Subscribe to the newsletter and get Edwardian-themed news delivered straight to your inbox!


The Duties Of The Cook And The Parlourmaid


Different types of households required different types of servants, and in smaller houses, the servants combined the duties taken on by multiple servants in much larger houses (compare 165 Eaton Place to the palatial Downton Abbey). Here we have the duties of a cook and parlourmaid in an upper or middle-class household (likely in London).

Cook in Edwardian middle class household

Cook’s Duties

The cook is a very important personage in the house, and her duties vary considerably according to the number of servants kept and whether or not she has assistance given her from either a kitchenmaid, or “between-maid” (one who’s time is divided between up and down stairs), or a charwoman, or a boot-boy.

If the help of a charwoman is given, she does the rough cleaning of the kitchen premises, leaving the cooking and the lighter cleaning for the cook. If a boot-boy is employed, he cleans the knives, boots, fills coal-scuttles, and sometimes cleans the windows as well. In the country this work is frequently done by the gardener or odd outdoor man.

In a family of average size, if this amount of help is given, there should be ample time for quite good cooking; but where cook has no extra assistance the cooking must necessarily be more simple.

Wages vary from 20 for a plain cook to about £40 per annum.

Beside the list of duties given below, the cook-general takes charge of the maid’s bedroom, fills the coal-scuttles, washes up all the dining-room crockery, except glass and silver, answers the back door all day and the front door up to 12 o’clock.

With all this daily work and special cleaning it can be easily understood that she has only time to prepare, cook, and serve simple dishes. Anything specially elaborate is usually done by the mistress or daughters of the house.

Where only one other servant is kept it is wisest to advertise for a cook-general rather than a cook, as, when so styled, the latter at times goes on strike and refuses to assist in the housework.


It may be well to note here that perquisites and commissions from the tradespeople should be absolutely forbidden, but it is wise to make this clear when engaging the cook. There is a popular idea that she has the right to sell dripping, bones, empty tins, jars, etc.; also to claim and receive a commission on the various bills paid, the usual sum being 1s. in each pound. It is difficult to stop the latter system; but the mistress must make sure she is only paying fair prices, Write her own orders, and keep a careful watch to see there is no waste or undue amounts used.

It is also well now and then to ascertain that the quantity of milk ordered is actually left, and to weigh meat and bread.

Where you have a conscientious, careful woman there is no need for supervision; she will do it herself. But where young and in-experienced girls are in charge it is hardly fair to put temptation in their way by leaving them to their own devices.

Usual Dress for Cooks

Cooks should always wear washing dresses and white aprons, with coarse ones for cleaning purposes. Black dresses and fine aprons are usually worn in the afternoon.

Frequently cooks do not wear caps, except in houses where they are expected to answer the front door.

Cook’s Time Table
Household where two maids kept, and a charwoman for half a day on Tuesdays and Fridays.

6.30 a.m.: Light kitchen fire; sweep hall, do doorstep, brasses, etc.; clean boots.
7.30: Prepare and have kitchen breakfast.
8.30: Prepare dining-room breakfast; tidy kitchen; wipe out larder.
10.0: Receive orders for the day from the mistress.
11.0: Prepare lunch and kitchen dinner.
12 noon: Have kitchen dinner (usually one hour allowed).
1 p.m.: Serve lunch; clear and wash up kitchen dinner things; tidy kitchen; do any light cooking or cleaning.
4.0: Change dress. (Housemaid usually prepares and clears away kitchen tea.) Prepare and–
7.30: Serve dinner.
8.30: Wash up and tidy in scullery; have supper; tidy kitchen.
10.0: Go to bed.

Special Duties

Monday: Clean larder and kitchen store-cupboard.
Tuesday: Charwoman cleans outside places and area (if there is one), and washes kitchen cloths. Cook cleans all tins and brasses.
Wednesday: Clean scullery.
Thursday: Turn out own bedroom.
Friday: Charwoman cleans kitchen stairs and passages, and special kitchen work.
Cook makes cakes and pastry for the week. Saturday: Weekly clean of kitchen stove and dresser.

Edwardian Parlourmaid

The Duties of a Parlourmaid

In many large establishments parlourmaids have taken the place of menservants, it being thought that they are less expensive to keep, do more work, and ask lower wages. In many houses there may be a head parlourmaid, with one or more undermaids, or she may be single-handed, or classed as a house-parlourmaid.

Wages vary from about £18 to £30.

The correct wear for a parlourmaid in the morning is a print dress, white cap and apron; and in the afternoon a black dress, turned-down white collar and cuffs, and muslin cap and bib-apron.

These are usually provided by the maid herself. Should, as so often is the case, a uniform be worn, it would be supplied by the mistress.

Quiet shoes are one of the most important items in the dress of a parlourmaid, as not only are heavy, creaky ones most disturbing, but also the maid, in her endeavour to walk quietly, usually becomes awkward and slow of movement.

Care Of Hands

A parlourmaid is expected to take care that her hands do not become roughened and stained with her manual work, and even if she has a considerable amount of it to do, there is no reason why her hands should appear neglected if only she invariably wears washleather gloves when doing grates, etc., and frequently rubs her nails and hands with lemon.

The appearance of a parlourmaid is of considerable importance, those possessing tall, trim figures being in far greater demand than short, stout individuals on account of their more graceful movements when wailing at table. Unless already acquired, some slight drilling is often necessary to teach an inexperienced parlourmaid how to announce visitors, etc., in a clear, distinct, yet not loud voice.

Parlourmaids, as well as valeting the gentlemen, are often expected to help pack, etc., and render any assistance needed when there is no ladies’-maid.

Extra Duties

If the family is large, or there is not a between-maid, the parlourmaid is often relieved of the care of flowers, writing materials, etc., in order that she may have more time for her pantry work, silver, etc.

She would also have to do the grates of the dining-room and library, unless a special arrangement has been made that all grates are done by the housemaid, who, in her turn, is relieved of some of the dusting, or receives help from the parlourmaid in making the beds.

Parlourmaid’s Timetable
Household where Cook and housemaid and between-maid also kept.

6.30 a.m.: Sweep and dust dining-room; brush and take up gentlemen’s clothes; lay dining-room breakfast; have morning papers ready; have own breakfast.
8.30: Wait at dining-room breakfast; finish library; see to ink, blotting-paper, etc.; clear dining-room break-fast, and wash up.
10.30: Dust drawing-room; see to flowers and plants; attend to silver, castors, lamps, etc.; be ready to answer sitting-room bells and front door; attend to fires; do any special duties for the day.
12.30 p.m.: Change dress; set and serve luncheon; make up fires and tidy sitting-rooms.
2.0: Have own dinner; take in coffee, if required; clear luncheon; wash up; do mending of table linen or gentlemen’s clothes.
4.30: Prepare and take in afternoon tea.
5.0: Have own tea; light up house, time according to season; clear tea, and wash up tea things.
6.30: Put out gentlemen’s evening clothes; ring dressing-gong; lay dinner-cloth; see to fires; tidy room.
7.30: Wait at dinner; serve coffee; clear dinner; wash up; take in aerated waters, etc., at 10 o’clock.
10.30: Lock up house; put out lights; bed.

–Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia v1

Domestic Servants in Edwardian England


Edwardian servants

I can’t believe I’ve never written a post about servants on this website, but since there are so many other websites and books out there who’ve covered the subject in much more detail (and possibly better than I will), this post is a quick and dirty rundown of the who, how, where, and why of Domestic Servants in Edwardian England.

In her memoirs, Before The Sunset Fades (1953), Daphne Fielding, ex-Marchioness of Bath, detailed the forty-three member staff employed at Longleat during the Edwardian era:

One House Steward
One Butler
One Under Butler
One Groom of the Chambers
One Valet
Three Footmen
One Steward’s Room Footman
Two Oddmen
Two Pantry Boys
One Lamp Boy

One Housekeeper
Two Lady’s Maids
One Nurse
One Nursery Maid
Eight Housemaids
Two Sewing Maids
Two Still Room Maids
Six Laundry Maids

One Chef
Two Kitchen Maids
One Vegetable Maid
One Scullery Maid
One Daily Woman

Such a large staff was not typical amongst all great country houses, but the scope and scale of the house, not to mention the entertainments and house parties and fetes held on the estate, required a large staff of mostly invisible employees to keep everything humming along. Outside staff usually comprised of coachmen, grooms, stable boys, gardeners, gamekeepers, and later the chauffeur/mechanic. Some households even hired their own dairymaids, who churned the butter, milked the cows (though some localities employed cowkeepers for this task), watched the cheeses, and made the cream. If there were no chef (usually male, always French), there was a cook (a woman, always British), who unfortunately was usually paid much less than her male counterpart. Included in the wages of domestic servants were allowances for beer, sugar, and tea, and they given annual gifts of cloth with which to make up their uniforms.

Much further down on the social scale, etiquette books and authors who advised on household management, such as Mrs. Beeton, gave this advice on the recommended number or variety of domestic servants one could afford based on income:

About £1,000 a year—A cook, upper housemaid, nursemaid, under housemaid, and a man servant.
About £750 a year—A cook, housemaid, nursemaid, and footboy.
About £500 a year—A cook, housemaid, and nursemaid.
About £300 a year—A maid-of-all-work and nursemaid.
About £200 or £150 a year—A maid-of-all-work (and girl occasionally).

By the mid-Edwardian era, legislation was introduced to protect the rights of domestic servants, and Lucy Maynard Salmon’s 1901 publication, Domestic Service, covers these legal, social, and employment aspects of domestic servants in both Europe and America. Though WWI did not break the tradition or need for servants, post-war housewives had long been admonished by women’s journals and newspapers and books about self-sufficiency, and the invention of household appliances gradually chipped away at the dependence on servants. Nevertheless, the character of the country house, or even the London mansion, was largely created by its large staff, and being “In Service” was considered a coveted position for the lower classes for a surprisingly long period in history.

Further Reading:
The Domestic Staff – Bricks & Brass
Domestic Servants in Hinchingbrooke House
Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale
The Up-to-Date Waitress
Dining at Preston Manor
Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson
Life Below Stairs in the 20th Century by Pamela Horn
The Rise & Fall of the Victorian Servant by Pamela Horn
Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison
Life Below Stairs: In the Victorian & Edwardian Country House by Sîan Evans
Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell

Obtaining Servants


Servants' registry

It is no easy matter to secure quickly the treasure for whom you are seeking. Do not be in a hurry and take anyone; it only entails expense, much vexation, constant changes, and a bad reputation in the neighbourhood, because it is soon said that ” no one ever stops with Mrs. So-and-so.”

Better by far put up with temporary help than with someone who is unsuitable. It is a moot question whether it is better to find servants (1) through the medium of a registry office or (2) advertisements, or (3) through friends or tradespeople.

No. 1 answers well if you deal with a thoroughly good office where the head has a good reputation to keep up, and who charges a small booking fee of a is. or thereabouts, and then an engagement fee when the applicant is suited.

No. 3 is not always practicable, as it is a slow method, therefore No. 2 (an advertisement in a first-class paper) is generally the best.

State your requirements briefly, but plainly, and it is wise to conclude with the words ” No registries,” if you do not desire to deal with any, otherwise you are apt to be inundated with letters.


A personal interview is necessary. No mistress is bound to pay the applicant’s fare, unless she has agreed to do so beforehand, though sometimes an attempt is made to demand it.

During the interview it is wise to ascertain:

1. Why she left the last situation.

2. What wages she desires.

3. If her health is good.

4. What experience she has had.

5. What hours off and holidays she expects.

If possible, show the girl the house, kitchen, and her own room. Explain clearly all details of the situation, such as number in family, hours for rising and coming in, dress, and so forth, so that she knows what is expected of her.

Obtaining Characters

If the first interview is mutually satisfactory, the next move is to write to the lady who is to give the character. Written recommendations are to be avoided if in any way possible, as many false characters are thus obtained; the address of an empty house in a good neighbourhood being given, the care-taker of which is a friend or relative of the applicant. This friend opens the letter and replies in glowing terms about So-and-so’s honesty, cleanliness, etc.


Wages are usually paid monthly, dating from the day on which the servant enters the situation.

Keep a wage-book, enter each payment, and always require the payee’s signature. Unless a special arrangement is made, remember no deduction may be made from wages for breakages, or for illness.


No mistress can nowadays hope to keep servants unless she allows them reasonable and healthy relaxation. Usually one evening a week is given, between the hours of about 6 and 10, alternate Sunday after-noons and evenings, and, perhaps, an extra afternoon and evening once a month.

The yearly holiday ranges from a week to a fortnight. Fresh air and exercise are as essential for the maid as for the mistress, and it is bad management and false economy to permit domestics to become unhealthy and discontented for lack of them.

A New Servant

Be sure and give her a good start. Before her arrival see that all the cupboards, apparatus, cloths, etc., belonging to her province are in good order. Hand her an inventory of everything over which she has charge, and a plainly detailed scheme of her daily and weekly work, hours, etc.

A considerate mistress will also make sure that the maid’s room, bed, etc., are clean and comfortable, and will be prepared to show a little indulgence for the first week, or until the girl has been given time to settle down and learn the various fads of the family.

– Volume 1 of Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia