Posted in Country House, Mrs Beeton

Mrs Beeton’s Advice to the Footman, Valet, Lady’s Maid and Housemaid.

Advertisement for the Ewbank Carpet Sweeper found in 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management

I had fun at the weekend delving into my copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1915 edition) in order to whet your appetite for the fabulous second series of Downton Abbey, which continues on Sundays, ITV 1, 9pm.  I have chosen extracts from Mrs Beeton’s advice for the Footman, Valet, Lady’s-Maid, Housemaid and also include some household recipes that I hope you will find interesting and useful.

Footman

‘Footman’s morning duties – He is expected to rise early in order to get through his early morning work before the family are stirring.  Boots and shoes, knives and forks, should be cleaned, coal scuttles filled, lamps in use trimmed, then any gentleman’s clothes that require it brushed, hot water taken up and baths prepared before he tidies himself, has his own breakfast, and lays that for the family.  At breakfast the footman carries up the urn and places the chief dishes upon the table.  If any waiting is required, he does it assisted by parlour-maid or house-maid.  During the morning his time will be occupied in cleaning plate, windows, etc., according to the rules of the house in which he is engaged, and he will have to answer the front door and look after the sitting-room fires.  After these duties will come laying the table for luncheon.

Afternoon duties –  As at breakfast, where only one man-servant is kept, but little waiting is required at luncheon after the soup or hot dishes have been served.  These taken away, the footman will have his own dinner.  When the family have left the dining-room, the footman clears away, washes the glass used, and cleans the plate.  He then prepares himself either to go out with the carriage or to answer the door to visitors, as the case may be.  When required to go out with the carriage, it is the footman’s duty to see the inside is free from dust, and he should be ready to open and close the door after his mistress.  In receiving messages at the carriage door he should turn his ear to the speaker, so as to comprehend what is said, in order that he may give his directions to the coachman clearly.  When the house he is to call at is reached, he should knock and return to the carriage for orders.  In closing the doors upon the family, he should see that the  handle is securely turned, and that no part of the ladies’ dress is shut in.

Politeness and civility to visitors is one of the things masters and mistresses should exact rigorously.  When visitors present themselves, the servant charged with the duty of opening the door will open it promptly, and answer, without hesitation, if the family are “not at home”, or “engaged”.  On the contrary, if he has no such orders, he will answer affirmatively, open the door wide to admit them, and precede them to open the door of the drawing-room.  If the family are not there, he will place chairs for them, and intimate civilly that he goes to inform his mistress.  If the lady is in her drawing-room, he announces the name of the visitors, having previously acquainted himself with it.  In this part of his duty it is necessary to be very careful to repeat the names correctly; mispronouncing names is very apt to give offence.  When the visitor is departing, the servant should be at hand, ready, when rung for, to open the door; he should open it with a respectful manner, and close it gently beyond the threshold.

Evening duties – For dinner, the footman lays the cloth, arranges knives, forks, and glasses etc and places chairs enough for the party, distributing them equally on each side of the table.   In opening wine, let it be done quietly, and without shaking the bottle; if crusted, let it be inclined to the crusted side, and decanted while in that position.  In opening champagne, it is not necessary to discharge it with a pop; properly cooled, the cork is easily extracted without any explosions; when the cork is out, the mouth of the bottle should be wiped with a napkin. As soon as the drawing-room bell rings for tea, the footman enters with the tray, which has been previously prepared; hands the tray round to the company, with cream and sugar, the tea and coffee being generally poured out, while another attendant hands cakes, toast, or biscuits.  If it is an ordinary family party, where this social meal is prepared by the mistress, he carries the urn or kettle, as the case may be; hands round the toast, or such other eatable as may be required, removing the whole in the same manner when tea is over’            (1915:pp.1764-66)

Valet and the Lady’s-Maid

‘Some of the duties of the valet – His and the lady’s-maid’s day commences by seeing that their employer’s dressing-room is in order; that the housemaid has swept and dusted it properly; that the fire is lighted and burns cheerfully; and some time before the master or mistress is expected, they will do well to throw up the sash to admit fresh air, closing it, however, in time to cover the temperature which they know is preferred.  It is their duty to air the body linen before the fire; to lay out the clothes intended to be worn, carefully brushed and cleaned.  All the articles of the toilet should be in their places, the razors properly set and stropped, and hot water ready for use.  A valet often accompanies his master when shooting, when he would carry the extra gun and load for him.

Shaving – A valet should be should be prepared to shave his master if required; and he should, besides, be a good hairdresser.  Shaving over, he has to brush the hair, beard and moustache, arranging the whole simply and gracefully, according to the style preferred.  Every fortnight, or three weeks at utmost, the hair should be cut, and the whiskers trimmed as often as required.  A good valet will now present the various articles of the toilet as they are wanted; the body linen, necktie, which he will put on, if required, and afterwards, waistcoat, coat and boots, in suitable order, and carefully brushed and polished.  Having thus seen his master dress, if he is about to go out, the valet will hand him his cane, gloves and hat, the latter well brushed on the outside with a soft brush, and wiped inside with a clean handkerchief, respectfully attend him to the door, open it for him, and receive his last orders for the day.

Hairdressing – is one of the most important parts of the lady’s-maid’s office.  Lessons in hairdressing may be obtained, and at not at unreasonable charge, and a lady’s-maid should initiate herself in the mysteries of hairdressing before entering on her duties.  If a mistress finds her maid handy, and willing to learn, she will not mind the expense of a few lessons, which are almost necessary, as the fashion and mode of dressing the hair is continually changing.  Brushes and combs should be kept scrupulously clean, by washing them about twice a week; to do this oftener spoils the brushes, as very frequent washing makes them so very soft.

Care of linen –  On its return from the wash, it is very necessary to examine every piece separately, so that all missing buttons be supplied, and only articles properly washed in perfect repair passed into the wardrobe.

The Wardrobe – It is the valet’s and lady’s-maid’s duty, where it is permitted, to select from the wardrobe such things as are suitable for the occasion, to see that their employer’s wardrobe is in thorough repair, and to make him or her acquainted with the fact if they see that any additions to it are prepared.  A lady’s-maid should possess a thorough knowledge of dressmaking and repairing and restoring clothes.  Dresses of tweed, and other woollen materials may be laid out on a table and brushed all over; but in general, even in woollen fabrics, the lightness of the issues renders brushing unsuitable to dresses, and it is better to remove the dust from the folds beating them lightly with a handkerchief or thin cloth.  Silk dresses should never be brushed, but rubbed with a piece of merino, or other soft material, of a similar colour, kept for the purpose.  Summer dresses of barège, muslin, mohair, and other light materials, simply require shaking; but if the muslin be tumbled, it must be ironed afterwards.   If feathers have suffered from damp, they should be held near the fire for a few minutes, and restored to their natural state by the hand or a soft brush, or re-curled with a blunt knife, dipped in very hot water.  Satin boots or shoes should be dusted with a soft brush, or wiped with a cloth.  Kid or varnished leather should have the mud wiped off with a sponge charged with milk, which preserves its softness and polish.  Furs, feathers and woollens require the constant care of the waiting-maid.  Furs and feathers not in constant use should be wrapped up in linen washed in lye.  From May to September they are subject to being made the depository of the moth-eggs.  The valet and the lady’s-maid should have a good knowledge of packing, and on them devolves the task of getting tickets, looking out routes, securing seats, carriages and berths, as the case may be; while they are also responsible for the luggage.  When travelling by rail, unless they occupy the same carriage as their master or mistress, they should, when the train stops for any length of time, be in attendance in case anything should be required.  A knowledge of foreign languages is a most useful qualification.’  (1915:pp.1772-4)

Housemaid

‘The upper housemaid’s duties – would include, besides a general superintendence, the care of the household linen, the covering of furniture, the dusting, if not the sweeping, of the drawing-room, the helping to make the chief beds and other tasks, always making it her duty to go the round of the bedrooms, both morning and evening, to see that toilet tables, wash-hand stands, fires, et., are in order. 

The first duty of the housemaid – in winter is to open the shutters of all the lower rooms in the house, and take up the hearthrugs in those rooms which she is going to “do” before breakfast.  After the shutters are all opened, she sweeps the breakfast-room, sweeping the dust towards the fireplace, of course previously removing the fender. She should then lay a cloth (generally made of coarse wrappering) over the carpet in front of the stove, and on this should place her housemaid’s box, containing blacklead brushes, leathers, emery-paper, cloth, black-lead, and all utensils necessary for cleaning a grate, with the cinder-pail on the other side.  She now sweeps up the ashes and deposits them in her cinder-pail, which is a japanned tin pail, with a wire sifter inside, and a closely fitting top.  In this pail the cinders are sifted, and reserved for use in the kitchen or under the copper, the ashes only being thrown away.  Bright grates require unceasing attention to keep them in perfect order.  A day should never pass without the housemaid rubbing with a dry leather the polished parts of a grate, as also the fender and fire-irons.  A careful and attentive housemaid should have no occasion ever to use emery-paper for any part but the bars, which, of course, become blackened by the fire.  Before sweeping the carpet, it is a good practice to sprinkle it all over with tea-leaves, which not only lay all dust, but give a slightly fragrant smell to the room.

Morning work – After the breakfast-room is finished, the housemaid should proceed to sweep down the stairs, commencing at the top, whilst the cook has the charge of the hall, doorstep and passages.  After this she should go into the drawing-room, cover up every article of furniture that is likely to spoil, with large dusting-sheets, and put the chairs together, by turning them seat to seat, and, in fact, make as much room as possible, by placing all the loose furniture in the middle of the room, whilst she sweeps the corners and sides.  When this is accomplished, the furniture can then be put back in its place, and the middle of the room swept, sweeping the dirt, toward the fireplace.

Bedroom work – Breakfast served, the housemaid proceeds to the bedchambers, throws up the sashes, if not already done, pulls up the blinds, throwing back the curtains at the same time, and opens the beds by removing the clothes, placing them over a horse, or failing that, over the backs of chairs.  She now proceeds to empty the slops.  In doing this, everything is emptied into the slop-pail, leaving a little scalding-hot water for a minute in vessels that require it; adding a drop of turpentine to the water, when that is not sufficient to cleanse them.

Lights – The chamber candlesticks should be brought down and cleaned, gas and electric globes cleaned, and the parlour lamps trimmed – and here the housemaid’s utmost care is required.  In cleaning candlesticks, as in every other cleaning, she should have cloths and brushes kept for that purpose alone; the knife used to scrape them should be applied to no other purpose; the tallow-grease should be thrown into a box kept for the purpose; the same with everything connected with the lamp-trimming; always bearing in mind, that without perfect cleanliness, which involves occasional scalding, no lamp can be kept in order.  After scalding a lamp, it should be rinsed out with a little spirits; this will prevent the oil sputtering on first being lighted after the scalding.’ (1915:pp. 1775-1780)

Historic household cleaning products, the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.

Household Recipes

‘Black Lace, to Revive – Make some black tea about the strength usual for drinking and strain it off the leaves.  Pour enough tea into a basin to cover the material; let it stand 10-12 hours, then squeeze the lace several times, but do not rub it.  Dip it frequently into the tea, which will at length assume a dirty appearance.  Have ready some gum-water and press the lace gently through it; roll it in a cloth and pat it well; after which, pin it to a towel in any shape you wish it to take.  When nearly dry cover it with another towel and iron it with a cool iron.  The lace, if previously sound and discoloured only, will after this process look as good as new.

Burnt Saucepans – Pans and saucepans that have been burnt should never be filled with soda water, as this, although it removes the burnt portions, also makes the saucepans liable to burn again.  Instead of soda water, fill them with salt and water, and leave till next day, then bring slowly to boiling point.  The burnt particles will come off without any difficulty, and there will be no after effects.

Crickets and Beetles – If the rind of cucumber is laid on floors where crickets and beetles abound, they will soon disappear.  A method of destroying the pests is to place a deep saucer of stale beer upon the hearth at night, and rest three or four sticks upon the edge for the insects to crawl up.  When once they get into the beer they soon drown.

Finger Nails –  If the finger nails have become stained or discoloured in any way they should be soaked in a pint of warm water containing a dessertspoonful of lemon juice.  If the nails are very brittle, it is a good plan to dip them for a few minutes each day in lukewarm sweet oil, which has the effect of making them less liable to crack or break off at the least provocation.

Flies – Beer or treacle in a saucer, or treacle smeared on sheets of paper will attract and kill flies.  If a small quantity, say the equivalent of a teaspoonful, of carbolic acid be poured on a hot shovel it will drive files from the room.  A sprig of fresh mint hung up in a kitchen will also drive away flies.

Hair, Treatment of – Twice a month wash the head with a quart of soft water, in which a handful of bran has been boiled, and in which a little white soap has been dissolved.  Next rub the yolk of an egg, and wash it off thoroughly with pure water, rinsing the head well.  Wipe and rub the hair dry with a towel, and comb the hair from the head, parting it with the fingers.  If the hair has been very dry before the washing, a little bay rum should be used.

Lace, to Preserve – Silk lace should be soaked in hot milk and borax to prevent it from turning yellow.  White paper should never be used for keeping lace in when not in use, but blue tissue paper must be employed, the corners being folded over and secured with pins, so that the rays of light may not discolour the lace.

Laundry Soap – Mix 6 lb of washing soda with 3 lb of unslaked lime, and pour 4 gallons of boiling water over both.  Stand until very clear, then drain off the water and add 6 lb of pure fat.  Boil all together until it begins to harden, stirring almost constantly.  This will require nearly 2 hours.  When boiling, thin with 2 gallons of water.  Try the soap by pouring a little on a cold plate, and when thick enough, throw in a handful of salt, and take from the fire.  Pour into a wooden tub wet with cold water.  When cold cut into bars or cakes.

Lip salve – A good salve, useful for cracked lips, is made of equal parts of almond or olive-oil and the best white wax.  The latter should be melted, then set at the side of the fire, the oil added, and both beaten together and stored in small pots.

Pomade – Beat up 1/4 lb of pure hog’s lard, then add 2 pennyworth of oil of almonds, and mix thoroughly, adding a few drops of any scent that may be preferred. Put the mixture into small pots, and keep carefully covered.

Ribbons to clean – Mix 1/2 a pint of gin, 1/2 a lb of honey, 1/2 a lb of soft soap, and 1/2 a pint of water together; then lay each breadth of ribbon on a clean table, and scrub well on the soiled side with the mixture.  Have ready plenty of cold water and into it dip the ribbon, holding it by the corners.  Do not wring the ribbon, but hang it up to drip for a minute or two, after which it should be laid in a clean cloth and ironed quickly with a very hot iron.

Satin Shoes – White satin dancing shoes which have become soiled may be easily cleaned by means of spirits of wine.  A piece of new white flannel should be dipped in the spirits and rubbed in a rotary direction over the soiled portions, a fresh piece of flannel being substituted whenever this is necessary.  Shoes of white satin should always be kept in blue tissue paper, and if laid on one side for any length of time the paper should be covered with a thick piece of wadding so as to exclude the air and keep the satin from turning yellow.

Shampoo – Shave 4 ozs of good white Castile soap, and pour over it a pint of boiling water.  Put it into a porcelain vessel, where it will keep hot until the soap is dissolved.  Keep this after it cools in a glass jar, as it becomes a kind of jelly.  When ready to use it, beat the white of an egg into it.  Wet the head all over, rubbing the mixture into the scalp well before using any water; then rinse the head several times, with hot water first and finishing with tepid.

Silk Stockings, to wash – For these soap should not be used, but a decoction of bran and water.  To each pint of water add 2 tablespoonfuls of bran and wash the stockings in this.  Rinse thoroughly in a succession of clear waters.

Tea Stains on Linen – If fine linen is stained with tea, even after a long time, the stains can be removed by applying glycerine.  A little of the best glycerine should be rubbed on the stained parts before washing.

Violet Powder – Reduce 6 ozs of the best starch to the finest powder, and sift it through a piece of muslin; then rub into it 2 drachms of powdered orris-root.  The powder can be tinted with rose-pink or a little stone-blue.  If desired it can be scented with lavender, lemon or attar of roses.

Wine Stains on Linen – When these are observed a little milk should be put on the fire to boil, and when boiling the stained portion of linen should be held in it until the spot disappears sufficiently to enable it to be washed out completely with soap and water.’  (1915:pp.1790-1818)

For the more information about Breamore House and Countryside Museum. Click Here.

Selection of historic cleaning products on display in the Village Shop exhibit, Breamore Countryside Museum, Nr. Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
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