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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 September 2007

Labor Day and Chatsworth

The Tenth Duke of Devonshire, Edward William Spencer Cavendish, died in 1950 at age 55 while chopping wood. It took his heir, Andrew, over seventeen years to resolve the problem of the death duties of eighty percent which had to be paid on the estate. The “estate” included Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall and all the other family residences, investments and works of art.

To make a long and painful story short, it finally occurred to the Duke to offer Hardwick Hall to the government in lieu of duty. Even when the government agreed and handed it over to the National Trust it still took six years to complete the negotiations

This is not a blog about death duties, but rather a continuation of my fascination with the Great Houses and, in recognition of Labor Day, what it took to maintain them as buildings and as homes.

This information is from THE HOUSE: Living at Chatsworth by The Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford Cavendish), a charming very personal account of the life and history of one of the greatest of the Great Houses.

It was and is a formidable task to make The House run smoothly.

Here is the Duchess’s list of the staff in middle of the 20th century before the death duties complicated life: the butler, the Duke’s valet, the under butler, the groom of chambers, two footmen, steward’s room footman, housekeeper, the Duchess’s maid, head housemaid, two second housemaids, two third housemaids, two fourth housemaids, two fifth housemaids, two sixth housemaids, two sewing women, cook, first kitchen maid, second kitchen maid, vegetable maid, two or three scullery maids, two still room maids, dairy maid, six laundry maids, Duchess’s secretary. All of these people lived in the house. The upholster, sculleryman, two scrubbing women, laundry porter, steam boiler man, coal man, two porter’s lodge attendants, two nigh firemen, night porter and two window cleaners came in daily. (from Page 54)

One small cog in this giant machine is the laundry. The head laundry maid met weekly with the housekeeper to discuss what specialty linens were needed for the week, what equipment and linens were aging and needed replacement and to discuss her junior maids.

The laundry porter’s sole job was to carry heavy baskets wherever they needed to go. (An aside: this ranks right up there with the man at Burghley who walks the roof everyday. I bet they had one of those at Chatsworth too.)

Some of the tablecloths were fourteen yards long and took four people to fold them. Napkins were a yard square. Irons of several different sizes were heated on the fire and the large ones, weighing fourteen pounds, were used to give a gloss to the damask (Oh so that’s how you do that!)

The account of one laundry maid includes the following: “Monday: Up at 5AM to mangle sheets ready for ironing. After breakfast wash personal items for Lady Anne, Lord Charles and Miss Saunders. In the afternoon started ironing, went on until 7 or 8 o’clock. Tuesday: Iron all day. Wednesday: Iron all day including personal items.” (page 62) . These women did not need the gym to develop muscles in their upper arms.

For this she was paid (in 1920’s) 30 pounds A YEAR plus 18s a week board and wages. She had one week and one weekend holiday per annum.

Happy Labor Day. In appreciation and celebration I am going to iron tonight while I watch The Closer and Saving Grace. How about you?

14 Comments:

Blogger Gabriele C. said...

I wish I could afford a laundry maid. I hate ironing. But you don't get them for 30 pound per annum these days. ;)

I'd like a window cleaning maid, too. Mine are always wrapped in cobwebs on the outside, which is eeeeww.

Fascinating tidbit. Thanks for sharing.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I am so gald that someone shares my fascination with the details of Great House life.

As for windows, it could be worse, Gabrielle. Chatsworth had 397 external window frames and 62 internal window frames. Along with other glass elements there are 7,783 panes of glass to clean. I am guessing that would be a full time job -- wonder how they felt about cobwebs.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Wow, that's a lot of windows. I have 8 which is bad enough. :)

My grandmother had a maid until after WW2, and while I don't know how much pay she got, part of the deal was: "A new Sunday dress for summer and winter a year, and one pair of solid shoes." Grandmother also used the help of a freelancing washer woman who helped in households on washing days - Wasch- und Plätttag, as it was called in German.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the info, Mary. Guess the laundry maid wouldn't be the sprightly, smartass one the heroine confided in.

And as a Labor Day tidbit, I want to put in a word in honor of the present Duchess of Devonshire's late sister, the brilliantly witty Jessica Mitford, author of many books including The American Way of Death, Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking, and a wonderfully funny autobiography, A Fine Old Conflict, which phrase was taken from her childhood misunderstanding of the line of The Internationale that goes 'tis a fine old conflict.

There are no books by Jessica Mitford on sale amongst the piles of Mitfordiana at the Chatsworth gift shop, btw. But happy Labor Day anyway, everone.

10:26 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

oops, of course I meant that the line is 'tis the final conflict.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Tracy Grant said...

What a great labor day post, Mary! I try to pay attention to the servants in my books, to flesh them out as characters and consider things from their perspective. But I'm sometimes staggered by the sheer number of people it takes behind the scenes to make my characters' lives and houses run. Your post is an excellent reminder!

Happy Labor Day!

3:05 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Of the six Mitford sister, Unity Valkyrie Mitford fascinates me the most. According to Wikipedia she was "famous for her adulation of and friendship with Adolf Hitler. She shot herself in the head when World War II broke out, but failed to kill herself and eventually died of meningitis" in 1948.

Pam, I expect you would most like to have met Jessica Mitford. I have to admit that Debo is the one that I would like to talk with. The Dowager Duchess is the only surviving Mitford sibling (the one brother, Tom, died in Burma in the WWII)I doubt she is receiving visitors these days.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I never met Jessica Mitford, but she did once phone order a book from our bookstore many years ago, in a rather thrilling voice. I'd love to read more Mitford memoirs by Jessica and her sister Nancy as well. One of the commonplaces around our house has always been that the Mitford daughters used to refer to their father as "one of nature's fascists." (Or some of them, I dunno about Unity or Diana who married Oswald Mosely, head of Britain's own far far far right party for years.)

What a fascinating bunch.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I think that was the subtext of today's post,Tracy -- so many people seeing to the comfort of so few.

Pam, you actually talked to Jessica? Your bookstore had a book she wanted. How very gratifying and it gave you a story to tell years later.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Camilla Bartley said...

Ooh Chatsworth and the Mitford's. My favorite is Nancy of course, author of the wonderful The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. I'm always staggered by the number of servants required as well and find their numbers make the movements of my characters much harder than I thought.

The heroine of my WIP is a Germany princess and with maids constantly in her room and footmen following her everywhere, I have to be clever in realisticly maneuvering her secret meetings with my English hero.

5:59 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Rolls said...

Ye Gods! It's been so long since I came out to play I'd forgotten my password and had to go through the whole rigmarole again. Right! There is a fabulous book called The Serpent and the Stag by John Pearson - It's a history of the Cavendish family, right through from Bess of Hardwick to the late Duke. It details much of the legal and financial wrangling he and his wife did to save Chatsworth. Fascinating stuff. It's a fairly old book now - 1983. I picked it up in a used book shop some years ago. I have quite a collection of books on or by the various Mitfords. A fascinating family, if slightly dysfunctional.

Gabriele, it's when the cobwebs are on the inside that I start to panic. I plan to do the windows mid December - right before the in-laws visit for Christmas.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Lol, cobwebs inside my flat have a survival time of ten seconds after I discovered them and get the vacuum cleaner.

Spiders, too. :)

7:49 PM  
Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Mary,
When I visited Chatsworth in 2005, the Dowager Duchess was just moving out of the great house and turning over a lot of her duties to the Duke. One charming thing about Chatsworth were the little chickens that flocked around the entrance. It made it seem homey....until you walked inside!

12:21 PM  
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