Life below stairs at Lanhydrock
Life for a Victorian servant could be tough: up before dawn to start their work, not going to bed until after the last family member had turned in for the night and only one afternoon off a week – if you were lucky.
Servants at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall were luckier than most though. The Agar-Robartes family took a real interest in their employees’ welfare, providing medical care for them and their families of they fell ill.
They also made a point of referring to employees as staff rather than servants. They provided them with a good standard of living and even gave them Christmas and birthday presents and annual treats, such as trips to the theatre or picnics in Newquay.
This created a great deal of loyalty amongst the staff, with some staying in service with the family for generations. Silvanus Jenkin, the steward (1851-1909) was the 6th generation of his family to help the Agar-Robarteses manage their estate.
Two separate worlds in one house
Roebert Kerr’s 1864 book of moral guidance, ‘A Gentleman’s Hosue’, states ‘the family constitutes one community, the staff another’.
At Lanhydrock the servants’ areas were located well away from the living areas used by the family to ensure that the family would not accidentally bump into any of their staff going about their work.
There is a network of bells that stretch around the hosue, which the family pressed to call a servant if they needed one. Look for these push buttons on the dining table, in Ladyship’s boudoir and elsewhere around the house.
Not just an upstairs downstairs divide
It wasn’t just the family and the servants who were kept apart. Male and female staff were kept completely separate, even to the extent of having different flights of stairs and doorways to use to prevent them coming into contact with one another.
The only time everyone met up was at mealtimes in the servants’ hall, when everyone would sit together at a long central table in a strict order of hierarchy.
The butler and housekeeper would sit at the top of the table, with the female staff seated down from the housekeeper in order of status, and the male staff down from the butler. Meals were eaten in silence, but when the butler and housekeeper left, the servants were free to talk amongst themselves.
Have a meal in the servants’ hall
You can eat in the servants’ hall today, as it’s now a waitress service restaurant. You can even sit in the seats of the Victorian staff and discover more about them as you do. We won’t expect you to eat in silence though.