Domestic Staff Roles

In the largest Victorian and Edwardian houses, there was a large team of servants, including maids in a variety of roles, footmen and valets.

Typically there was one or more of each of the following:

housekeeper

The manager of the other female servants.

kitchen maid

She did basic jobs in the kitchen such as preparing vegetables.

between maid

Commonly known as a 'tweeny', she had a dual role, as both kitchen and house maid.

scullery maid

She performed the washing up of crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils.

parlour maid or house maid

She attended to the housework - cleaning fireplaces, sweeping and dusting.

nurse maid

She was a childminder; she washed and dressed the children, playing with them during the day, and preparing them for bed.

nanny

She would have total authority over the children, even eating with them.

laundry maid

She did the washing of clothes and bedding.

lady's maid

The lady's maid performed all the personal tasks for the lady of the house; washing and dressing her and, in the days before clothes were 'off the peg', making, adjusting and mending them.

butler

The manager of the other male servants, and senior to the housekeeper also. He was the person who waited on the family at mealtimes.

footman

He cleaned the knives, ran errands, and answered the door to callers and tradesmen.

coachman, groom, and stable-boy

This small team looked after the horses and the carriage.

valet

The equivalent of a woman's lady's maid, his tasks also included shaving the man of the house.

At the other extreme, a family would have no domestic help. Between these extremes, the more modest of houses would employ just a 'maid of all work' and perhaps a nanny. As the number of staff increased, the roles would be allocated between the servants who were employed.

The single-handed maid in smaller houses of lower middle class household had the hardest time. They were often 13 or 14 years old, working alone, long hours, and living in the kitchen.

There was no limit on servants hours; even factory workers had a limit of 12 hours per day in 1891. Servants often started at 5 or 6am - lighting the fires, and ending after perhaps 18 hours, after midnight. By the early 1900s, servants got one afternoon and evening off per week - from 3pm until 9 or 10pm. Once a month they were given a whole day off per month and would use this to go home to their family.