Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Maid's Bone-Weary Work Never Ends @lizbwrites @KMNbooks @MillsandBoon

KAREN: Elizabeth Bailey pens tales for Harlequin Mills & Boon and Berkley Books (Penguin US). She's also ventured into Indie publishing as well. She's here to give us a behind the scene look at a maids' life: scouring, sweeping, dusting... Sound familiar? lol Let's give Ms. Bailey a warm welcome!


Although Theda in Hidden Flame is actually supposed to be employed as a companion, she does end up having to do work more suited to a maidservant. This was the chief source of occupation for young girls, both in villages and great houses, but in a small household, they were often the only servant and had their work cut out.

I have a lovely little research volume called “The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman” from the late 18th Century, which details what different servants did.

Floors had to be swept and scoured, the Water Closet pan had to be mopped inside with warm water, the front steps swept, the hearth cleaned, and the hall and staircase swept and dusted every day. Furniture to be dusted, rooms to be swept and aired and be careful to shut out the sun with blinds so it doesn’t fade the carpets. Three times a week, she cleaned the garret rooms where the servants slept, and once a week, she “whisked” the curtains and shook mats and carpets.

This is just the maid’s work. If she was cook, laundrymaid and chambermaid too, she was really kept busy with washing once a week - hand scrubbing in a tub, and using a mangle afterwards, hanging out to dry, ironing, folding and putting away. She lit fires, took up jugs with hot water for washing, made beds, keeping sheets aired, sewed and mended.

The canny maid would light the kitchen fire and set water on to boil for personal washing before doing anything else when she gets up at five or six, because when downstairs is done, she has to make breakfast, probably baking rolls as well as setting the table and serving coffee.

When the rooms are done, there’s dinner to prepare, ready to serve in the late afternoon. She might get the odd hour free after her own dinner before serving a light supper, then tea, followed by turning down the beds, closing the curtains around them and running a warming pan over the sheets. Finally, she must put out the fires and candles before she finally falls into bed around seven or eight.

And all this for what return? Your maid of all work got between £3 to £10 per year, paid quarterly. In today’s money, this is about £168 to £560. In addition, she was housed, clothed and fed, so it cost her employer in our money between £672 to £2240 per year. But she probably had a quarterly personal expenditure income of only £1.35 (or £135 in our money), of which she likely sent the bulk home to mum.

These maids were young, starting around 13 or 14 years of age. There was always a turnover because they were apt to leave, either to marry or to try their fortune in the larger towns, hoping for a better job. They were also targets for seduction, and a maid who fell pregnant was likely to decamp in the night.

A tough life, but what was a girl to do? If she was born into the working class, her choices were limited and one imagines she was only too happy to have a steady job while she vied with her fellow maids to catch a worthwhile husband.

Elizabeth Bailey grew up in Africa with unconventional parents, where she loved reading and drama. On returning to England, she developed her career in acting, theatre directing and finally writing. Elizabeth has 18 novels published by Harlequin Mills & Boon and recently began a Georgian historical crime series of which the first two books, THE GILDED SHROUD and THE DEATHLY PORTENT, were published by Berkley Books (Penguin US). But since she still loves romance, Elizabeth is delighted with the. opportunity to publish her work independently

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Karen Michelle Nutt said... Best Blogger Tips


Thanks so much for joining us and sharing the behind the scenes research. Interesting!

LizB said... Best Blogger Tips

@Karen Michelle Nutt

My pleasure, Karen. Thanks for having me. I hope your readers enjoy it.

Anne Stenhouse said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Liz, we shared a taxi at Penrith RNA last year. I'm just starting out in hist rom and appreciate posts like this with comparative detail. Difficult fully to understand the hardships of life in the 18th century. Anne Stenhouse

LizB said... Best Blogger Tips

@Anne Stenhouse

Yes, Anne, I remember the taxi ride! We do tend to glamourise the period in romance, of course, but a little of the realities in the background is always good, I think. Personally, I'm glad I live now!