in all, it makes me appreciate my lot in life, and that I am in the time of automated dishwashers, dryers and Dyson vacuum cleaners!


Flanders, Judith. Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Ruth Hawthorn. A Day in the Life of a Victorian Domestic Servant. London: Allen and Unwin, 1976. Print.

Beeton, Isabella. Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. 1861. Print.

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