In the early nineteenth century, it was common for young children to go into domestic service at a very early age, usually around ten years of age but sometimes as young as eight. The daughters of working class men and women had to earn their living and domestic service was considered an ideal occupation for young girls and single women, generally they would start off as Victorian household servants in a very low position.
The life was gruelling and exhausting. Working hours could be up to 17 long each day, from 5.30 a.m. in the morning until 10.30 p.m. The work was endless and physically demanding.
Servants were seen as dispensable creatures, barely human, solely in existence for the comfort of the family and so health and safety issues for the servant were not considered the employer’s responsibility.
The issue of servants’ injuries was finally included in the Workman’s Compensation Act of 1907. Maids and cooks had to endure lack of fresh air, monotonous, long hours of work and accidents in the course of their work such as burns, falls and cuts.
Servants slept in the kitchen or in cupboards under the stairs or in attics. They were often forbidden to sing or laugh and had to remain as noiseless and invisible as possible, cleaning up behind the family like ghosts.
If they came into contact with a member of the household, they were to keep quiet, avert their eyes and walk out of the room backwards. If anything was broken or damaged, the servant was made to pay and the sum would be deducted from their wages.
Victorian Scullery Maid
This was the lowest occupation of all, usually taken up by very young girls. The scullery maid’s day was filled with duties such as emptying and cleaning chamber pots, polishing brass work and silver, scrubbing the front stairs, washing dishes and scouring pots.
The Victorian scullery maid cleaned the kitchen floor as well as stoves, lit bedroom fires first thing in the morning, and carried heavy cans of warm water up the stairs for bathing, each load would weigh around 15kg. She would usually stumble into her bed in the attic, exhausted, at around 10.00 p.m. She would have her food and clothes provided for and earn a wage of between 10 to13 pounds per annum.
Victorian House Maid
The Victorian house maid came under the supervision of the Housekeeper and depending on the number of servants kept by the family, could fulfill a number of different positions such as chamber maid, parlour maid, in-between maid (commonly known at the time as a tweeny), kitchen maid or laundry maid.
The work performed by these servants was back-breakingly strenuous and included duties such as changing linen, making up beds, dusting and cleaning bedrooms, cleaning out fireplaces, polishing grates, hauling coal up to the bedrooms and lighting fresh fires.
Other duties would include scrubbing floors on hands and knees, brushing carpets, beating rugs and cleaning and filling lamps each day. Laundry maids would typically soak loads of laundry, wash, rinse, wring out the washing and then iron the household’s laundry when dry. The Victorian house maid could expect a wage of between 15 to 20 pounds per annum, the tweeny earning the least.