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Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale

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The hierarchy of British domestic servants in a large manor in 1890, the wages servants would make back then and corrected for inflation to today’s values.
During the 1990s and early 2000s Hollywood and Britain released several successful movies about life in the 1800s. Public interest in these films prompted BBC to produce made for TV reality shows showing what life was like during this era, notably The 1900 House and The Manor House. These shows got me wondering about the hierarchy of British domestic servants at the turn of the last century and how much they earned. This webpage is a condensation of what I learned from several written and Internet sources (notably: Daily Life in Victorian England by Christopher Hibbert, The Victorian Household by Marion Lochead and the website Victorian Servants at www.ourwardfamily.com/victorian_servants.htm as well as material gleaned from a dozen other lesser sites.

The chart that follows shows the hierarchy of the servants of a major manor house in 1890. Such an estate would consist of a family headed by a gentleman of titled nobility, such as a duke, or an extremely wealthy business man, such as the president of Lloyds of London or the Bank of England. Men of this level would have incomes of at least 10,000 pounds sterling a year, equivalent today after adjusting for the 1890 exchange rate of $4.87 US dollars per pound and a century of inflation to $1,200,000 per year. If this amount seems too small to support at large household of servants (around 1890 the Duke of Westminster had a staff of 50 indoor and another 50 outdoor servants) it has to be acknowledged that the disparity between the rich and the poor was much greater then than now. The average servant earned a mere 25 pounds a year or $2,700 in today’s economy. Cheap labor is what made large staffs possible.

It was impossible to categorize every type of servant at the turn of the century. Many great houses had specialty niches into which they placed a servant that might not fit in any other house. While the basic structure of the servant hierarchy was similar from house to house, the complexity of the great houses was such that a one-size-fits-all approach was not possible. The following chart focuses only on the principle servants.
Two salaries are listed for each position. The first is what the position paid in 1890 pounds, the second is what that salary would equal today after adjusting for the 1890 exchange rate and inflation to 2005. These values are based on the averages cited in several different references and should only be considered as approximations. Individual salaries varied significantly depending on the servant’s appearance, attitude, capabilities and the size of the house in which they worked.

Domestic Servant Hierarchy

Upper Staff

Butler
The highest ranking official servant. Responsible for running the house. Forty to 60 pounds ($4,300-$6,400) per year.  He also received considerable ‘gratuity’ money from venders selling goods to maintain the house. In smaller estates the butler assumed the house steward’s responsibilities.

Housekeeper
Responsible for the female staff and maintaining the house’s furnishings.  Her salary was usually 5 to 10 pounds less than the butler’s ($3,700-$5,400) per year.

Cook or Chef
In charge of the kitchen staff and responsible for preparing   the family’s meals. (An under cook would prepare meals for him and the staff.) Because food quality was an important method for impressing guests, chefs often earned more than butlers even
though they ranked below them. A cook for a modest house might only make 30 pounds ($3,200) a year while a famous chef for a royal family might earn as much as 300 ($32,000.)

Lady’s Maid and Valet
Their main job was to be a private servant for the Lady or Master of the house: assisting them with dressing, caring for their cloths, being a general companion and even performing secretarial duties. They were hired by the Lady and Master of the house rather than by the butler, housekeeper or house steward. Typical salaries were 20-30 pounds ($2,100-3,200) per year.

Lower Staff

First Footman
Next in line to replace the butler. His main job was to be tall, handsome and represent the estate’s grandeur. He accompanied the lady of the house on shopping expeditions, served the family meals and assisted the butler in his duties. Oddly, his responsibility did not include heavy work such as carrying coal or water. These were left the the female staff. His salary was around 30 pounds ($3,200) a year. Many footman’s salaries were based one how tall they were rather than how well they did their work.  The taller and more impressive they were the more they received. Their income was supplemented by 5-15 pounds ($500-$1,500) a year in tips and other gifts from lady of the house.

Footman
Additional male staff for opening doors, waiting at table, assisting gentleman or accompanying ladies as needed. Twenty pounds ($2,100) per year.

Chamber Maids
Responsible for cleaning bedrooms. Twenty pounds ($2,100) per year. I imagine they were slightly higher than parlour maids because chamber  maids were in more intimate contact with the family, or at least the remnants of their presence.

Parlour Maids
Responsible for cleaning and maintaining the sitting rooms, drawing rooms, etc. of the house. Twenty pounds ($2,100) per year.

House Maid
General purpose worker. Sixteen pounds ($1,700) a year

Between Maid
Worked in either the house or the kitchen as needed.  Fifteen pounds ($1,600) a year.

Nurse
Responsible for raising the babies and young children of the house.  Ten to 15 pounds ($1,100-$1,600) per year depending on age and ability.

Kitchen Maid
Assists in kitchen work. Fifteen pounds ($1,600) a year.

Scullery Maid
Dish washer. Thirteen pounds ($1,300) per year Laundry Maid Washing and ironing. Thirteen pounds ($1,300) a year.

Page or Tea Boy
Apprentice footman. Eight to 16 pounds ($860-$1,700) per year depending on age, height, appearance and abilities.

Head Gardener
Like the head groom the head gardener was management and therefor upper staff, yet his position outside the house prohibited him from occupying a position in the house’s upper servant’s. Also like the stable master his position of authority had its compensations. Because a grand estate’s grounds were as important to impressing guests as the chef’s skill, the head gardener could earn a very high wage, as much as 120 pounds ($12,800) per year.

Grounds Keepers
The general laborers under the head gardener. They’d do everything from planting trees to cutting grass. Eight to 16 pounds ($850-$1,700) per year depending on age and ability.

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