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Susannah Shepherd
07-20-2016, 09:21 AM
My current WIP is set in London, circa 1750s-1760s. I can find plenty of information on the servants that might be kept by a large aristocratic household, but I am looking for information on more modest households. I should add that while my story has an historical setting it is not an historical novel per se; I am aiming for plausibility rather than perfectly rendered historical detail.

My character is a single professional man (doctor) in his late 30s, widowed with no children. He is of a respectable middle-class rather than gentry background, and of fairly sober and solitary habits (he socialises in coffee houses or his club rather than entertaining at home). He takes care of his appearance but does not have a typical Georgian taste for fashion. I visualise him occupying a small but fairly new terrace house in one of the fashionable bits of the West End, with the ground-floor rooms converted to consulting rooms. The cost of leasing this house has left him in a tight spot financially, but he is trying to attract wealthy patients so he has to keep up appearances to some degree.

What is the minimum respectable household he could keep? My current draft features a housekeeper/cook (an older widow) plus a youngish footman, whose role includes reception duties for his patients. My plotting would be much easier if he could have just a housekeeper, but that feels a bit light.

If this is broadly plausible, would the following also stand?
* The housekeeper helping female characters to undress if required, or would she be too busy? Would wealthier women bring their lady's maid for this?
* The footman undertaking some minor valet duties such as shaving him, or would he have that done at a barber?
* The footman being black or mixed-race? I know this is historically plausible for London at this time, but I recall reading that black servants were fashionable at times and therefore potentially out of his price range (the one book I did find on servant-master relationships at this period identified that it was a good labour market for servants in the mid-18th century, with labour shortages and rapidly rising wages).

stephenf
07-20-2016, 01:13 PM
Hi
Rich Georgians use servants as a symbol of wealth. A footman , despite being below a butler , would only be employed by the very rich . A footman job was to run along side the couch his master was in . It is possible that a single man would take rooms in lodgings that would have a house keeper and cook . A single rich man would employ a skivvy , a young women that all the dirty domestic work . A butler and possibly a part time cook. But butlers would often do the cooking as well.

waylander
07-20-2016, 02:03 PM
I concur; a maid-of-all-work who did the heavy duty cleaning, laundry etc would be very likely. I would think his housekeeper would insist on one, if not more.

mirandashell
07-20-2016, 03:07 PM
Yeah, he would be more likely to employ a housekeeper/cook, a maid-of-all-work and, if his finances stretched to it, a valet. Living beyond his means in London, he's unlikely to need a footman.

benbenberi
07-21-2016, 12:46 AM
What they're saying. I'm more familiar with French households than English, but an unmarried professional man in Paris would generally have only a maid-of-all-work (who probably worked long hours but did not sleep in) to do all the household cooking, cleaning, etc.

Laundry was probably sent out, and not done that frequently anyway. He would be shaved by a barber once or twice a week.

Instead of a footman or a valet he would probably have more need of a professional servant/secretary to help him on the job.

The main job of a footman was to stand around and look impressive and conspicuously idle, to demonstrate the wealth of his employer (who could clearly afford to employ a man to stand around doing nothing).

Lil
07-21-2016, 01:03 AM
Male servants had to be paid more than female ones, so this would be a consideration for him if he's watching his pennies. There was also a tax on male servants, but I think this didn't start until sometime in the 1770s.

Susannah Shepherd
07-21-2016, 04:05 AM
Thanks to you all - really helpful. Benbenberi, I had exactly the same thought as you after I'd posted: who is going to keep his accounts and make sure bills get sent and paid?

So I think his establishment now looks like:
- maid-of-all-work, lives out
- a young (cheap) clerk, lives out; doubles as an overgrown page boy as needed (opening door to wealthy patients, etc)

I'm still dithering on the live-in housekeeper as I had her tagged for a narrative role. I might justify her as a legacy from his married household, as he was in a better financial position then and sentimental enough to want to keep her on even if she's not necessary. I might perhaps make her quite elderly and on light duties.

I'm writing an erotic romance so part of my plot problem is getting people out of the house (secrecy is important) - a lot of action will be taking place during the servants' half-day off! Plus trying to figure out how to get a well-off woman out of her clothes without the assistance of a maid, seamstress and perhaps a small crane...

waylander
07-21-2016, 03:45 PM
If he doesn't have a housekeeper/cook then where is he eating? Would be seen as eccentric to cook for himself.

benbenberi
07-21-2016, 04:47 PM
The maid-of-all-work would do whatever cooking (& shopping/ordering) was needed. He would probably eat a lot of his meals out (chop house, club, friends).

mirandashell
07-21-2016, 07:37 PM
It was partly the increase in servants needed in a married household that put a lot of young middle-class men off marrying until later in life when they were earning enough to keep the servants.

stephenf
07-21-2016, 09:36 PM
The maid-of-all-work would do whatever cooking (& shopping/ordering) was needed. He would probably eat a lot of his meals out (chop house, club, friends).

I,m sure all that is true . But we don't appreciate how time consuming things were in the past . Breakfast for the Georgian middle class and above would not begin until 10.00 . Last for over an hour and would would consist of coffee and tea, several different cakes , cold meat , bread roles, bread and butter ,and dry toast . Everything would need to be made in the kitchen, set out , cleaned away , washed up and put way .

mirandashell
07-21-2016, 10:09 PM
That's probably why he would do a lot of his eating in a chop house or similar. And maybe only have his midday meal in the house as he'll be working there.

ETA: I just put 'eating out in Georgian London' into Google and got a long list of restaurants serving the food of Georgia in Russia!

ETAA: I just found this: The Epicure's Almanack (http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Epicures-Almanack)

It was produced in 1815 and has never been amended or reprinted. So it's a contemporary guide. Could be very useful?

Susannah Shepherd
07-22-2016, 07:02 AM
Thanks again everyone. Yes, I envisage him eating most of his evening meals out as noted (he's very fond of his club).

I think I will stick to my servant plan of a semi-pensioned long-serving housekeeper cooking meals for her master and bossing around a young maid who does all the heavy work. My MC is not inherently short of money, and so was able to keep a decent household when married, but has lately sunk everything he owns into his business and so is living off cash-flow.


ETAA: I just found this: The Epicure's Almanack (http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/The-Epicures-Almanack)

It was produced in 1815 and has never been amended or reprinted. So it's a contemporary guide. Could be very useful?

That looks like an amazing resource for Georgian/Regency writers. The webpage also has a link to my very favourite contemporary guide to London: Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies.

L.C. Blackwell
07-24-2016, 06:55 AM
I'm writing an erotic romance so part of my plot problem is getting people out of the house (secrecy is important) - a lot of action will be taking place during the servants' half-day off! Plus trying to figure out how to get a well-off woman out of her clothes without the assistance of a maid, seamstress and perhaps a small crane...

[Edited: Never mind, I just remembered how awkward those hoops might be ... and taken from The Gentleman's Magazine of that year, there appears to have been a new style of hoops coming in around 1745 that was tricky enough to manage even for regular street wear--enough so that some "wardrobe malfunctions" appear to have occurred, i.e. hoops flying up in public when they shouldn't, in an age where British women did not wear drawers. Now there's an inciting incident for you!]

I don't have sources off the top of my head, but there is plenty of costume research out there, including how to remove the clothes of both genders. Just saying, you're not the first one with that question....

Evelyn_Alexie
07-24-2016, 07:37 AM
If you can get your hands on a copy, this should provide detailed information on women's clothing in the era:
Cunnington, C. Willett, and Phillis Cunnington. Handbook of English Costume in the Eighteenth Century. London: Faber & Faber, 1957.

I have the 19th century version and it provides a decade-by-decade breakdown of dresses and how they were fastened, underclothes, etc. Might get enough information to describe how to remove said articles of clothing. :)

Bolero
07-24-2016, 12:24 PM
In terms of clothing - find a re-enactment society. A good, rigorous, attends to the details re-enactment society, not people in fancy dress. In the UK the Napoleonic War society has a good reputation - period a bit late for you but might be a start.

Susannah Shepherd
07-24-2016, 01:45 PM
In terms of clothing - find a re-enactment society. A good, rigorous, attends to the details re-enactment society, not people in fancy dress. In the UK the Napoleonic War society has a good reputation - period a bit late for you but might be a start.

Sadly they don't exist where I live, as that would be perfect! I have had a quick look online for re-enactors of the Seven Years War but the few I've found are very heavily military. I have since been in to a proper library to consult their books on fashion and clothing, including some excellent books from the likes of the V&A that photograph parts of the clothes and underclothes in quite fine detail. My story's social context gives it a window of about 20 years from 1755 to 1775 and I think I am narrowing down to the point in the middle at which women's clothes were least stupid!

Bolero
07-24-2016, 01:53 PM
While in person is best, you could try emailing...

Once you've looked up what to do, you could try asking very nicely if they would sanity check your description. They also might be able to point you to a few more photos or even a video. The re-enactors I know are always pleased to help people get the details right - providing the person has already made a good effort and doesn't have a blank slate.

Edited to add - I like the idea of the servant's point of view.

Certainly by the Victorian period there were tools to help you dress like button hooks, where the fashion had a long row of tiny buttons. You might want to search for tools of the period that are like that.

L.C. Blackwell
07-25-2016, 03:11 AM
http://www.history.org/Almanack/life/trades/trademln.cfm

There is a rather amazing re-enactment or maybe you'd just call it a recreation of a millinery shop at Colonial Williamsburg. I first found it through the Two Nerdy History Girls blog here.

http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2015/08/from-archives-truth-about-big-hair-of_20.html

The milliners and apprentices make all the dresses and underclothing according to period, from scratch, and some of the costumes have been quite elaborate. Look for other posts labeled "Colonial Williamsburg" at TNHG, and you'll find a lot of them.

If you've done your research and still have questions, it might be worth your while to attempt contacting the dressmakers directly.

SinoFyl
08-04-2016, 03:52 AM
I think the presence of an old, mostly deaf and partially blind housekeeper could add a nice dash of comedy to the erotic/romantic encounters. The protagonist can't wait for the servants' half-day off, he begins a tryst, and the old housekeeper toddles in and begins to engage him in conversation ...
Just a thought.:tongue