The Servant as Employee

Most Victorian and Edwardian households were run by servants. Over one million people worked in domestic service at the end of the 19th century. One in three of these were young women or girls under twenty years of age. A wealthy household might have employed several servants' but even ordinary people such as shopkeepers' teachers and skilled workers might have had a servant too. At the peak in 1871, 13% of the female population of England and Wales was in domestic service or related work such as cleaning and washing. In 1891, London employed between 15-20% of the country's domestic staff, more than half of whom were in one or two servant households. In the 1890s, female servants were nearly 7% of the whole population of London.

Servants often worked eighteen hours a day with only half a day off once a week, for very low wages.

London servants were generally not born in London; they were usually from the countryside, and rarely, from abroad. They could be very young, even just 12 or 13. Some began work after attending a domestic servant training school. They were taught skills such as housework, laundry, cooking, dressmaking and mending. The London schools took children from between 13 and 15. The training typically lasted two years. They also received a general education. However, attendance at these schools was unusual; most got their training at home and then in the workplace.

A typical wage was £16 a year.

As the end of the century approached, the cost of servants had increased, and the number of people willing to work had declined; increasingly it was seen as a job rather than a vocation and therefore they would resign as they chose. The average age of staff also increased as the 1870 Education Act removed the opportunities for the youngest girls and gave them skills which gave them more opportunities.

In the case of male servants, even at their peak their numbers were much lower. The decline also started earlier.

Whereas domestic staff in the larger houses lived in the attic and worked in the basement, Florence has a small room next to the bathroom. Servants' rooms had grey distempered walls, bare floorboards, an iron bedstead, flock mattress, and oddments of old and battered furniture such as a wash-stand. Often a maid had to share a room.

Florence can bath once each week, but not in the proper bathroom - she bathes in the kitchen.