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This talk told us about the army of servants needed to run Petworth House and the estate in the time of its ownership by the Leconfields and earlier generations.  Although described as ‘below stairs’, in the case of Petworth the staff were housed in separate quarters on the estate.  It was considered a privilege to be accepted into service, with entry being limited to recommendation by existing staff.  The rules imposed by senior staff were strict, but it was a job for life.

Head of the household was the butler, known as the House Steward prior to 1900.  His was the most important role, equating to managing director in modern parlance.  He hired and fired and had his own house in the grounds.  The butler was not required to wear a uniform other than in exceptional circumstances.  He was responsible for everything and took personal charge of the wine and beer cellars; he served at table and opened the door to visitors.  In the house he had his own office and servant.

Under butlers were directly responsible to the butler.  They were either in training or carrying out subsidiary roles.  They wore half livery costing £34.

The Head of the Kitchen was the chef, usually French or German, temperamental and susceptible to offers of new gadgets elsewhere.  As a result, he was well-paid at £120 per annum.  He had a pastry chef, who cooked in a wall oven, and sometimes a roasting chef who was in charge of the spit.

Kitchen maids were among the lowest paid.  In addition, one prepared meals for about 75 staff twice a day.   Below them were also scullery maids who did the dirty work of preparing vegetables, meat and fowls.  Washing-up was very organised with scullery maids doing the dirty pans with soap or a mixture of salt, sand & vinegar.  Kitchen maids washed the servants’ dishes.

The senior female member of staff was the Housekeeper.  She had her own bedroom in the house, upstairs next to the linen cupboard.  She was responsible for all the female staff, linen, fabrics etc., for female staff were required to sew their own uniforms (usually in the quiet period of the afternoons).  They had two different dresses for use in particular parts of the day.

There were up to 17 housemaids, aged 14 upwards.  They made all their own cleaning materials.  In the first three years they were in training and confined to the servants’ quarters.  After that time, they could move on to work in the house, cleaning living rooms & bedrooms, lighting fires etc.  They worked in pairs for security.  Footmen carried the heavy coal buckets.

In the still room, maids prepared breakfast and afternoon tea, and made pickles, jams etc.  They washed the posh china on cork mats and were a little above the other maids in status.

Lower staff ate their meals in the servants’ hall, waited upon by kitchen maids.  Upper servants ate in the upper hall, waited upon by the housekeeper’s maid and the steward’s man Meals were conducted in silence.  Their bedrooms were for three or four each, with male and female servants strictly segregated.  Ladies maids and valets lived in the attics, always open to call by the members of the house they attended.

All servants were brought in from other properties owned by the family in Cumberland, Yorkshire, Brighton and London.  This reduced the opportunity for gossip as they had no contact with the local community.

On the outdoor staff there were approximately 25 servants in each of the kitchen garden, the house stables, the racing stables and forestry.  Unmarried staff lived in dormitories, coach house or the bothy; married staff lived with their families locally.  The wife of the head groom or coachman often earned by cooking and washing for grooms.

When staff married, the wife was required to leave service, the couple often being provided with a house in the grounds rent free.  Most servants stayed for life and remained in the house they had been occupying or if single retired to one of the alms houses.

Servants moved between the house and their quarters by tunnels.  If encountering a member of the opposite sex they were required not to look, not to smile and not to speak.  While working in a room, if a member of the house entered, the servant was required to hide behind furniture until the room was vacated; on a staircase he/she had to face the wall.

Children lived in the nursery.  Each child had his/her own nursemaid with a senior nurse on overall charge.  There were also governesses & tutors, and a chaplain.  Meals were taken to them via the tunnels.

Laundry was done by laundry maids with men wheeling the heavy baskets through the laundry tunnel.  That for the gentry was done separately from the rest.

Overall, the staff were well-looked after from time of entering service to the grave.  In those times it was quite a good existence.

After numerous questions from the audience, Jackie Casey gave the vote of thanks which was followed by great applause.

Text by Tony Ede

Life Below Stairs

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19th Century Pay Scales

House Steward/Butler    £120

Under Butlers                £25 - £40

Footmen                        £24 – £36

Chef                              £120

Housekeeper                 £50

Housemaids                  £12 - £28

Kitchenmaids                £10 - £28

Scullery Maids              £7 - £8

Laundry Maids              £8 - £14

Still Room Maids           £10 - £18

Usher                           £40

Above the under butlers and below the butler was the usher, whose duties and true position Pat was unable to determine from her extensive researches over the years.

Below were the footmen.  The face of the house they were dressed in grand livery costing £32 per set to demonstrate the wealth of the owners.  Curiously, they were paid by height.  Their duties were varied, including serving at table, carrying coals, washing silver, cleaning shoes etc.  Sometimes they acted as valets to young family members.

At the bottom of the heap were men and boys doing menial tasks.