Behind the Green Baize Doors

During the Victorian period, servants were ubiquitous. The average wage paid to a servant was low enough that a household with an income of about a hundred pounds a year could afford a live-in servant. To have a servant was a status symbol: everyone who considered themselves middle class had at least one. In James Barrie's Victorian novel, Peter Pan, the Darlings cannot afford a nanny, so they employ the family dog to be their servant. This can easily be seen as a mocking of the insistence of every class with middle class aspirations to have a nanny.

Of course, in the large houses owned by the upper class, servants were more than mere status symbols: they were utterly indispensable. There existed virtually no time-saving appliances, and those which did existed were considered to do the job poorly and unreliably. So the miles of carpets and flocked wallpaper had to be cleaned and dusted by housemaids, the lavish dinner parties had to be cooked by a score of kitchen maids and cooks, children were looked after by an entourage of nannies, governesses, under-nannies, nursemaids, and under-nursemaids, all of the laundry would be done by a special staff of laundry maids, the garden was tended by a crew of gardeners, under gardeners, and pot boys; and so on. Virtually every task imaginable, in the largest houses, had at least one person who was in charge of doing it and thus the number of people on staff could be nothing short of mind boggling. The Duke of Westminster, at the turn of the 20th century, employed over 300 people at his country estate, Eaton Hall. (Barstow, pg. 170)

In this section, we will take a brief look at the role and the lives of servants in upper class Victorian England.