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Old 07-24-2021, 05:44 AM   #1
pgb
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: UK
Default Demographics of servants etc

Demographics only in a loose sense - though actual demographics would be interesting too...

I'm interested in a population-level overview of domestic servants, in eras where all well-to-do households had at least some sort of maid, cook or similar - particularly 17th to early 20th centuries. Specifically: roughly what proportion of households had servants? What proportion had more than one or two? (Not very well-defined, since servants don't have to be live-in, I guess.) Obviously it varies, but any examples/generalities welcome.

This is a world-building question rather than specifically GURPS, or even role-playing, but hopefully of some wider interest.

Any good general sources for this kind of information? GURPS supplements would be great, but pointers to academic sources would be good too.

Thanks!
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Old 07-24-2021, 02:38 PM   #2
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Quote:
Originally Posted by pgb View Post
Demographics only in a loose sense - though actual demographics would be interesting too...

I'm interested in a population-level overview of domestic servants, in eras where all well-to-do households had at least some sort of maid, cook or similar - particularly 17th to early 20th centuries. Specifically: roughly what proportion of households had servants? What proportion had more than one or two? (Not very well-defined, since servants don't have to be live-in, I guess.) Obviously it varies, but any examples/generalities welcome.

This is a world-building question rather than specifically GURPS, or even role-playing, but hopefully of some wider interest.

Any good general sources for this kind of information? GURPS supplements would be great, but pointers to academic sources would be good too.

Thanks!
I don't have a source, but I recall hearing that - before the Great War at least - having at least one full time servant was how you determined that you had made it into the middle class (not quite the Roman rule of "poor was being unable to afford even a single slave", but similar) - and even the top end of the working class might have a char lady who worked for them for a few hours. The first servant acquired was generally a maid of all work - although in the countryside a labourer for agricultural work was often an early hire as well.
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Old 07-26-2021, 04:55 PM   #3
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Quote from Agatha Christie, she never thought she would be so rich as to afford a car or so poor she couldn't afford a servant.

If you lived in a boarding house you effectively shared servants. The landlady and her maid(s) and possibly cook cleaned your room, cooked your meals and possibly did your laundry.
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Old 07-26-2021, 06:37 PM   #4
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

From Comme il Faut, a supplement on Victorian society for R. Talsorian's Castle Falkenstein rpg, pp. 34-36:

"Servants are often the backbone of the economy -- we're talking up to 16% of the workforce in a place like England, ...
"A good-sized house may employ upwards of ten to twenty servants (or "domestics"). That's typical of a well-to-do manor; a palace or a schloss may have as many as a hundred people scurrying around doing the work of keeping things running."
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Old 07-27-2021, 09:16 AM   #5
dbm
 
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Location: Lancashire, UK
Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

This page has some interesting analysis of UK census information, including various references to servants:

Vision of Britain

There will be lots of information like this available for Britain over the last hundred years or so. The tricky bit is finding the specific stuff one is interested in.
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Old 07-27-2021, 01:38 PM   #6
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
I don't have a source, but I recall hearing that - before the Great War at least - having at least one full time servant was how you determined that you had made it into the middle class (not quite the Roman rule of "poor was being unable to afford even a single slave", but similar) - and even the top end of the working class might have a char lady who worked for them for a few hours. The first servant acquired was generally a maid of all work - although in the countryside a labourer for agricultural work was often an early hire as well.
Thanks.That's kind of what I meant in the question, but better expressed, and a good point about the upper working class. The link with the Roman/slave case is a good point of comparison too.
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Old 07-27-2021, 01:40 PM   #7
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbm View Post
This page has some interesting analysis of UK census information, including various references to servants:

Vision of Britain

There will be lots of information like this available for Britain over the last hundred years or so. The tricky bit is finding the specific stuff one is interested in.
That's fantastic - many thanks. I thought there must be something like that out there... Much obliged.
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Old 07-28-2021, 12:40 PM   #8
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Happy to help - the ONS in the UK is pretty free with their info, the trick is getting hold of it and the analysis.
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Old 08-01-2021, 03:58 AM   #9
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
I don't have a source, but I recall hearing that - before the Great War at least - having at least one full time servant was how you determined that you had made it into the middle class (not quite the Roman rule of "poor was being unable to afford even a single slave", but similar) - and even the top end of the working class might have a char lady who worked for them for a few hours. The first servant acquired was generally a maid of all work - although in the countryside a labourer for agricultural work was often an early hire as well.
In the countryside a labourer was something just about any farm would have at that time, unless the farmer had a son of suitable age (and even then he might hire a labourer and send his son out to work as one for experience).
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Old 08-02-2021, 09:31 AM   #10
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Default Re: Demographics of servants etc

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Originally Posted by Rupert View Post
In the countryside a labourer was something just about any farm would have at that time, unless the farmer had a son of suitable age (and even then he might hire a labourer and send his son out to work as one for experience).
Indeed - noting that it's similar to the lower middle class filter: if you have a farm that can pass as anything above a smallholding, you're already better off than quite a lot of the population.

Also, I'm reminded that dairymaids were suprisingly well paid for female servants - apparently they required a great deal of skill and a good one had the capacity to make a lot of money for their employer.
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