Running Footmen

running footmen
A Footman in His Livery, Author’s Collection

Running footmen were used by some people in the 1700s, while other people claimed they were not particularly useful. For those that thought running footmen useful, they claimed they were a necessary part of traveling equipage and a dignified way to show a passenger’s importance. For those who thought otherwise, they said running footmen were selected based on their physical attributes alone. However, running footmen did sometimes help: They occasionally lifted a vehicle out of rut, assisted the coach or carriage as it crossed a river, or ensured the vehicle did not overturn because of ditches, tree roots, or other obstacles.

Up until the end of the eighteenth century roads were bad, and coach travel was usually slow (seldom above five miles an hour), which was one reason running footmen could keep up. Nevertheless, the running footman needed to be a healthy, agile man. Moreover, the footman needed to also wear appropriate clothing to perform his duties. His dress usually involved “a light black cap, a jockey coat, white linen trousers, or a mere linen shirt coming to the knees, with a pole of six or seven feet long.” On top of the pole was a hollow ball. The hollow was the spot where the footman kept a small refreshment, such as a hard-boiled egg or some sips of wine. Apparently, the pole originated from a long silver-headed cane and was still used in the 1800s by footmen who rode at the back of carriages of the nobility. Continue reading

How House Stewards Cheated Their Masters

Footman and House Stewards, Courtesy of Library of Congress
Footman, Courtesy of Library of Congress

House stewards were at the pinnacle when it came to servants. In large and wealthy families, they were responsible for several important jobs: They hired and fired staff, and they purchased and paid for all the bills related to the household. With such responsibilities, it was easy for unscrupulous stewards to take advantage of their positions and fleece their masters to supplement their own income.

One writer noted that unscrupulous house stewards were methodical in their fleecing methods. One way was by holding regular luncheon meetings with other disreputable stewards where they would share their tricks and schemes and discuss ways to “oust all tradesmen who … [would] not fall into their views of robbing [their masters].” Continue reading

Cheating Valets and Tricks of the Trade

French Valet and English Lackey by Thomas Rowlandson, cheating valets
French Valet and English Lackey by Thomas Rowlandson, Public Domain

One writer in the early 1830s believed that the moral character of household servants had declined. He claimed that servants had an unspoken rule whereby they could supplement their incomes indirectly from their employers and that household domestics took advantage of the situation. One way was by using various tricks to regularly gouge their employers.

One nineteenth century nobleman decried that “there is not such an animal in nature as an honest servant.” Among the servants who reportedly cheated and took tremendous advantage of their employers were valets. One person explained why: “The whimsicalities and extravagances of many masters in high life, together with the total absences of thoughtfulness in some young men of fortune, [throws] wide a door … for the exercise of the tricks and impositions of this species of servant.” Continue reading

Housemaids and Their Duties

Housemaids and their duties
Domestic Worker, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Servants made family life easier in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and, although today, maids work for the most elite and the wealthiest, during the Victorian era, according to the 1851, 1861, and 1871 census, they comprised the second highest category of employment, with the first being agricultural workers. The eighteenth and nineteenth century was also a time where servants lacked employment protection, and it was not until the United Kingdom’s Master and Servant Act of 1823 that servants acquired provisions that established minimal wages and determined accommodations, clothing, and meal allowances for domestic servants.

Among the most important of the domestic servants where housemaids and their duties were as important as they were varied. Of the housemaids, the maid responsible for supervising the other maids was known as the Upper Housemaid. She, along with the other housemaids, were responsible to “undertake the management of all the household business of a gentleman’s family.” This meant cleaning the house from top to bottom, and although cleaning was something most servants did, it was difficult at times, even among the staff, to determine exactly who was responsible for what. However, in general, the housemaid was responsible for numerous duties that ranged from cleaning fireplaces to opening and closing shutters to dusting, polishing, and cleaning mirrors, paintings, and wall hangings. Continue reading

Charles Jamrach – The Wild-Beast Man

Charles Jamrach Feeding His Animals
Jamrach Feeding His Animals, Public Domain

Johann Christian Jamrach was born in Hamburg, Germany, in March of 1815. His father was chief of the Hamburg river police but established a thriving trade as a dealer in wild and exotic animals because of his contact with sailors. In 1840, when Jamrach’s father died, Jamrach immigrated to London and took over his father’s business, which is why he was sometimes called “the wild-beast man.” His animal business then became the largest in the world and included a shop and museum.

Jamrach was known as Charles Jamrach in London and had one close rival. His name was Edward Cross. Cross was owner of a menagerie at Exeter Exchange on the Strand. Jamrach’s Animal Emporium, as it was known, was located in the East End on Ratcliffe Highway (later known as St. George Street), and he also maintained a menagerie on Betts Street and a warehouse stuffed full on Old Gravel Lane. Continue reading

Training a Lady’s Maid for Her Duties

Lady's Maid
Lady’s Maid by Joseph Caraud, Courtesy of Wikipedia

A lady’s maid of the 1700 and 1800s functioned as a personal attendant to a woman similar to the way a valet served a gentlemen. Her job was vital to her mistress, because a lady’s maid was responsible to properly prepare her mistress so that when she stepped from her dressing room into society, she was seen in the best light. To accomplish this task, there were numerous behind-the-scene tasks that a lady’s maid accomplished. Moreover, few maids functioned in such an important capacity, and it required a far superior servant than the ones that normally maintained a household. To be a lady’s maid required “great neatness, skill, and taste, as well as discretion and cleverness.” In fact, many lady’s maids were better educated than the normal servant and such maids often underwent special training so as to enable them to acquire a certain level of knowledge before entering the unique field of caring for a mistress. Continue reading

Body Snatchers in the 1700 and 1800s

Body Snatchers at Work, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Body Snatchers at Work, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Today when someone refers to a body snatcher, it conjures up an unsavory, notorious character. Body snatchers were known to deliver corpses to students, surgeons, and teachers for dissections, and, indeed, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they developed an offensive, repugnant, and unpopular reputation. Body snatchers were rejected by every section of society from the highest echelons to the lowest criminal classes. In fact, anyone — student, teacher or surgeon — associated with dissection and corpses was considered “as abandoned and as criminal as the body-snatchers themselves, and equally destitute of the ordinary feelings of humanity.” Part of this negative attitude towards anyone associated with corpses and dissections in the 1700 and 1800s came from the fact dissection was extremely unpopular not only in England but also throughout Europe. Continue reading

Lady’s Maid and Her Duties in the Georgian and Regency Era

"The Chamber Maid Brings Tea" by Pehr Hillestrom
“The Chamber Maid Brings Tea” by Pehr Hillestrom, Public Domain

The job of a lady’s maid was, according to one author, “far from laborious, and [was], in most instances, little more than an agreeable exercise of useful qualities.” Besides serving as a confident and secret keeper, a lady’s maid was also responsible to attend to all of the personal needs of her lady and acted in ways similar to a gentleman’s valet. To achieve this, a lady’s maid needed to have an arsenal of various skills, and many of a lady maid’s talents were connected with her mistress’s toilette and wardrobe. Duties included selecting clothing and millinery that highlighted and improved her mistress’s complexion and figure. It also meant a lady’s maid was responsible to protect, maintain, and repair her mistress’s skin so that she would be less likely to suffer from age spots, freckles, pimples, moles, warts, wrinkles, or other skin imperfections. Headdresses and hairstyles were another vital component of a mistress’s toilette, and no woman wanted to look ridiculous just to be in vogue. A lady’s maid also had to balance the latest fashions, makeup, and millinery styles with her mistress’s physical advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, the lady’s maid had to ensure that when her mistress stepped into the street, the mistress reflected her best work. Continue reading

Baked Potato Sellers

Baked Potato Sellers and "All Hot" by Samuel Stanesby, Author's Collection
“All Hot” by Samuel Stanesby, Author’s Collection

Baked potato sellers began selling their wares around the late 1830s. The first potato sellers sold potatoes “roasted as chestnuts … but only on a small scale.” Potato sellers were said to be “broken-down tradesmen,” and they did not became a regular item on London streets until the mid 1840s, when there were no “fewer than three hundred individuals engaged in the street trade of baked potatoes.” You could easily find the hot potato seller by his cry, “Hot hot all ot — mealy and floury, hot ot ot. Yere’s yer reg’lar Hirish fruit, with plenty of butter and salt, all ot ot hot.”

After the Irish potato famine, it was cheaper by the 1860s to sell French Regent potatoes. These were, a “large-sized ‘fruit,’ about two or three to the pound” because they were cheaper than the Irish or English potatoes. The potatoes roasted and sold on the streets were often different from the potatoes people ate at home. The potatoes sold were a rough skinned variety because they were the “mealiest,” and they were also not waxy, as those shriveled when baking. Continue reading

The Footman and His Duties

The footman and his duties
Footman, Author’s Collection

One of the most important domestic workers in the household was the footman. According to one source, he was “so multifarious and incessant, that in most families, if he be industrious, attentive, and disposed to make himself useful, he will find full employment in the affairs of the house.” Though a footman might find full time employment, his job was less essential than a butler, cook, or maid in a large household. However, that did not mean the footman was any less valued.

In large households there were different types of footmen, and if there were two or more footmen in one household, one was designated as the under footman, and he was the person who performed the most laborious tasks. A lady’s footman waited on “his lady only,” and his jobs included delivering messages and invitations, assisting in the preparation of her meals, and attending to her needs when she went out (by following her on  foot or riding behind her carriage).

In small genteel families that could afford only one male servant, they usually hired a footman. The footman was expected to perform multiple jobs in a timely manner. His chores consisted of cleaning furniture, trimming lamps, performing errands, preparing razor straps, and polishing silverware. He went out with the carriage, answered the door or the parlor bell, and politely and civilly announced guests, which was rigorously exacted and expected. He was also responsible to wait on the family at mealtime as described:”

“[The footman was to be] attentive to all … obtrusive to none; … giv[ing] nothing but on a waiter, and always hand[ing] it with the left hand and on the left side of the person he serve[d].”

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