A new exhibition, 'Belonging to the Household', has opened at Sewerby Hall and Gardens, and runs until 1 September.
The first decade of the twentieth century – the Edwardian era – was the end of the golden age for country house service staff. After the end of World War I, everything had changed: more pay and more free time in factory work, together with a decimated population, were all contributing to a shortage of people who saw a career in service. This exhibition celebrates the Edwardian servants, and the household of Sewerby Hall in particular.
The Manual of Domestic Economystated that elite society with an income of over £1000 could conceivably keep a butler, groom, two housemaids, a cook-housekeeper and a lady’s maid. The Lloyd Greames of Sewerby Hall consistently kept more servants than this, which excluded those servants who worked outside: laundry maids, gardeners, the coachman, gamekeeper and bailiff.
For ordinary people, going into service was one of a very limited number of options. Although the government wished to raise the school leaving age to 14, many children of poorer families left school aged 12; overcrowding and poor food at home forced many a child’s hand into working at ‘the big house’. Starting out as a scullery maid aged 12 however, a girl, with guidance from the cook or housekeeper, could rise through the ranks.
The exhibition looks at a variety of roles including the Fabric Rescuer, expert chemists, the butler, laundry maids, and the housemaids, and considers the hierarchy and dress codes for the staff. It also explains the wages paid to the different ranks.
Curator Janice Smith said : “For anybody who has ever watched programmes like ‘Downton Abbey’ or ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, or simply wondered how the great country houses used to be run, this exhibition is a fascinating insight into a world that is now long gone.”
For full details, opening hours, and admission prices, visit www.sewerbyhall.co.uk, where visitors can save ten per cent on admission by booking in advance.
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