Friday, March 2, 2012

Day in the Life of a Housemaid

One of the many challenges in writing historicals is finding the right details to surround the characters. If, for instance, I have my heroine notice what a housemaid is doing, then I need to know what sorts of things the housemaid would likely be doing.

I recently got my hands on a copy of The Complete Servant, first published in 1825 and written by a married couple who had been in service their whole lives. They worked their way up from footboy to butler, and from maid of all work to housekeeper. It's fascinating (and exhausting) reading.

The housemaid tidies up each downstairs room and cleans the stoves, fireplaces, and hearths -- including taking out the ashes, scouring the fire-irons, rubbing the backs and sides of fireplaces with black lead, washing the marble hearths (you'll be glad to hear that the chimney pieces only need to be scoured once a week!) Then she sweeps the carpets after strewing damp tea leaves on them to catch the dust, sweeps the floors under the carpets, shakes and dusts the window curtains, brushes the dust off the windows and the ceilings, and puts all the furniture back in place. When all the downstairs rooms have been cleaned, she goes up to the bedrooms of the master and mistress of the house, empties the slops, refills the water containers, and cleans the fireplaces there.

And that's all before breakfast.

The rest of the day she spends making beds; laying fires; cleaning the landings, staircases, and passages; doing needlework; making and caring for all the household linens, and helping with the fine laundry. On Tuesdays and Saturdays she'd give the house a real cleaning, scouring each room instead of merely wiping or sweeping it, including rolling up the carpets so they could be beaten or shaken outside.

According to The Complete Servant, "If the housemaid rise in good time and employ herself busily, she will get everything done in time to clean herself for dinner." Wages? The grand sum of 12 to 16 guineas a year.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to be whining less this weekend as I swoop through my house with Swiffer and vacuum cleaner!


  1. Hi Leigh! Mark Swann here.
    This is exactly what I need. I have housemaids and Butlers in some of my scenes, which I fear will evoke laughter, rather than wide-eyed interest in what will happen next in the story.

    "The Complete Servant" is a great find. Thanks. I hope I can find it in eBook format.

  2. What a great post! I'm exhausted just reading it. lol

  3. Makes my daily chores seem much easier, that's sure!

  4. Thank you for this post, I have spent a lot of spare time reading your content.

    1. Thank you for visiting, Catherine! I'm so glad you've found the content helpful.