Saturday, June 27, 2020

Below Stairs’ Etiquette

Many don’t realize that the pecking order and social hierarchy in the servants’ hall was just as rigid as that of that of the Lords and Ladies of the manor. There was a natural expectation that one’s manners would be commensurate with one’s position in service.

The Case of Muggins, Who Wished She Were Dead

The terrors of etiquette below stairs! There once strayed into employ a housemaid whose career hitherto had been confined to lodging houses. Upstairs she always looked frightened, and her face had a great attraction for “smuts,” but she was very willing and very competent. “It is not for me to ask madam to send Muggins away, but the rest of us will go if Muggins stays. I don't know where she has lived out before, but she drinks out of her saucer and does not even know that we expect her to be down in our sitting room at half past 4:00, dressed in her black and ready to pour out the servants tea.” 

Of course I gave Muggins notice, recognizing that the lodging house was her proper sphere, and in the month that followed, I knew she suffered martyrdom. She used to wipe her eyes stealthily, and as she was not proud, I showed her some sympathy. “They ain't nice to me downstairs like you are, ma’am,” she sobbed, “though I'm doing my best. Cook says she won’t wipe up the dishes for the likes of me.” “Never mind, Muggins. You’ll be going soon, and, after all, you have learned a good deal here.” I consoled her. “I wish,” said Muggins. “I was dead.” —Mrs. John Lane, Harper’s Bazar, 1905

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

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