The Servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire: maids, governesses and kitchen staff

A wonderful new resource from the Chatsworth House archives has been released online, looking at the staff and servants who have worked for the family, both at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Devonshire House in London and elsewhere. It sheds light on people who might otherwise have been forgotten; we’ve picked out some for a closer look. In this blog, we’re concentrating on just a few of those who worked as maids, governess and in the kitchen.

Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.
Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Museum

Housemaids, laundrymaids, dairymaids and lady’s maids

Mary Austwick began working at the Cavendishes London residence, Devonshire House as a housemaid in 1795; eight years later she took over the duties of laundrymaid before, in 1811 (the year that the 5th Duke of Devonshire died), returning to her former occupation of housemaid at a yearly wage of £16. She was last recorded as an employee in 1814 but was remembered after her death by the 6th Duke of Devonshire with a clear fondness, despite her obvious quirks. He had known Mary for most of his life (the 6th Duke was born in 1795) and described her as ‘the swarthy, venerable, and cross housemaid, peace be to her soul!’. Perhaps, with his ascension to the dukedom, the 6th duke rescued Mary from the laundry?

A laundry maid leaning out of a sash window
A laundry maid leaning out of a sash window; Wellcome Library

Between 1803 and 1805, Maria Foley was Lady Harriet’s woman and, from 1800 to 1801, Elizabeth Winchester was Lady Georgiana’s dressing maid. Lady Harriet and Lady Georgiana were the daughters of the 5th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth remained with Little G, as Lady Georgiana was known when she married. It was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Olenrainshaw, who was Little G’s maid from 1790 to 1799. She’s probably the Elizabeth Ollenranshaw who married the Nottinghamshire born Pinder Simpson, a solicitor, at St George’s, Hanover Square on the 23rd July 1799. Pinder Simpson and John Simpson had offices at Burlington Street, Piccadilly close to Devonshire House. The couple’s first child was a daughter who they named Georgiana.

A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Robert Morland
A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Robert Morland; Tate

The extended Furniss/Furness family appear to have provided many of Chatsworth’s servants; the surname crops up time and time again over a period of several decades. Two of the earliest were sisters, Barbara and Alice. Barbara was one of Chatsworth’s Dairy Maids from 1793 to 1797 when she left to marry Thomas Pursglove (in London and at St Martin in the Field). She was replaced by her sister, Alice, who worked in the dairy until 1803; a year later Alice married a man named John Thornhill in the same church as her sister had wed.

View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection
View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection

Governess and nursery maids

Selina Trimmer, daughter of Sarah Trimmer, was the governess between 1789 and 1805, based mainly at Devonshire House.

During 1762, the 12-year-old Lady Dorothy Cavendish, eldest daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire was tutored in the nursery by a lady named Anne Gibbon. Lady Dorothy would go on to marry William Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; it is her descendants that we have written about in A Right Royal Scandal.

Devonshire House in Piccadilly
Devonshire House in Piccadilly

Mary Griffiths started working at Devonshire House in 1787 as a maid in the Still Room. Two years later she became a housemaid and then, in 1790, nursery maid to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s children.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

The kitchen

A Frenchman worked as a confectioner in the kitchens between 1790 and 1805. Monsieur A Caille (his forename has not been recorded) once rushed to the rescue when a small fire broke out. He did so by pouring on to the flames ‘the contents of the kettle he was carrying’. His kettle contained melted sugar, which only made things worse.

Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

In forthcoming blogs, we’ll turn our attention to the family’s coachmen and stables, and grooms, valets, butlers and stewards. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider subscribing to our blog to be alerted to all our new posts.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt; Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

In the meantime, if you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here.

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2 thoughts on “The Servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire: maids, governesses and kitchen staff

  1. I wonder if Mary Austwick was banished to the laundry by the 5th duke because she was surly, if subsequently rescued by the 6th … it’s a hard, gruelling job, laundry maid, even if they bought soap in and she didn’t have to make it. I’ve attended washing in an electrically heated copper and that’s bad enough. Keeping the fire in at the proper height, agitating the washing with a copper stick, after having grated the hard soap to make shavings was back-breaking, heavy, hot work, plus the damage to the hands from the lyes, and then everything had to be lifted and wrung out, rinsed and re-wrung twice. then it had to be got onto a line, and no pegs until [1823? can’t recall without checking] so a bit of a compromise between a high wind being useful to dry things and a problem in blowing my lady’s smalls all across the estate. And then the ironing. Doubtless Chatsworth would have an excellently appointed linen closet with a warming oven in the chimney breast next to the fire, so that no soot would need to be wiped from the iron before plying it to the linens before they were folded and put in the linen press, very carefully so as not to end up with a diamond-shaped crease in the middle of the sheets, which foretold certain death to someone in the household/

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    1. My great great grandmother was a washerwoman who served the large houses, and also acted as village midwife. I am lucky to have had a lot of lore passed down, and laundry didn’t change a lot over the 100 years or so between Mary and my ancestress, Ruth

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