Upstairs, Downstairs

Do you know what your Victorian ancestors did for a living? Given that there were over one million servants working in Britain by the 1850s (making ‘service’ the secord largest occupational group) there’s a very good chance that Victorian servants feature in your family tree.

Young grooms working for households in Dorset Square, Marylebone. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Mews were built behind the homes of well-off residents of London in order to provide stabling for their horses and carriages, and homes for the servants. The young grooms in this picture would have been working for households in Dorset Square, Marylebone. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The lives and working conditions of Victorian domestic servants varied widely, as did the range of people who employed them (from aristocrats like the sixth Duke of Bedford, who kept a staff of three hundred, to the thousands of middle -class families who employed a single ‘maid of all work’).

The Victorian Domestic Servant, by Trevor MayThe Archives Centre’s Book of the Month, Trevor May’s The Victorian Domestic Servant covers a wide range of domestic service experiences in the Nineteenth Century, describing the work and conditions of servants and giving an insight into the strict social hierarchy, which was as strong ‘below stairs’ as above.

If you’d like to learn more about where and how your ancestors lived and worked, the Archives Centre has a wealth of specialist family history resources available (and friendly, helpful staff to get you started). We have free access to online family history sites, census material and historic parish registers as well as maps, photographs and reference books to help you get a feel for how your family lived. Were they ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’? Find out at the Archives Centre!

[Michelle]

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