Servants' Living Quarters

Upstairs, Downstairs

By Charlotte Jordan

“I have known it so cold in the servants’ bedroom that their false teeth were frozen solid in a glass of water”.

Winnifred Cummins, maid at Knebworth House, 1920s (Memories of Knebworth Park, Codicote Historian, Aug 1986)

Before the late 17th century, servants dined, slept and worked in the main part of the house, sleeping wherever space was available such as in the kitchen or in cupboards under the stairs. Only the very grandest houses had distinct areas and much later in the 18th centuries, servants’ quarters were purpose built. Often attics were used as bedroom and in the absence of electric or gas lighting they were cold, damp and dimly lit.

“A servant’s bedroom should have as few articles in it as are consistent with comfort”

(from a household manual)

In a household manual of 1870, employers were instructed to keep a servant’s bedroom as sparsely furnished as possible as should include “a small wooden bed, a wooden ladder-back chair and a simple basic washstand”. The working day was so long that the only time they spent in their rooms was when they slept. The majority of lower servants had to share a room.

In the 18th century, servants were summoned by a hand-bell but by the 19th century, the invention of the bell pull meant they could be summoned from greater distances. From this time, it was fashionable for servants to be as invisible as possible. The design of larger houses concealed their existence on the outside with small entrances at the back of the house and inside through hidden corridors and stairs.

Upstairs, downstairs

This page formed part of an exhibition developed by staff at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

This page was added on 24/08/2011.

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