Thursday 23 December 2010

The Housemaid, Her Duties and How to Perform Them

One last pre-Christmas digitisation - The Housemaid, Her Duties and How to Perform Them, a publication from 1870, which - I'm guessing - was perhaps intended to be handed out to servants by the mistress of the house, as much as to be purchased by aspiring servants (or their employers) for their own personal benefit. The bits I most like are the details on slops:

The pails and cloths which are used in this service are never, on any account whatever to be taken for any other purpose. It is not enough to empty out the dirty water which is left in the basins, and then to wipe the basins dry : the clean water that is left in the ewers and bottles must all be emptied out too, with a good rinsing, and fresh water put in every day. When everything is emptied into the pails, these pails must not be left standing so much as five minutes. They are a disagreeable sight; and besides, a great number of accidents have happened from persons falling over pails which the housemaid has left standing where they have no business to be. Heedless children, and old people, who do not see well, have caught many a fall in this way, for which the housemaid has had to blame herself. The pails should be carried down at once, emptied, and set standing bottom up to dry, and prevent any bad smell hanging about them. The housemaid will then carry up with her two pitchers or cans, the one with fresh soft water for the ewers, and the other with spring water for the bottles. From these all the ewers and bottles are to be filled, unless it be sweeping day. In such a case, instead of filling the vessels, Mary will put the bottle into the empty ewer, and the ewer into the basin : she will double up the towels, and lay them on the top of the ewer, and cover all with a cloth, that no dust may reach them from the sweeping of the floor.
And how lights were managed:

The use of gas in towns has in a great measure tended to lessen the use of candlesticks, and the recent introduction of lamps and hand lamps, in which mineral oil or petroleum is burnt, has tended even more to bring them into disfavour. Petroleum is preferable to animal oil, and even better than vegetable oil, as, being a spirituous oil, or one in which oil and spirit are in combination, it does not soil or grease to the extent to which purely fatty oils will. Benzoline requires careful usage from its aptness to explode if it come into contact with a lighted match, etc. The great objection to petroleum lies in its apparent oozing through the receptacle in the lamp in which it is placed, and imparting a coating of oil to it, which in due time trickles down the shaft of the lamp, rendering it most unpleasant to handle. The housemaid should never place a lamp in which petroleum is burned on the table without first wiping the shaft and oil well of the lamp with a soft cotton cloth, and the outside of the lamp should always be thoroughly wiped when the lamp is trimmed in the morning.
     The burners of gaseliers, etc., often get encrusted with dirt, owing to the settlement of dust on the exterior, which after being used a short time, gets covered with an oily residuum from the gas consumed. These should be carefully wiped, at least once a week, with a soft cotton cloth.
     Every part of a trimmed lamp should be as clean as a glass tumbler. If all the passages are not quite clear the air will not pass through, and the lamp will burn badly. If the glass chimney and shade are not as bright as a mirror, the flame will seem dim. If a drop of oil is left to soil the ladies' fingers, or to spot the table, the family have a right to be vexed with the housemaid. Many families have so great a dread and dislike of this kind of dirt, that they trim their lamps themselves—thus showing a want of confidence in the housemaid, which must grieve her very much, if she feels that she has deserved it.
     This part of her business being done, all the lights ready for night, and the shorter ends of candle being fixed on save-alls for kitchen use, Mary once more washes her hands, and goes to prepare the drawing-room, as she prepared the dining-room before breakfast.

If you read the whole thing, you'll find it also contrasts the role of a country servant with a town one - no massive revelations, but still quite detailed and interesting.


  1. Great post. Thank you for providing this information.

  2. Thank you for the good information you share with us.

  3. I appreciate your information in this article.

  4. Very good article, I enjoyed reading your post

  5. truly appreciate this post. I’ve been looking everywhere for this!