[Stella Tillyard in her book Aristocrats (1994) tells the story of the four Lennox sisters (1740-1832), daughters of the Duke of Richmond in England. Emily married the Duke of Leinster and resided at Carton House, Maynooth and Leinster House, Dublin. Her sister Louisa resided at Castletown House, Celbridge. In this passage, Stella Tillyard outlines the lifestyle of servants in a large mansion such as Carton House.]
The housekeeper, the butler and the clerk of the kitchen were collectively responsible for the day-to-day running of the house. The housekeeper took, or anticipated, commands from Emily [Duchess of Leinster] herself. Her provinces were the laundry and the rooms in the main house. The housekeeper's maids, divided into upper-house maids and lower-house maids, washed and cleaned, laid fires and made beds. Immediately below the housekeeper in the female hierarchy were the wet nurse (one was more or less continuously resident at Carton in the 1760s), Emily's own maids and the nursery staff. Lastly grouped among the lower servants - who were the cleaners and washers rather than the fetchers and carriers - was the plate maid. Her job was to wash the [silver] plate in bran and water, and then polish it to a sparkle with lamp spirits, whiten and alcohol. She worked for the butler but came under the housekeeper's protection.
The Carton housekeeper was paid £30 a year. She had a maid of her own and, in deference to her gentility, she was in charge of the tea caddies and sugar loaves. After 1762, she also had a bell pull, a luxury which ... had become a necessity because of the laziness of the maids.
... Working closely with the housekeeper was the butler Stoyte. Stoyte operated from his sanctuaries, the pantry and the stillroom, where the plate, linen, tableware, bottles, candles, condiments and groceries in everyday use were stored. The pantry and the stillroom formed the command centre for provisioning the household. Under-servants brought candles there from the chandlery, bread from the bakery and butter from the home farm. Maids carried freshly washed and ironed damask tablecloths and napkins from the laundry. Pantry boys took empty wine bottles out, brought new ones in and replenished the ale casks.
... When meal-times came round, servants made for different rooms according to their rank. At the 'second table' in the steward's parlour sat the higher servants and any guests they might have. The wet nurse and all the maids dined in the still-room, while the other servants headed for the servants' hall or the kitchen. Though meals were snatched, food was plentiful and loaded with good cuts of meat. The Duke was careful to prescribe a hearty diet for his workforce and eager to impress visiting stewards or factors with the quality of his servants' table ... On Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they ate 'boiled beef, cabbage and roots'. On Thursday they were given 'boiled mutton with turnips, etc. if convenient, or boiled pork, pease pudding and potatoes instead of mutton'. Friday was a fish day in deference to the religion of the vast majority of Carton employees ...
After supper the servants' hall was supposed to be locked, but ... it was easy for servants to flout the Duke's orders. Sometimes there was gaiety, drinking and dancing. House parties in the main part of the house meant parties for servants too. Ladies' maids, valets de chambre and coachmen all came with their employers to house parties and they brought with them bustle and fun, new faces for intrigue and fresh material for gossip.
Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN.
Published by Chatto & Windus. Used by permission of Random House Group Ltd.