Words from Wells

The Life of a Lady’s Maid

history, lady of the house, wells house

A lady’s maids’ specific duties included helping her mistress with her appearance, such as make-up, hairdressing, clothing, jewelry and shoes. A lady’s maids’ job description was vast and required a knowledge that may now be lost in time.

Traditionally, the lady’s maid was not as high-ranking as a lady’s companion, who was a retainer rather than a servant, but the rewards included room and board, travel and a somewhat improved social status. In some cases, a lady’s maid would be addressed by her surname by her employer, while she was addressed as “Miss” by junior servants or when visiting another servants’ hall.

Ladies who could afford the luxury of a maid, would always keep one. The lady may have shared her maid with her daughter or daughters; and there were some, who, though well able to afford to keep a lady’s maid were too independent to accept the services of one, preferring to do everything for themselves.

A lady’s maid was clever and competent in performing the duties of her place. She must have understood dressing, dressmaking, repairs to fabric, arranging the lady’s clothing for a dinner party.

She must have possessed good taste, understood the care of fabrics, leather, silk, wool and have experience in carrying out the repair of all clothes. She would also hand make entire outfits for the lady of the house, which was a skill highly sought after.

Lady's Room Call Bell at Wells HouseThe lady’s maid worked quite closely with the lady of the house. To work in such a personal way with the lady of the house would suggest a good relationship between the two existed. The lady’s maid would be privy to delicate family and business information and so confidentiality was a must.

The role of the lady’s maid would have been quite a nice position to have on a Victorian estate especially if the lady of the house was of a friendly disposition.

Menial jobs in the house such a cleaning or laundry would never be expected from the lady’s maid. She was expected to hold a position of high rank on the staff hierarchy list. When downstairs in the staff quarters, the lady’s maid would have been addressed and served much the same as the lady of house would be upstairs and would sit at the top of the table in the servant’s quarters.

Time off was little but the evening hours from eight o’clock in the evening were her own; often being allowed out for a walk in the afternoon, and naturally on Sundays to attend morning and afternoon, or morning and evening church. Large estates such as Wells had a church of their own for staff to attend.

Lady’s maids also acquired certain gifts from time to time within her employment but only in cases where the lady was very wealthy. The more expensive toiletries, fur, satin, lace, and so on, were never given, but sometimes left, in cases of death. In small households where upper-housemaids were not kept, the lady’s maid (after tending to the lady of house) would then take on other duties also.

The last recorded lady’s maid at Wells House and Gardens was a girl called Ida Chambers approximately 19 years old. Her name appears on the 1911 census. On the 1901 Census the lady’s maid was an older woman called Lace who had travelled from England with Lady Francis after her marriage in 1870 to Charles Mervin Doyne. Such loyalty and long-standing employment between a lady’s maid and the lady of the house was common.

The early 20th century started to see a decline in the use of a lady’s maid though the contrast of the lives of the staff and family on these estates still intrigues.

 

 

 

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