Ring for Service: The Role of Servants in a Country House

For our June meeting, a small group of us went to Kean University’s Liberty Hall Museum for brunch and a tour of Liberty Hall and the servants who lived and worked in the house in the early 1900s.
 

 We started off with the Downton Abbey Brunch.

Brunch started off with a champagne toast and was followed by a delicious assortment of breakfast foods, assorted sandwiches, and fresh fruit. 

After we ate, came Downton Abbey Trivia.  First we had to all come up with our aristocratic names*.   I’m happy to announce that four of our members had correct answers and won some prizes.  You go ladies!

After brunch we were broken into groups to go on tour of Liberty Hall.  The house is set up to show you what the servants lives/jobs were like working in a country house in the early 1900s.  Most rooms had a headless mannequin that represented a staff member who worked at the house during this time period.

We started our tour in the basement where an unnamed maid was doing some stitching in the servants’ dining room.  Anna was hard at work preparing dinner.  As the cook she was the second highest in the staff hierarchy, she was in charge of all food preparations and order as well as keeping the accounts. In the laundry room, Mary, was finishing up with the last of the napkins for dinner. As laundress, Mary, had the hardest and lowest paying job.  She was in charge of washing, drying and ironing all the clothing and linens for all family and staff in the house.

Grace, the butler, was at his station by the front door waiting to great the visitors coming to tea.  He has the honor of being the top of the hierarchy and holds a position of power and respect. He is the representative of the family, the first person any guest will meet upon entering the house.  Elsewhere on the first floor two maids, Pauline and Alize, are busy at their jobs.  Both women were highly trained and as such were able to do their jobs and remain unseen by the family and their guests.  Pauline was cleaning up the morning room after the family’s breakfast and Alize was in the Victorian parlor with Mrs. Kean waiting for the guests for tea.  William, the footman, was busy setting a precise and perfect table in the dinning room.  As a footman’s job was to be a show piece as much as to do other functions.  They were expected to be tall, single, and good looking.

As we moved up to the second floor we meet Mary, a chamber maid or lady’s maid who is helping Mrs. Kean (who is now done with her tea) get dressed for dinner. As we head from Mrs. Kean’s bedroom into Mr. Julian’s room we see that William has finished setting the table and since he is also Mr. Julian’s valet has laid out his clothes for dinner.

While the staff is busy getting the house ready for dinner we headed upstairs for a peek into their rooms.  Anna, the cook, has a very nice room compared to the other staff on this floor.  She has minimal furnishings but a great view of the gardens.

I hope you enjoyed my brief account of our tour and I highly suggest you head up to Kean University to see this exhibit before it closes in October.  Check back Wednesday when I’ll share with you the Servants Rules and the monthly wages of the staff we visited today.

*Check back Friday to see how we created our names.

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