Rodney Street

Servants and keeping up appearances in middle and upper middle class households


The following extract, from F. E. Huggett’s ‘Life Below Stairs’ (1977), gives useful information on the numbers of servants middle and upper middle class households maintained in the mid 19th century. It also gives an insight into the importance of servants as status symbols through reference to the Dacre family who lived in Rodney Street. “In Victorian times status-conscious individuals were just as quick to count up the number of servants in a house as their modern counterparts are to note the makes of cars outside a house today. There was then no surer way to rise in other people's estimation than to employ a staff of servants larger than most acquaintances thought you could afford, as the total size and composition of the establishment usually provided an immediate guide to the employer's wealth. In 1844 one writer on domestic economy published a table of recommended establishments of servants for various incomes. Only noblemen of high rank and great wealth, he wrote, could afford to maintain first-rate establishments …... People with much smaller incomes of £4,500 to £5,000 a year should have an establishment of the second rate, consisting of a butler, who also doubled as house steward, and four other male and nine women servants. In third-rate establishments, suitable for those with incomes of £3,500 to £4,000 a year, the butler also had to act as valet, and there should be only one footman, one under-footman and seven women. Establishments of the fourth rate, where the income was £1,500 to £2,500, should be composed of two men and four women; while the fifth-rate (£1,000 to £1,200) should have only one man-of-all-work and three women. People with incomes of £600 to £700 were advised to content themselves with a sixth-rate establishment of a cook, a housemaid and a footboy, while those with only £450 to £500 a year would have to do without the footboy. An eighth-rate establishment (£250 to £300) should consist of one maidservant and a girl; and the ninth (£150 to £200) of a solitary maid-of-all-work. ‘Incomes still less’, the writer added, ‘will admit of a girl only, or with the occasional use of a charwoman’. Not everyone accepted his cautious advice, as the pressures not only to keep up with the Joneses but to surpass them, were so great that some ladies starved themselves and members of their family so that they could employ the largest possible staff of servants……. One old county family, the Dacres, who lived in Rodney Street, Liverpool, ‘for the sake of combining economy and gaiety, and striving to keep up an appearance of wealth and station upon very small means’, were forced to accept numerous privations so that they could employ a footman and a coachman, (both in livery), a cook, a governess, a lady's maid and numerous other servants. Rose Allen, who worked for them in the 1830s, said: ‘I never saw a good fire the whole time I was there; no one had sufficient bedding for winter; the bread was often so stale, that it had to be soaked in water before it could be used.... The family, when alone, would often live upon heavy puddings to satisfy the cravings of hunger, and every invitation was eagerly accepted, to lessen the charges of food, candles and fuel.’ The cook and the coachman were bound to the Dacres by long service and large accumulations of unpaid wages; but younger servants, like Rose Allen, left just as quickly as they could.”

Source: LRO