Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt

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. It lists those who have worked at Chatsworth or on the Cavendish estates going back to 1700, and will be added to over the coming years.

The excellent Chatsworth servants and staff database and associated blog posts on the Chatsworth website were created by Lauren Butler (@HistoryButler), Hannah Wallace (@hwallace24) and Fiona Clapperton (@feeclapperton) as part of a collaborative PhD with the University of Sheffield and is the culmination of many years work.

Washday Blues – Duties of a Georgian Laundrymaid

(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Last week we took a look at the duties of a housemaid (click the link to find out more), but if the house was large enough to warrant it, then a laundry maid would also have been employed, if not, then the role would have simply been added to the already onerous duties of the housemaid. The average annual salary for a laundry maid in 1750 was £5 (approx £450 in today’s money). In 1685 Hannah Woolley wrote a book which explained exactly what the duties of servants was; this book could still be purchased in the 1750s for a mere 1 shilling.

The Compleat Servant Maid

The information below is taken from another fascinating book written by a Mrs William Parkes who gives clear instructions as to what an employer should expect their laundry maid to be able to do.

Before laundry is sent to be washed, laundry should be examined, and if any part require to be repaired, it should be kept back.

The housemaid/laundry maid should keep an account of the number of the articles that are sent to the laundry, and count them over on their return, to see that all are right, and well aired and should replace them in the linen-press. In putting by the fresh-washed linen, care should be taken to place it so that the whole stock may come into use in regular succession, by placing it, for instance, under the rest of the linen, or at the back of the press.

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

If the linen be put damp into the linen-closet, it will be mildewed, and stains produced which cannot easily be removed. A good maid will manage her work in so methodical a manner, that she will never either feel or appear to be hurried. Every day in the week will have its allotted portion of the weekly cleaning; by which means no one day will be surcharged with work, so as to occasion bustle or annoyance in the family. The drawing-room, the dining-room, and the library, she should contrive to clean thoroughly at those times in which the family are absent.

I would certainly advise you to procure one who has been accustomed to the business of the laundry, as that is not a department which you can yourself superintend ; nor can a housekeeper do so to any great extent, without neglecting some of her other avocations. Your eyes will quickly tell you if she wash the linen clean, and get up fine muslin tolerably well. If this should not be the case, you must, certainly, notice it directly, or the colour of your linen will be injured.

Young woman ironing – Louis-Léopold Boilly, Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One thing you must remember, that your laundry should have every convenience to facilitate the work. The wash-house should be well supplied with soft water, boilers, and tubs. A washing machine saves labour, but I believe that the clothes are not so well washed as by the hand; and some imagine that it wears out the linen, and tears it.

In the laundry there should be a good stove (for the double purpose of heating the irons and airing the linen), and also a mangle.

Muslins and light things should be washed in clean water, as their colour cannot be preserved if any other apparel have been, previously, washed in the water. I am convinced that the laundry-maid would much more easily preserve the good colour of her linen, and-linen spare her own hands, if she changed the water more frequently, although it might occasion a greater expenditure of soap. Flannels are sometimes washed in cold water, mixed with ox or sheep gall; but this is the old-fashioned mode, and many ladies now prefer to have them washed in clean hot water. The colour of flannel is entirely lost if it be washed in water in which anything else has been previously rinsed.

A_laundry_maid_leaning_out_of_a_sash_window_to_wring_out_a_Wellcome_L0051348
Courtesy of Wellcome Trust

Besides the essential articles of soap, blue, and starch, the laundry-maid should always have a supply of salt of lemon, citrate of potash, and bleaching liquid, with which to remove ink spots, iron-moulds, or other stains from the linen before it is washed.

The quantity of soap used in a week’s wash may be reckoned at the rate of half a pound per head; which includes the washing of the household linen as well. The quantity of starch depends, of course, upon the number of articles to be starched. Sometimes it is fashionable to have muslin dresses starched and when table linen is worn and thin, a little starch improves their appearance, by giving them something of the consistency of new linen.

 

The Laundress, Jean-Baptiste Greuze.
The Laundress, Jean-Baptiste Greuze. J. Paul Getty Museum

Some laundry-maids are so careless as to tear the linen in stirring it while boiling, making use of any rough stick they can find; and, also, sometimes to permit the water in the copper to get very low, by which means the linen is liable to be scorched by the fire. Such negligence should always be reproved. Soap is an article very easily wasted by a careless servant, and it requires some vigilance, either in the housekeeper or in the mistress of a family, to prevent it. When the quantity used weekly has been ascertained, it should be weighed out for each washing, nor should the laundry-maid be permitted to.

lwlpr21540 washing mill
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Needless to say, occasionally accidents happened!

Dowager Lady Walpole
Lloyd’s Evening Post, October 10, 1764 – October 12, 1764

 

Earl of Shelburn
General Evening Post, July 28, 1739 – July 31, 1739

Our final offering on the subject of laundry maids comes from the Daily Advertiser, Thursday, September 27, 1744.

Corpulent

Sources

https://archive.org/stream/domesticdutiesor00park_0#page/n0/mode/2up

http://www.arleyhallarchives.co.uk/staff.htm

http://www.pascalbonenfant.com/18c/wages.html

Public Advertiser,  Friday, November 11, 1757