© 2013 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved
The life of the average servant in the Victorian and Edwardian eras was not, on the whole, as relatively humane as depicted in the wildly popular PBS series Downton Abbey.
In a large house a servant’s duties might be more bearable simply because there more hands to do the work, but in a middle-class household with only one or two maids the work was never-ending and often demeaning. Employers thought nothing of changing a servant’s name if they found it unpleasing. Time off was limited to a few hours a week and was allotted with no thought to the needs of the individual. Servants were generally on duty from 5 AM until bedtime, which might not arrive until 8 or 9 PM. Many worked sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Every aspect of a servant’s life revolved about the needs and whims of their employers.
Despite the indignities and rigors of a servant’s life in those times, however, there is some truth to the fact that their lives were better than those of factory workers and those who took in work at home, not to mention prostitutes. Servants could rise in position through the knowledge gained by living in a well-off household. Their understanding of the world at large was often vastly augmented by their time in service as well. Many learned enough and saved enough to eventually move into the small merchant or office-work class.
Here we see a relatively comfortable servant’s bedroom. In stark contrast to the often dark, moldy rooms occupied by kitchen workers and servants in less agreeable households, this room is painted, carpeted and well-lit by unseen windows. Note the extra underspring in case a second bed is needed for an additional servant, along with the chamber pot that was still common in many well-off households into the early 20th century.
Digital oils from an original photograph shot at Miramont Castle, Manitou Springs, Colorado, May 2005.
Tech specs: Photoshop 7, Flaming Pear, DAP