Many of our posts take a look at the upper echelons of Georgian society, so this time we thought it might be interesting to look at what it would have been like to have worked ‘below stairs’ as a housemaid in a Georgian household: it’s not quite Downton Abbey though!
Although these duties weren’t written until towards the end of the Georgian era, the workload would more than likely have been the same for the previous hundred years or more. Having taken a look, our conclusion is that it’s certainly not a job for us, what do you think? To learn about the duties of a laundrymaid click on the link.
A housemaid should be active, clean, and neat in her person. Be an early riser, of a respectful and steady deportment, and possessed of a temper that will not be easily ruffled. She must be able to see without much appearance of discomposure her labours often increased by the carelessness and thoughtlessness of others.
Many a dirty foot will obtrude itself upon her clean floors; and the well-polished furniture will demand her strength and patience, when spotted or soiled by some reckless hand.
The sitting rooms in daily use are first to be prepared. Upon entering the room in the morning, the housemaid should immediately open the windows to admit the fresh air. She should then remove the fender and rug from the fire-place, and cover, with a coarse cloth, the marble hearth, while the ashes and cinders are collected together and removed. The grate and fire-irons are afterwards to be carefully cleaned. If the grate has bright bars, it should be rubbed with fine emery paper, which will remove the burnt appearance of the bars. Fine polished fire-irons, if not suffered to rust, will only require to be well rubbed with a leather.
The carpet should be swept with the carpet broom not oftener than once a week, as more frequent use of the broom would wear the carpet too fast but, each day, it should be swept with a good hair broom, after it has been sprinkled with moist tea leaves. Sofas, and any other nice furniture should be covered over with a large calico cloth, kept for that purpose before the sweeping commences; and window curtains should be hung up as high as they can be out of the way of the dust. After the carpet is swept, the dust must be removed, either with a soft round brush, or with a very clean linen duster, from the panels of the doors, the windows and window- frames, ledges, and skirting boards. The frames of pictures and looking-glasses should never be touched with linen, but the dust should be cleared from them with a painter’s brush, or a bunch of feathers.
Where footmen are kept, the charge of rubbing mahogany furniture devolves on them, otherwise it becomes the care of the housemaid. The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day and on the mahogany tables, a little cold drawn linseed oil should be rubbed in once or twice a week, which will, in time, give them a durable varnish, such as will prevent their being spotted or injured by being accidentally wetted. Bees-wax should not be used, as it gives a disagreeable stickiness to everything, and ultimately becomes opaque. When there are any spots or stains upon a table, they must be washed off with warm water before the oil is put on.
The chimney-ornaments, glass-lustres, or china, should be very carefully removed while the mantel-piece is either washed or dusted; and as the housemaid replaces them, she should, with a clean duster, wipe them free from the dust. The window-curtains are then to be dusted with a feather broom, and properly replaced on the hook.
About once a week the sills of the windows should be washed with soap and water, and the windows cleaned from the dust everywhere within reach.
The stairs and stair-carpets should next be swept down if time will allow of this duty before breakfast, as it is not a pleasant thing to be done when the family are moving about. And whenever good opportunities occur, such as the chief part of the family being absent from home for a few hours, the housemaid should avail herself of these to take the stair carpets up, and have them well beaten and shaken, while she scours the stairs down, and rubs the brass wires bright. The wainscot-board should also be washed, and the bannisters and hand-rail well rubbed.
As soon as the different members of the family are assembled at breakfast, the housemaid should repair to the bed-chambers, open the windows (unless the weather be damp), draw the curtains up to the head of the bed, and throw the bed-clothes upon two chairs placed at the foot of each bed, and leave the feather-beds open to the air.
When this has been done in all the rooms in use, she should then bring her chamber-bucket, with a jug of hot water, and with the proper towels, empty and clean out all the chamber-vessels in each room, and then instantly carry off, empty, and wash out the bucket, and turn it down in some appropriate place, that the water may completely run off from it. When quite dry, she will, of course, carry it to the closet appointed for her use, in which she keeps her brooms, brushes, and the rest of her cleaning apparatus. She should next carry water-jugs, one with soft water and another with pump-water, into every bedroom, and fill the water-ewers and decanters. The towels should be put before an open window to dry, or be changed, and the washing table put into complete order. The beds, which during this time have been left exposed to the air, have now to be made, and in this another of the female servants should be appointed to help her, as the feather ones cannot be well shaken, or the mattresses turned, by one person. It is very necessary that feather-beds should be well shaken, or the feathers will knot together, and render the bed hard and uncomfortable. Once or twice a week the paillasses should be turned, and every day the flock-mattresses and the beds. The sacking-cloth and bedstead should be dusted occasionally.
It is necessary to remind those who are called from other household work to assist in making the beds, that they should previously wash their hands, as nothing looks more untidy or disgusting than the marks of dirty fingers upon the bed hangings, sheets, or counterpanes. With cleanly servant, this can seldom occur. The beds being made, the curtains are to be shaken and laid upon the bolster, and a large calico coverlet should be thrown over the whole, and coarse towels over the washing and dressing-tables. If the bed carpets are small and loose, they should be taken up before the beds are made; but if they are fastened down, which is very customary now, damp tea-leaves should be strewed over them previous to their being swept with a stout hairbrush. After the room is swept, a damp mop or flannel, passed under the beds, the chests of drawers and wardrobes collects the flue and dust, and this should be done every day, as the best mode of keeping bed-rooms free from troublesome insects of every kind. A clean mop should belong to the housemaid for this purpose. Nothing betrays an untidy housemaid more than the flue being suffered to accumulate beneath the beds. After the room is swept, the ledges, panels of doors, and window-frames are all to be dusted, and the furniture rubbed and dusted.
Twice during the week bedroom carpets should be taken up and shaken, and the floors under them swept free from dust, and occasionally scoured. In the country, scouring is not so frequently done as in town, but the floors are oftener dry-rubbed.
In winter, a bedroom should never be scoured, unless the weather be mild and dry, for nothing is so likely to injure health as damp in a bedroom. As soon as a housemaid thinks she has finished a room, she ought to look around her and examine if she has omitted anything, which will show care and attention, and prevent her mistress from being obliged to call her up, to admonish her of any neglect.
During the winter, when there are fires in the bedrooms, the housemaid should, before sweeping the room, collect and carry away the ashes, clean the grate and fire-irons, and lay, with small pieces of wood, a neat fire, ready to be lighted either before dinner or at night, according to orders.
While the family are at dinner, the housemaid should again repair to the dressing and bedrooms, to put in order those things which have been used and disarranged at the dressing hour. Between the time of her own dinner and tea, she ought to be employed in sewing, perhaps in repairing the household linen, or in any work appointed for her.
Early in the evening, the beds should be turned down, the windows shut, the curtains drawn, the fires, if required, lighted, and the rooms are prepared for the night.