A Victorian Maid at Dalby House
Throughout its history as a private family residence, Dalby House would have been looked after by a team of servants. Dalby House was quite a small house compared to some of the stately homes in the country but would still have employed domestic servants such as housemaids, a cook, stable boys, grooms, gardeners etc.
Until the twentieth century, domestic service was one of the most common occupations for working women. Girls often became maids as young as ten years old. Usually, they would start as a Scullery Maid, doing the worst jobs in the house such as emptying and scrubbing chamber pots, cleaning outfires and washing dishes.
Although we know that the wealthy families who lived in Dalby House would have employed female servants, most of these women’s names are not known to us and they do not feature in photographs or records of the house at this time.
Therefore, what follows, is information about life as a Victorian house maid in general, so that we might better understand what it was like to be a maid in a place like Dalby House:
A house maid would be supervised by the Housekeeper who was the most senior female servant in a house. The exact duties carried out by a house maid would depend on how many other maids there were. There could be specific chamber maids, parlour maids, kitchen and laundry maids or ‘in between’ maids, who were referred to as ‘tweenies’.
It is likely that, at Dalby House, there were not that many house maids. This means they would have taken on quite a wide
range of duties. These could be very hard work. House maid duties would include:
Cleaning out fireplaces and polishing grates
Being up before the family and other servants to light fires
Changing bed linen and making beds
Dusting and cleaning the whole house
Cleaning the inside of windows
Beating rugs and carpets
Cleaning and filling oil lamps
Polishing brass and silver
Helping with the laundry
Fetching and carrying for the family
Taking coal to upstairs fires and keeping the fires burning
Helping the women of the family dress
Serving meals, fetching cups of tea etc.
Helping in the kitchen, if there was not a specific kitchen maid
A house maid’s day started at about 6am, when her first task would be cleaning out the grates and lighting new fires. She would usually go to bed at about 10pm, sometimes later.
Servants slept in the attics. Sometimes Kitchen Maids were given a bed in a kitchen cupboard!
A Victorian house maid would continue in her work until she married. She would hope to progress from being a Scullery Maid, or Tweenie, who were paid the least, to being a house maid, parlour maid, or possibly Cook or Housekeeper, depending on her skills. As soon as she married, she would stop work and care for her new husband and any children who came along. Her husband’s wages were now expected to support the family.
A Victorian house maid would earn somewhere between £15 and £20 per year. Much of this money was sent home to their families, to support elderly parents or younger siblings.
Towards the end of the Victorian era, there were less women going into domestic service because many young women preferred the
more sociable atmosphere and shorter hours of working in a factory. Factory workers were also given Sundays off and usually lived at home, whereas maids had to work on Sundays, with only occasional days such as Mothering Sunday allowed as days off, and had to live in their place of work.
We cannot know the individual story of every maid who lived and worked in Dalby House through the decades in which it was a private residence. However, we can stop to consider how hard their lives would have been. And how surprised they would be to visit Dalby House today!