Upstairs and downstairs at Hitchin Priory

The Delmé Radcliffe family and staff

By Jennifer Ayto

Frederick Delmé Radcliffe
R. L. Hine, Hitchin Worthies

The Delmé Radcliffe household


At the fictitious “Downton Abbey” the number of family members is neatly balanced with a similar number of staff.  The more modest household at The Priory in Hitchin demonstrates that in practice there was a large complement of servants to support a family.* 

The 1851 census recorded Frederick Delmé Radcliffe, aged 46, a Landed Proprietor and Head of the household.  The family comprised his wife, Emma, four daughters and two sons ranging in age from 9 year old Evelyn to Arthur who was 10 months, plus 18 servants.  The needs of the children were catered for by a Governess, a Nurse and two Nursery Maids.  Emma also had a Ladies Maid.  

Other staff included a Butler, Housekeeper, two Laundry Maids,  two Housemaids, a Still Room Maid, two Kitchen Maids and a Scullery Maid and a Footman.  The Butler, Richard Wadlow, was described as married and his wife is to be found in Tyler Street [Tilehouse Street] with their son, also Richard, and daughter. There is no mention of a Cook.  Perhaps she was absent on census night?  It was Mothering Sunday and might have had the time off to visit her family. 

There were also two grooms (one of them was John Wadlow, Richard’s brother).  Also included in the list of servants was Ann Barber, aged 74, described as an Annuitant and “formerly a Nurse”.  Was Frederick looking after his old nanny? 

Frederick Delmé Radcliffe died in 1875 and so by the time of the 1891 census it was his son, Francis, who was Head of the household.  He was recorded as a Commander RN Retired and aged 45, some six years younger than his wife, Mary.   To support them there was a Housekeeper, a Ladies Maid, 3 Housemaids, a Kitchen Maid, a Scullery Maid, two Footman, a Coachman and a Groom. 

Once again, no mention of a Cook  and no record of a Butler.  (Richard Wadlow, the Butler in 1851 had moved.  The 1881 census recorded him as a Licensed Victualler, running the Red Lion at Spalding and employing 6 servants.  His brother, John, was with him).  Perhaps the Butler had the night off.  The post did not disappear, the 1901 census recorded William Everett as Butler. 

There were no children and so no need for nursery maids.  The other change from 1851 is that there are no Laundry Maids resident in the household.  This might suggest that they lived at home or alternatively that much of the washing was sent out.  Certainly there was a Steam Laundry in Ware Road, Hertford by this date.  There was, again, an old retainer, Ann Rivett, aged 87, described as a Nurse Pensioner. 

Francis Delmé Radcliffe was still the head of household in 1911 and the family comprised his wife and nephew.  However, running the household still required a number of servants.  The office of cook and housekeeper were combined in Jane Legg who had been recorded as Housekeeper in 1901.  There was also a Lady’s maid, 3 Housemaids, a Kitchen Maid, a Scullery Maid, a Butler, Footman and Groom.  There is also a Hall Boy, Alfred Quaman, recorded as born in Burmah, Rangoon.




Further information on domestic service can be found in P. Horn, “The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant” (Gloucester, 1990).

This page was added on 05/02/2015.

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  • More information on life at The Priory can be found in the inventory of household goods made in January 1876 by George Jackson following the death of Francis P Delmé Radcliffe on 30 November 1875. (HALS/D/Z86/1).
    There were four bedrooms for the servants on the top floor, each containing a bed, washstand, chest of drawers, a chair and a rug. The senior servants were on the next floor. The Lady’s Maid and Housekeeper had some extra comforts such as a foot bath, bidet, a carpet and easy chairs covered in chintz.
    Mrs Radcliffe’s bedroom was naturally better furnished with tables, chairs, bookshelves, a bedstead plus sundry china ornaments, prints, oil paintings and engravings, an 8-day bracket clock, inlaid box, japanned box, letter box, china and 2 glass vases. Her dressing room had more tables and chairs, a wash stand, wardrobe and sundry pictures, plus more in glass cases. There were also means to heat the room with coal scuttle and fire irons listed.
    Mr Radcliffe’s dressing room included a clock, chairs, sofa, bath and wash stand, desk and dressing table, gun rack, gun cases, a model of a ship and a case of medals.
    Francis Delmé Radcliffe was Master of the Hertfordshire hounds and published, in 1839, “The Noble Science: A few general ideas on Fox Hunting”. (This was celebrated in 1897 by Baily’s Magazine of Sports and Pastimes as being “always a text book for huntsmen”. (HALS/DE/Gr/46/1/16 – A Necrology of Hitchin townsfolk)). Not surprisingly, there were several fox’s heads around the house and prints included “Dead Rabbit and Fruit on table” and “Dead game, spaniel and landscape” plus 2 breech loading guns by Lancaster, a rifle by Matheus and a single barrel and rifle by Barrell.
    The two wine cellars showed evidence of home brewing with six bottles of blackberry whisky, raisin wine and eight bottles of black currant gin. The Servants’ hall had tender and fire arms, a copper tea kettle, eleven oil paintings, a long elm table, 2 forms and a stool plus 2 deal tables with 3 forms and a Windsor chair. There were two more guns in the Butler’s pantry with glasses and decanters. There were store rooms with dinner services and other china and glass, plus kitchen pots and pans, a scullery and a pantry with breakfast and tea services, a Wash house and laundry with patent mangle and six clothes horses, Bakehouse and Larder.
    Outside there were four horses, a pony cart and carriage plus a donkey and small quantity of carrots, a harness room with more fox heads, 3 hunting saddles, 2 pony saddles and a side saddle. The garden contained cucumber frames, a greenhouse, a barrow shed, tool house, dairy, a brew house and work shop.
    George Jackson valued the effects as £3498.9.0. The articles bequeathed to Mrs Radcliffe were assessed as £584.7.0 and the wearing apparel bequeathed to Primett (the valet) at £20.0.0 with the residue resting at £2498. 2.0.

    By Jennifer Ayto (23/04/2023)
  • I believe the Butler was Albert Howard who also lived out with his wife. My Great Uncle was his God son and knew the Howards well

    By Sally McGinty (04/07/2022)
  • My mother and aunts always told me that my great grandmother, Emma Morgan, was Cook at Hitchin Priory.  She and her family lived in Charlton.  Husband Harry Morgan and sons William Henry Morgan (1889-1978) and Ernest Arthur (1892-1915).  Maybe she lived out?  Delighted to find out more.

    By Jane Tunesi (26/05/2015)