Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mrs. Beeton's exhortation on housemaids...

It is almost the close of 2008. At this time of year, as you start to clean up Christmas decorations, I think your mind automatically goes to decluttering. I am trying to refit everything that came out of those boxes back in once again. I had decided to pick up a book I ordered in this past year called "The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton" by Kathryn Hughes. This will be my next read since I finished a book this morning.

My mind wondered to Victorian housemaids as it would if you are thinking about Mrs. Beeton. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a house full of housemaids when in the midst of Christmas chaos (cleaning up that is!)?

Here is a portion of Mrs. Beeton's exhortation on the duties of being a household maid. Life was busy and hard I think but then they did get those wonderful bedrooms up in the attic. *grins* I cannot help it as I grew up with a mother who wants an attic bedroom. *grins again* It would, of course, have to have an ample supply of quilts to keep me warm in the cold much like my bedroom now has. The other thing I am doing these last few days of 2008 is working on a new quilt. It is my reward between all the cleaning. Now I would not want a seamstress as I love having the needle in my hand...


2292. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," saith the proverb, and "order" is in the next degree; the housemaid, then, may be said to be the handmaiden to two of the most prominent virtues. Her duties are very numerous, and many of the comforts of the family depend on their performance; but they are simple and easy to a person naturally clean and orderly, and desirous of giving satisfaction. In all families, whatever the habits of the master and mistress, servants will find it advantageous to rise early; their daily work will thus come easy to them. If they rise late, there is a struggle to overtake it, which throws an air of haste and hurry over the whole establishment. Where the master's time is regulated by early business or professional engagements, this will, of course, regulate the hours of the servants; but even where that is not the case, servants will find great personal convenience in rising early and getting through their work in an orderly and methodical manner. The housemaid who studies her own ease will certainly be at her work by six o'clock in the summer, and, probably, half-past six or seven in the winter months, having spent a reasonable time in her own chamber in dressing. Earlier than this would, probably, be an unnecessary waste of coals and candle in winter.
2293. 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 hearth-rugs of those rooms which she is going to "do" before breakfast. In some families, where there is only a cook and housemaid kept, and where the drawing-rooms are large, the cook has the care of the dining-room, and the housemaid that of the breakfast-room, library, and drawing-rooms. After the shutters are all opened, she sweeps the breakfast-room, sweeping the dust towards the fire-place, of course previously removing the fonder. 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 black-lead brushes, leathers, emery-paper, cloth, black lead, and all utensils necessary for cleaning a grate, with the cinder-pail on the other side.
2294. 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. The cinders disposed of, she proceeds to black-lead the grate, producing the black lead, the soft brush for laying it on, her blacking and polishing brushes, from the box which contains her tools. This housemaid's box should be kept well stocked. Having blackened, brushed, and polished every part, and made all clean and bright, she now proceeds to lay the fire. Sometimes it is very difficult to get a proper polish to black grates, particularly if they have been neglected, and allowed to rust at all. Brunswick black, which is an excellent varnish for grates, may be prepared in the following manner:--

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton, 1861 - Chapter 41 - Domestic Servants

After reading all of these duties, perhaps cleaning up Christmas decorations is not so bad after all!


Nancy said...

Well, this sounds like your kind of book for sure. I am very happy right now that I put very little out this year. Before I leave, every snowman will be back in the attic. They have to go in early this year since my trip to Fl. is Jan. 8th. I know right now you are having fun with starting your new quilt. I am still doing the afghan.
Love you, Mom
PS: Thank you for my Christmas gift, it is on my blog.

Judy said...

What a cute post. I wish I had a couple of housemaids!!

Tone said...

haha!! - cleaning up after christmas seems wonderful for me, after reading about the duties they had these days.
Do you tidy after christmas already?
We dont do this until the "13.th day of Christmas" - but then I am fed up... - got a new Gardening magazine today - oh I long for ordering new roses.
Christmas has been ok - have had a couple of days not having guests or been at dinner somewhere - one evening just pizza and redwine on the sofa - fantastic! :-) xmas here in Norway is a long long week of dinnerparties and family all over. Thats why a "day off" on the sofa is great...!
Have had wonderful icecold weather - today we have been ice-skating, kids love it.
Tomorrow on newyears eve - we are having guests again for dinner - nice!
Thank you for sharing life this year - looking forward to know you in the next year as well!!
Love from Tone

Pieceful Afternoon said...

What a fun post -I've reserved the book at our library.

Happy New Year!

shirley said...

something wrong with your music. Itplays the bag pipes along with a christmas song. Hope it is just short lived problem. I'm going to shut off your music while I check out your beautiful site. I love the girl making snow angels.

DonnaTN said...

I don't think I have the stamina to be a housemaid and I'm sure they were not paid well for all that hard work! I have enough trouble with housecleaning in the 21st century. I'll keep my time saving appliances!

Pondside said...

If I can't have a housemaid, I'd like a housemaid's box please, with all that interesting polish, the brushes and tools of her trade. (don't worry, I'd not be using them - I'd give them to The Great Dane!)

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog and as I am currently employed as a maid and have been "in service" as it was known, for about 7 years I felt compelled to post.
Some things have changed since Mrs. Beetons day but cleaning is still cleaning and some jobs are still the same. Get up early , work hard and do it all again tomorrow!!! I work for a family of 6, 5 bedrooms,4 bathrooms etc. etc. so although times have changed so have the number of maids, one only here!!
I do all the cleaning, laundry, ironing etc. I start at 7.00 so I can get b'fast ready and start on school and other take out lunches.
After b'fast the regular day starts with kitchen clean,making beds,cleaning bathrooms,sorting laundry and general cleaning till lunch. After lunch there is more cleaning, ironing, after school snacks for 3 and prep for dinner. I don't cook, but do serve dinner and clean up after. I do have some time out during the day but I usually don't finish till about 8.30 pm.