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