Friday, September 9, 2011

It Takes an Army to Manage a House Party

I seem to be bumping into servants a lot lately, at least in my entertainment choices. I finally had a chance to see a bit of Downton Abbey, which a number of friends had raved about (do not get me started on why we don’t have BBC America in my neck of the woods!). This series follows the lives of the servants assigned to a great house in the early part of the twentieth century. I also just finished reading Deeanne Gist’s Maid to Match, which stars a young lady hoping to be lady’s maid to one of the Vanderbilts in the late nineteenth century. One thing that really struck me from both of these well-researched stories is that I frequently underestimate how many servants were required for a house of any size. So, of course I went looking for more information. One estimate is that a wealthy family needed at least four servants per person. In other words, it took an army!

What would that look like if Marissa and I were living in a London townhouse together? (Never mind that we have families—we’ll pretend they are busy elsewhere for a week.) Going by the estimate above, two lovely ladies would need at least eight servants:

  1. I’d need a lady’s maid to help dress and undress, but I’d be willing to share her with Marissa. :-)

  2. We’d need a groom to tend our horses and escort us while riding. I’m tempted to include a coachman, but I don’t wish the neighbors to think us too high in the instep and I must admit to a fondness for handling the reins myself when we’re tooling about Hyde Park. Plus we can hire a carriage and driver when we need to go out to balls and such.

  3. We have a townhouse, so no need for a groundskeeper, but we better have a man-of-all-work to keep up the back garden and maintain the house.

  4. We’ll need a cook, of course,

  5. And probably a scullery maid to help her.

  6. We should probably have a footman to fetch and carry and look suitably impressive when we go out shopping,

  7. And a maid to help clean up behind us.

  8. Then of course we’d need a butler or housekeeper to keep things running smoothly.

I’m a bit amazed how easy it was to hit eight. And truthfully, one housemaid probably isn’t enough when you consider the dusting and cleaning that all had to be done by hand in homes where coal or wood was burned. And I haven’t added a laundress to clean our clothes or a personal secretary to help us with our writing (though in some cases the latter was considered an employee instead of a servant). And just think what would need to be added if we had a house in the country: definitely a coachman and gardeners, more grooms, more footmen, more maids (upstairs maids, downstairs maids, scullery maids), and a land steward, at a minimum!

And, my dears, Marissa and I will have need of all those servants, because next week, we’re hosting a house party, right here, to celebrate our blog birthday! So have your maids pack your things, hire a post-chaise if needed, and come join us. Your invitation is below. We hope to see you next Tuesday for a week of fun!


Lo said...

I LOVE Downton Abbey!! This summer I also watched the remake of Upstairs Downstairs, which was also amazing.

Looking forward to the party next week! :-)

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, Lo! Will have to look for Upstairs Downstairs. I remember the old one-LOL.

QNPoohBear said...

Downton Abbey is quite addicting. (It aired on PBS in the Boston market) If you look closely, you will discover there are even MORE servants working in the background than the ones they focus on in the plot. I watched one episode of Upstairs Downstairs but couldn't get into it. My parents sure could use a few of those servants to clean the house and yard.

Regina Scott said...

Hey, QNPoohBear, I could use a few of those servants working in my yard too right about now. :-)