Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Upstairs-Downstairs; Etiquette and Lives of Household Servants

"We are all dependent, in one way or another, upon others. At one time we serve, at another we are served, and we are equally worthy of honor and respect in the one case as in the other. The man or the woman who serves us may or may not be our inferior in natural capacity, learning, manners, or wealth. Be this as it may, the relation in which we stand to him or her gives us no right beyond the exaction of the service stipulated or implied in that relation. The right to tyrannize over our inferiors in social position, to unnecessarily humiliate them, or to be rude and unkind can not exist, because it would be an infringement of other rights. Servants have rights as well as those whom they serve, and the latter have duties as well as the former. We owe those who labor for us something more than their wages."  From "How to Behave" 1887
Servants: A life below stairs

From Upstairs, Downstairs to Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, TV dramas and films have made us care about the characters below stairs. Domestic service was Britain's biggest employer a century ago, but how have things changed over the years?


"It is a form of marriage to a point as you are devoted to that family," says 78-year-old Rick Fink.


The servants clear from the dinner.
If there are guests, those servants will be expected to stay upstairs to wait on the family during the rest of the evening as well.
Fink has more than 55 years of experience managing estates and working as a butler. He started off in the Royal Navy in 1953, and one of the first guests he served as a young steward was Prince Phillip.

"I was petrified, but this was the Queen's husband. He just came aboard and he was tanned with blonde hair and looked fabulous and I had to ask him what he wanted to drink."

Now Fink runs the Butler-Valet School, training butlers for service in stately homes and private residencies. Some aspects of the role are timeless and governed by an unspoken etiquette and code of conduct.
"The true gentleman is never arrogant, or overbearing, or rude to domestics or employees. His commands are requests, and all services, no matter how humble the servant, are received with thanks, as if they were favors. We might say the same with still greater emphasis of the true lady. There is no surer sign of vulgarity than a needless assumption of the tone of authority and a haughty and supercilious bearing toward servants and inferiors in station generally. It is a small thing to say, "I thank you," but those little words are often better than gold. No one is too poor to bestow, or too rich to receive them." From "How to Behave" 1887
"[A butler] needs to be reliable, discreet, trustworthy, and your life revolves around your employer," says Fink.

"I would never sit in the drawing room or have dinner at their dining room table. I keep myself the other side of the baize door."
Lady Sybil learns to cook from the help: A great deal of nostalgia surrounds the traditional notion of domestic service, with the scandals above and below stairs in Downton Abbey proving a ratings success. But life for a domestic worker has evolved.
There is a great deal of nostalgia surrounding the traditional notion of domestic service, with the scandals above and below stairs in ITV's Downton Abbey proving a ratings success. But life for a domestic worker has evolved.

With the help of labour-saving devices, a household can now be run by fewer people. Employers can contact staff on a mobile phone rather than have to ring a bell or track them down in the grounds of the estate.

The inventory is itemised on a computer so there is no need to count the silverware and the dishwasher takes on the burden of washing up. Although not the Waterford Crystal.

According to the Office for National Statistics from the 2012 Labour Force Survey, about 65,000 people are employed as domestic workers by households in the UK.

This includes domestic personnel "such as maids, cooks, waiters, valets, butlers, laundresses, gardeners, gatekeepers, stable-lads, chauffeurs, caretakers, governesses, babysitters, tutors, secretaries", to name just a few.

It excludes the provision of services such as cooking, gardening etc by independent service providers (companies or individuals).


Dinner in the servant's hall: Servant status was reinforced at mealtimes. "There would be a strict order of coming in to eat and strict rules about where different ranks of servants sit, and you might also have rules such as no speaking unless you were addressed by one of the senior servants," says Dr. Lucy Delap.In 1901 the vast majority of the 1.5 million people employed as domestic servants in Britain lived with their employer to attend to their every whim, whatever the time of day.
The figure includes those who may work for more than one household and may live in or away from their employer. Fink is surprised at just how many job adverts he sees these days for "live-out" domestic workers.

The situation was very different in 1901 when the vast majority of the 1.5 million people employed as domestic servants in Britain would have lived with their employer to attend to their every whim, whatever the time of day.


Attending to their every whim, whatever the time of day... The ladies maid - the mistress of the house's personal attendant, helping her to dress and do her hair.  
Many aristocrats could afford a large team of live-in servants at their country estate, and there was a distinct social hierarchy in the servants' quarters.

According to Dr Lucy Delap, director of studies in history at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, servant status was reinforced at mealtimes.

"There would be a strict order of coming in to eat and strict rules about where different ranks of servants sit, and you might also have rules such as no speaking unless you were addressed by one of the senior servants," says Delap.

"The senior servants had a great deal of power, so the butler for example in some households would put down his knife and fork, and everyone else had to fit in whether you had finished or not. So servants had to learn to be fast eaters."
The pecking order and "who's who" of domestic service ~ Poor manners and classism recommended in "The Laws of Etiquette," from 1836. No wonder the author wanted to remain anonymous, and simply calls himself "A Gentleman." 
"
When women appear at the door of the coach to obtain admittance, it is a matter of some question to know exactly  what conduct it is necessary to pursue. If the women are servants, or persons in a low rank of life, I do not see upon  what ground of politeness or decency you are called upon to yield your seat. Etiquette, and the deference due to ladies  have, of course, no operation in the case of such persons.  Chivalry -- (and the gentleman is the legitimate descendant of the knight of old) -- was ever a devotion to rank rather than to sex. Don Quixote, or Sir Piercy Shafestone would not  willingly have given place to servant girls. And upon considerations of humanity and regard to weakness, the case  is no stronger. Such people have nerves considerably more robust than you have, and are quite as capable of riding backwards, or the top, as yourself." 
The butler - in charge of the house, coachmen and footmen. He looked after the family and the wine cellar

The housekeeper - responsible for the housemaids and carried the keys to the china and linen cupboards

The ladies maid - the mistress of the house's personal attendant, helping her to dress and do her hair

The valet - the master's manservant, attending to his requests and preparing his clothes and shaving tools

The cook - ran the kitchen and larder, overseeing the kitchen, dairy and scullery maids

The governess- educated and cared for the children with the head and under nurse

The hallboy - worked 16-hour days, lighting all the lamps and candles and polishing the staff boots before they woke up

The tweeny - in-between stairs maid earned £13 a year, worked seven days a week from 5am-10pm and looked after slop duty.



Main article by Lucy Wallis for BBC News, published 21 September 2012

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia