Monthly Archives: June 2017

Huggett’s Life Below Stairs

Photo1386How much do you know about the Victorian way of life? No, I don’t mean great feats of engineering that helped to shape the technologically-oriented world of today. I don’t mean the much-romanticized life of aristocracy and tales of idle extravagancy. No. I mean the little people, the littles of the little-the servant class. I already wrote about the probable life of a Marjon’s maid (St. Marks then). But In contrast we have the folk in Huggett’s Life Below Stairs. And yes, the life of a servant was one full of drudgery, endless days of hard work. We all know about the life of servants in big houses, but those weren’t nearly as bad as the lives of Maids-of-All-Work, the ‘slaveys’ or ‘trotters’ as they used to call them, because of their trained gait that was supposed to convey the greatest amount of enthusiasm and willingness to serve. And if you were doubly-unlucky and went with all your family into a workhouse, you might have been snipped into domestic service by someone who was looking to save some money. Not only would you be expected to do tasks that you never done before, but you’d be scolded for not knowing how to do them AND worked around 18 hours per day. Providing I would survive the long days of work, I’d be driven mad with sleep deprivation within a week. No wonder some folk would rather choose the life in the streets than a fate not much better than slavery. But that’s not all. Do you think that we’re living in extremally lookist society? That’s nothing comparing to Victorian standards, where you could be a footman if you were tall and handsome and only a stable boy if you were not. Appearances and orders of importance were as rigid among the elite as they were among the little folk. If the work wouldn’t kill me, trying to remember the rules sure would. How was that important that ‘the housemaid might not use a veil or a parasol’ but both were permitted to a lady’s maid’( in Huggett 1977)? The mind boggles at the hierarchy among the serving people, most probably made so those who were looked down upon have someone to look down on too.
But I’ve been talking too long already. If you’re utterly fascinated by the history of day-to-day life, check out Huggett’s Life Below Stairs.

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Deserved?

Where did your school(s) stand on the subject of corporeal punishment? I only went to one where the teacher, a clearly ill-suited matron, was free with her hand and various improvised implements. We lived in terror, and I’m glad that those methods are mostly living in the past. Like this story published in ‘Marjon Magazine’, dated summer 1998:
‘…after one series of tests Mr Hansen called a Welsh boy to the front. ‘I’m going to give you the cane Davies. Do you know why?’ Davies did not know and we could not even guess. Davies was very bright and for non-conformist chapel-goer conformed very well. ‘Because Davies,’ said Mr Hansen. ‘you’re second in the class and but for one stupid error you would have been first.’ Davies was duly caned. None dared complain.’
Yikes! Now whether you’d say he deserved it, or that you think that to err is human, you can clearly see the drive to absolute perfection that was pressed into old way of life- anything but would not be accepted. But my subversive curiosity would not let me stop wondering: if Davies was now second in class, who had risen over him to be the first?:-)

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Filed under long time ago