About six or seven years ago, a gentleman of considerable fortune, a merchant of Liverpool,|
paid a visit to London after an absence of many years. He took an open carriage one fine
afternoon, and drove with a friend to those quarters which he remembered once fields or
gardens, and where magnificent streets and princely squares and terraces are now standing.
After exploring the apparently interminable region about Bayswater, they drove to the more
fashionable and still newer quarter called South Kensington. Here this gentleman's
astonishment was excited, not only by the vast changes in this locality, but by the style and
importance of the dwellings, which proclaimed them to be prepared for the wealthy only.
"The rents of these houses, you tell me," said he, turning to his friend, "range from three to
seven hundred [pounds] a year. Now in the north we reckon that a man's rent should not
exceed the tenth of his income. If you Londoners are guided by the same rule, what a vast
number of people there must be amongst you with good comfortable incomes of from three
to five thousand a year!"
His friend smiled, and half shook his head, was about to speak, when his companion
"People with ten thousand a year are, after all, not numerous: one might almost count them.
But where do all the occupiers of these houses come from? Tyburnia alone could swallow
up the West End that I remember twenty years ago. But how is this quarter peopled?"
"Perhaps," rejoined his friend, "from your part of the world—from Liverpool and
Manchester. But don't run away with false ideas of our London wealth. House-rent here is
no criterion of a man's means. With you it is comparatively moderate, with us inordinately
dear. And people of small or moderate incomes would get no home in London at all if they
limited their rent to a tenth of their income. And yet," continued the Londoner, with
something of a sigh, as the rent and cost of his own expensive abode in Tyburnia
presented themselves to his thoughts, "there is no item of our expenditure that we ought to
study more, or more determinately keep down than this very one of house-rent, for one's
expenses in this luxurious capital are very much regulated by the style of home and
quarter one lives in. For instance, the class of servants that present themselves to you are
more exorbitant in their demands, more luxurious in their habits, if you live in a fashionable
neighborhood, than if you occupy an equally large house elsewhere. Rather than lose a
footman who had been with me some years I was obliged to turn him into an under-butler
the other day, as he told me "the society he was in rendered it impossible for him to remain
any longer in livery."
This anecdote brought the conversation to the subject of household expenditure in London
as compared with that of the great northern towns; and the picture drawn by the Londoner
of the habits and customs of the great and wealthy in the metropolis caused his friend to
exclaim, with thankfulness, "It was well for him that he had to fight the battle of life
"Perhaps so," rejoined his friend; "but you, too, have your weak points. Whilst you are
content with waitresses, you spend double on your table. I have seen an alderman's feast
prepared for a party of eight, and a lady's request for a few oranges answered by a whole
case arriving, &c., &c. And then, again, your wives and daughters are more costly in their
"True! True! But we would rather spend our money upon them than upon flunkies."
Six or seven years have done little to alter the habits of living amongst the upper classes:
something, certainly, towards increasing their expense, and a great deal towards improving
and embellishing their abodes in town. The ugly, plain brick house, ill-lighted by windows
few and small, yet, nevertheless, well-built, and with much substantial comfort about it, is
now superseded by a bright, cheerful-looking dwelling, where, if there is less space, there is
more light and air; where, if though the area it covers be smaller, there is more
accomodation; where, if the walls are made thinner and neighbours ignored, the
convenience and comfort of all the inmates are more cared for; where, if the rent is higher,
the rates are less—where, in short, the attractions and advantages are so obvious that those
who are able to consider and follow their inclinations (that class of people usually so
prejudiced against the very new) have thrown aside this feeling, forsworn old
associations, and adopted the new quarters of the town as their own.
Shade of King James! arise and view the scene realized that filled thy acute and far-seeing
eye with dismay. Acres and acres of brick and plaster compass us around; the pleasant
country homes of England are despised; their occupants, great and small, brought by our
iron roads [railroads] into contact with the outer world, have had new impressions given, new
desires inspired; the calm and quiet, the leisure of country life becomes unendurable, they
exclaim, "Let us away! it is not good for man to live alone"—content to resign their
prominence, even their individuality, if they may, though but as a drop to the ocean, swell the
ranks of the world not inaptly named after their chief resort, Belgravia. Oh railroads! much
have ye to answer for. Twenty years hence we may look in vain for the social, kindly,
hospitable country life now only to be met with in remote counties, in Cornwall, in Scotland.
Already have you made the "Great Houses" independent of their neighbours. Their fish and
their friends come down from town together. And the squire, the small proprietor despairing
of husbands for his girls or his rubber [of whist] for himself, where the doors around are
closed nine months in the year, leaves his acres to the care of his bailiff and takes refuge in
the nearest watering-place [seaside health-resort], or yields to his wife's solicitations, and
launches also into the cares and troubles of
HOUSEKEEPING IN BELGRAVIA.
How much these three words combine! And yet, have we anything to say about the homes
and habits of Belgravia or the upper classes of London society, that people fancy they do
not know already? We will leave our reader to settle that question by-and-by, when he has
visited their abodes and inspected their menage [household management] in our company.
Formerly, when one spoke of oneself as living in the West End, one gave by that single
word a general idea of one's locality. In the present day it is necessary to specify the
particular quarter—whether Westbournia, Tyburnia, Belgravia, &c., for people now doubt
whether the Regent's Park district may be classed under that general head; and the
inhabitants of the regions round about Cavendish and Portman Squares speak modestly
of themselves as inhabiting an "old-fashioned part of the town." We therefore discard a
term which we do not care to define, or run the risk of offending by so doing, and adopt one
now generally understood to apply to all who move in a certain sphere of society, whether
living on one side of Oxford Street or the other, and derived from that quarter that contains
fewer of the workers of life, and offers, perhaps, more gradations of fortune, rank, or
fashion than any other. There may be found the wealthy titled, and the wealthy untitled family;
the fashionable without fortune, and the fashionable because of fortune; those who give a
prestige to the quarter they live in, and those who derive a prestige from living there. And
yet little more than thirty-five years ago Belgrave Square was not. It owes its existence to a
builder's speculation, who perceived the want of well-built first-class houses, and probably
foresaw the increased demand that would arise from the centralizing influence of railroads.
His speculation answered, in spite of the unhealthy reputation of the ground, and a new
suburb rapidly arose, provoking the emulation of other builders, who have now nearly
succeeded in their intentions of enclosing Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in a
labyrinth of streets and terraces. Small as Paris comparatively is, every one knows that she
has distinct quarters, and that each quarter has a character and society of its own. The
barriars that divide them are fast being infringed in this imperial reign. And we, who twenty
or thirty years ago had less cliqueism than any other capital, are gradually merging into it,
simply because the vast growth of the town has scattered one's friends so far and wide, that
for sociable and friendly visiting, people are thrown upon that which they are in most
frequent communication. Already there is a sort of esprit de locale (if we may so
express it) amongst the inhabitants of the new quarters that the old West Ender never
dreamed of. He lived in London. He never thought of fighting a battle over the respective
merits of Portman or Berkeley Square. Grosvenor Square, in his eyes, was ne plus ultra. And
if he did not live there himself, it was because he could not afford it; so he took the best
house nearest the Park that he could get for his money, and visited around, from a judge
in Russell Square to a peer in Piccadilly. "How do you like your house?" was a question
ften addressed. "How do you like this part of the town?" was needless to him. In the present
day it is the prelude to warm discussions; and so sensitive are people now to remarks
upon their district, so bitter in their objections upon other parts, that it has been proposed
more than once that Tyburnia and Belgravia should settle the vexed question of superiority
by an appeal to arms—or, in common language, "Meet and have it out in Hyde Park." If this
feeling increases, in ten years' time each of these vast suburbs will become, as it were,
distinct towns, with a character and society of their own.
Those who remain faithful to the dingy-looking streets around Portman and Cavendish
Squares, pique themselves on their central position, which enables them to enjoy the
advantages of every, without identifying themselves with any, meighbourhood; and it is in
these quarters still that some of the best resident London society may be found—society
that lays its claims to this position upon higher grounds than mere rank or fortune, yet not
deficient in either, the elements that form it being varied, and brought together from all
points. The remark made by a lady lately dining in Princes Gate would never have been
uttered there, or in Mayfair. After listening to the conversation that was pretty general for
some time, she said to her neighbour—
"I could fancy I was dining in the country, you are so very local in your conversation. I hear
of nothing but the state of the roads, of meetings about them, who has taken this house,
and who has bought that."
"Well," replied her neighbour, "I suppose we are. I myself hardly visit any one not living in
this immediate neighbourhood."
The question arises, In what does the superiority of one district over another consist?
Without entering into the reasons that induce people to prefer one to the other, we may
briefly describe them as follows:—Grosvenor Square and its immediate environs as the
most aristocratic, Belgravia the most fashionable, Tyburnia the most healthy, Regent's Park
the quietest, Marylebone and Mayfair the most central, and Bayswater and Eccleston
Square quarters as the most moderate. People's views and means may be guided, in a
general manner, by these leading features. The man of small income finds he must locate
himself in a region verging upon what in former years one would have called Shepherd's
Bush, or in a quarter uncomfortably near Vauxhall and the river; if a family man, solicitous
for the health of his children, he decides in favour of the former, where he finds a choice of
houses, from £60 a year and upwards to £200, and the rates moderate.
But, if either he or his wife are linked by ever so small a chain to the world of fashion, he
chooses the latter, where, for much the same rent and rates and taxes, he finds an abode
with all the modern improvements; extra story, light offices, plate glass windows, portico,
white-papered drawing-rooms, &c., and deludes himself into the notion of his being in
Belgravia. The man of an ample, though not large fortune, has a wider range: he may
choose from all parts, for there are homes to suit his purse and his style of living in every
quarter; but when his home is London—when he leaves the metropolis only, perhaps, for
a three-months' tour abroad, or some sea air at Brighton—he carefully eschews the "out
of the way" quarters, as he terms them; he will go no farther west than Connaught Place,
scarcely to Hyde Park Square, and no further south than Grosvenor Place, and so settles
finally in Mayfair or Marylebone, choosing the latter for health, the former for fashion, and
finding everything else too far from his club "and the busy haunts of men." In Great
Cumberland Street, one of the pleasantest and most central streets, a good small house
may be had for £200 a year, a larger one from £300 to £400; in Connaught Place, where
the advantages of light, air, and an open space in front (Hyde Park), are combined with a
central situation, and quiet at the back, from their being no thoroughfare, the smallest
house, including rates and taxes, will cost the owner £500 a year, and the larger
considerably more. These houses may perhaps be considered dear, for those near the
corner of the Edgware Road suffer from the noise and dust of that great line of traffic, and
many of the others are ill built. In Seymour, Wimpole, Harley, and Lower Berkeley Street,
the average rent of a good-sized well-built house, with stabling, is £200 a year. In the
Regent's Park, in the terraces that so delight the foreigner, there is a choice of charming
moderate-sized abodes at rents from £150 to £300 a year. These houses, however, in
spite of the advantages they offer of greater light and cleanliness, and the attractions of
gardens to look upon, and cheat oneself in summer time into the idea of being in the
country, must be considered expensive, as the accomodation they afford is limited, and the
terms from which they are held from the Crown involve more frequent painting and
restoration than is elsewhere insisted upon.
Within the last few years a new suburb has arisen, enclosing the once countrified Primrose
Hill, and throwing out arms that almost touch Hampstead and Highgate. We will not attempt
to decide whether it constitutes part of the West End; it holds much the same position, in
that respect as St. John's Wood; but as the class of people living there hardly come under
the head Belgravia as we define the term, we shall make a long step to the more
fashionable neighbourhoods of Mayfair and Park Lane, where a greater choice of houses
in respect to rent and size is to be met with than in any other part of London, and where a
man of good, although not large fortune, may locate himself very desirably; he must, of
course, confine himself to the streets, the squares in the older parts of the West End, like
Hyde Park Gardens, and the larger houses in Park Lane, Rutland or Princes Gate, facing
the Park, being attainable to the wealthy only, ranging from £500 to £1000 a year. There are,
it is true, a few smaller and less expensive houses in Berkeley Square; but, as a rule, if a
house in a square is desired, and the rent not to exceed £300 per annum, it must be looked
for in Hyde Park or Gloucester Squares, and the region beyond Portman and Belgrave
Squares. Grosvenor Square and one side of Eaton Square contain first-class houses,
family mansions, seldom in the market, and then chiefly for purchase, not hire. There are no
two more agreeable or convenient streets in London than Upper Brook and Grosvenor
Streets; and although there has been an invasion into them of brass plates, supposed to be
fatal to the fashion of a street, the character of the neighbourhood is not likely to fall but
rather to rise again; for the improvements projected and being carried out by the Marquis
of Westminster will place Grosvenor Square so far beyond its modern rivals, that the streets
in its vicinity will add to their present advantages the prestige of appertaining to it. Not only
are extra stories and handsome frontages being added to these princely dwellings, but as
the leases fall in, the noble owner sacrifices some of the houses in Lower Grosvenor and
Lower Brook Street, to build stabling for the houses in the square. It cannot be doubted,
therefore, that when a nobleman can lodge his servants and his horses as well in Grosvenor
as in Belgrave Square, he will not hesitate between the two.
A great proportion of London residents, however, do not hire but buy their houses, or rather
the leases, paying a ground-rent, which varies, of course, according to situation; and as
land becomes more valuable every day, is higher in the new than in the old quarters of
London, except of course in business quarters, and in such cases as, for instance, the
Portland estate, where many leases having lately fallen in, the duke has doubled, and in
some instances trebled, the ground-rent on renewing or granting a new lease, so that a
small house on his property was paying £60 a year ground-rent, and one of the same
dimensions in Upper Grosvenor Street only £20. Generally speaking, the ground-rents of
Tyburnia are higher than those of Belgravia; whilst the new houses in South Kensington are
higher still. Houses looking into Hyde Park, whether north, south, east or west, are in much
the same ratio, from £70 to £150 yearly; those on a large scale even higher: one, for
instance, in Princes Gate was lately to be sold at a ground-rent of £200 per annum; and fast
as squares and terraces and gardens spring up (for street is now an old-fashioned word) in
this magnificent quarter they are inhabited, furnished, and fitted up handsomely and
luxuriously, proving that the owners who have the money to buy, have also the money to live
in them; and causing even the old London resident, a being who is never astonished at
anything, to inquire with a Lord Dundreary air of surprise, "Where all these rich fellahs
come from?" More than one-half are supplied by the legal profession and the mercantile
community. There has been quite a flight of judges and well-to-do barristers to South
Kensington—long-sighted men, who saw that it would be a rising neighbourhood, and
bought their houses before Fashion had given the approving nod, which instantly ran up
the rents to a premium. To this class of men the drawbacks to this neighbourhood are
unimportant, the distance from those parts of the town that we may term the heart of West
End life, the clubs, the lounges, the libraries, the shops, &c., signify nothing to those
engaged in chambers or the counting-house all day. The denizen of South Kensington has
no other wish, when his day's work is over, than to get home, and to stay there. The light, the
cleanliness, the airiness, and modern comforts of his house are doubly grateful to him when
contrasted with his close business quarters: once in his cab or his carriage, what is a mile
more or less to him? He has not the smallest intention of going to his club in the evening;
and the theatre he forswore years ago. The ladies of his family find no fault with the
situation; but, on the contrary, will not allow a quarter so near Hyde Park, and the
fashionable morning walk by Rotten Row, to be termed out of the way. As they drive out
every afternoon, they do not care to be in the way of visitors; and as the female mind is
not strong upon the matter of distance, they are not troubled by the reflection of how many
miles their unfortunate horses are daily doomed to perform. But then, perhaps, their horses
are jobbed, and the best plan too; they are therefore often changed and rested. No single
pair of horses could stand the amount of work required by a fashionable lady, living in one
of the new outlying quarters of the town.
The Belgravian, of course, keeps a carriage of some kind: if rich, more than one, a close
one for winter and an open one for summer, and a brougham, perhaps, for dinners and
night work. If moderately well off, he is content with a brougham only; or allows his wife
horses to her barouche in the season; and, although he rides his own horses, he almost
always jobs his carriage horses; if a little more expensive, that plan is so much more
convenient, as a man is then never without the use of his carriage, that even those who
have time and inclination to look after their own stables generally adopt it; and where the
head of the house is too much occupied to look after horses, it is unquestionably the best
plan. For ladies living alone, the best course is to job the whole concern, horses, carriage,
and coachman: there are liverymen who undertake this, and provide a handsome carriage,
of the colour desired, with the crest and arms of the hirer, with the proper livery for the
coachman, for about £300 a year. The horses stand at livery; and a lady is thus sure that
they are well cared for, that she will have a sober and civil driver, without any of the trouble
and anxiety of looking after him herself.
The usual plan with regard to the carriage in London is to have it built for you, for a term of
years, generally five, at a certain annual sum; for which it is kept in repair, furnished with
new wheels, relined, varnished, &c. At the end of the term the carriage remains to the
builder, unless it is in such a condition as to be done up and used again, when of course a
fresh arrangement is entered upon. It is scarcely possible to keep a handsome
well-appointed carriage and pair under £300 a year. Before the introduction of
broughams, therefore, many people, in easy circumstances even, did not attempt to do
so, but contented themselves with hiring one occasionally. Now, the one-horse carriage
predominates; so much less costly, so light and convenient are the broughams, that not
only those who hesitated to have a carriage have adopted them, but many who had
already a chariot or coach were glad to drop one horse, and come down to a brougham,
when they found it was a reduction that they could effect without loss of that prestige in
society so dear to the heart of the Belgravian. And, as these horses are not generally
jobbed, the reduction could be effected by those who understood looking after a horse at
rather less than half the cost of the pair, the job-master having had, of course, his profit to
make. Another advantage of the brougham is that a groom can drive it. It does not
necessarily entail that important personage—a middle-aged, sedate-looking coachman—
whose dignity would never condescend to drive one horse, and who requires twice the help
in the stable for his carriage horses, that the lighter, younger, more active groom does for
his master's riding horse and the brougham horse also. Truly the introduction of the
brougham has been a blessing to many whose means forbade a carriage otherwise, and
whose habits of life and ideas made them consider one a necessary, not a luxury. The
sacrifices some people make to enable them to "keep their carriage," savour sometimes
of the ridiculous to those who are in the secret of their menage. Plain, substantial Mrs.
Blunt, of Devonshire Street, Portland Place, was surprised when Lady Mary Fauxanfier
called on her for the character of Jane Bell, her under-housemaid, the girl having informed
her she was going to be her "la'ship's" own maid.
"I assure you, Lady Mary," she exclaimed, as she looked at the elegant dress of the earl's
daughter, and observed the smart, well-appointed brougham that brought her to the
house, "I assure you the girl is not fit for a maid; she has never even dressed me; as to
hair-dressing, I should think her incapable of even brushing mine."
Lady Mary smiles, and said, "The girl is teachable, I suppose, and, you say, honest and
respectable; such important points the latter, I think I shall take her. We are only in town
three months of the year, and then—well, good morning."
And so Jane Bell went to Lady Mary, who had a furnished house for the season in a small
street not a hundred miles from Belgrave Square, where her husband's father, Lord
Belmontine, had a spendid mansion, and her own papa another; and Mrs. Blunt often
wondered, when she saw Lady Mary's name at the great parties of the season, how poor
Jane Bell managed to attire her elegant form, arrange her ladyship's head, and so forth.
She was not surprised when the said Jane made her appearance one day in August, and
said she was looking for a place again.
"Ah, Jane! I thought it would be so; I thought you could not play lady's-maid very long. How
could you take a place for which you were so unfitted?"
"Unfitted, ideed, ma'am; but not as you suppose. Why, I was nothing but a general servant.
I and the groom—and he was out all day with the horse and carriage—were the only
servants they kept. I did all the work of the house, except what an old charwoman did for
an hour or two in the morning. I fastened her la'ship's gounds, to be sure; in short, ma'm,
I was maid, and housemaid, and cook, too, sometimes."
"I was just going to ask," said Mrs. Blunt, "what they did for a cook."
"Well, ma'am, they seldom or ever dined at home; always going to some grand place or
t'other, and if by chance they had no dinner party, master, he went down to his club, and
I cooked a chop for her la'ship with her tea."
Such was the town establishment and town life of this well-born pair, who lived the rest of
the nine months of the year with their relations and their friends, spending more than half
their income on the small furnished house, at ten or fifteen guineas a week, and on their
brougham; sacrificing for the three months' London season the independence of the rest
of their year, being in the position of always receiving and never giving. Few of their
London acquaintance suspected that the neat-looking girl who opened the door when the
MAN was out, was Lady Mary's sole female attendant; and those who did know it,
doubtless thought it strange that, with the limited means such an arrangement bespoke,
they could contrive to keep up the appearance they did. For our part, we are not sure, if
the choice lay between spending one's money upon half a dozen servants, or upon one's
self, we should not prefer the latter too; but then it must not be at the sacrifice of one's
independence. There are certain people to whom a carriage in London is as much a
matter of necessity as their dinner. The younger children, perhaps, of wealthy or noble
families, they have been accustomed to the use of one all their lives; and, whilst it would
be no hardship to dine upon one course only, and that of the plainest, it would be so to
have to pay their visits or do their shopping on foot. These people are really not so
inconsistent as they would seem; still, it must be allowed, that it is a mistake to adopt
any habit of life that implies means above the actual state of the case. You lay yourself
open by so doing to have things expected from you that you have no means of meeting;
and often, therefore, incur the charge of being mean and stingy, when unable to comply
with such claims. You place yourself also in a false position to your own servants, who,
naturally associating certain luxuries with the idea of wealth, misunderstand the
economy of the other household arrangements, think ill—and very likely speak ill—of you;
for, if servants and masters are to go on well together, there should be a certain degree
of confidence between both parties. If a servant is worth having and keeping, he should
not be treated as a mere paid machine, but should have a general idea at least of his
master's position, when he will feel an interest in, and in time will associate himself with
the family he serves, and work with his heart as well as with his head.
But to return to our Belgravians. There are thosestruggling to keep up an appearance to
which birth, &c., entitles them; and those struggling to attain an appearance to which nothing
entitles them, if the adequate means are not theirs. With some of these the possession of a
carriage is the great thing; with others a man servant is the acme of respectability, and
(indeed they are to be pardoned for this last idea; for many highly estimable, worthy,
substantial, good sort of people, do not deem you respectable, if you do not keep a man
servant) others limit their views to a page, or "buttons;" few have the moral courage to keep
to the good, clean, useful, waiting-maid, who waits without noise, and does not break a
tumbler a day, as most "buttons" must do, since no family who keeps one ever has tumblers
enough, although their number is constantly made up.
Some of these strugglers live nine months of the year in London, by letting their house well
for the other three. Ten and fifteen guineas a week are easily got for small but well-furnished
houses in the immediate neighbourhood of Belgrave Square.
House letting has of late years become so common, the peer even condescending to
receive his thousand or twelve hundred guineas for the season, that people now don't take
the trouble that the Honourable Mrs. A. B. always does of telling you, in answer to your
inquiries about her movements, when she leaves town, &c.
"Oh, soon, I hope; I am longing to be off. I always do, you know, the moment the sun begins
to shine. I can't stay in London in hot weather."
The truth being that she remains on until the house is let for the season; when she takes her
six children off to some cheap sea-side lodgings, whilst the Honourable A. B., her husband,
wanders about from one friend to another, preferring anything to the early dinner and
cooking of the lodging-house. His exemplary wife does not murmur at this; she is rather
relieved at his absence, and better endures the three months' discomfort without him than
with him. She is glad, in spite of the hot weather, however, to return to London at the end of
August; but it is quite unnecessary to tell everybody, as she does, that "she always prefers
London at this season, when everybody is away." This assertion is needless: because
every one knows that her house is empty again, and that is the reason London sees her
Numbers of families, like the A. B.'s, cover their rent by letting in the season. Many reduce
their rent, when they have a country house also, by letting the London house through the
winter. Houses that let from three to five hundred guineas for the season, may be had
during the winter at from eight to twelve guineas a week.
Many families coming up to London for the season hire not only their house, but their whole
establishment, horses, carriages, coachman and all. Many, even among the residents,
take an additional servant for the season. Some so contrive it that they manage always to
quarrel with their footman, and discharge him at the end of the season—a shabby plan,
which brings its own punishment, as these people never have a good servant, and, when
their practice becomes known, have no chance of ever procuring one. "Alas!" exclaims
our reader perhaps, "a good servant! where is such a thing to be found in the present day
by any one?"
"Ah, indeed!" rejoins Mrs. Oldview; "railroads and penny posts have ruined one's servants.
In my young days, if Betty behaved ill, I told her my mind, and she took a good cry, and
mended her ways. She knew well enough then, if the Squire discharged her, she might
sing for a place: but now Miss Betty writes to her mother or sister, who tell her not to mind;
that there are plenty of places in town, and off she goes, as pert as may be."
Mrs. Oldview is right; this easy communication, passive or active, has the effect of
unsettling many a household. You have a treasure of a cook, perhaps, and, enchanted, fill
your house at Christmas, easy about your entrees, humbly proud of your sweets. Well; your
intimate friend's lady's-maid tells her "her talents are wasted on the desert hair ['hair' may
be a misprint for 'air'—Thomas Gray's famous 'Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard'
has these well-known lines: 'Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its
sweetness on the desert air.']," and mentions a situation that is exactly suited to her, in the
metropolis, and she leaves you without a pang, by the parliamentary train. But we are not
now about to bewail the housekeeping troubles of Belgravia out of town; they are in most
respects greater than in London; but as far as men servants are concerned, people are
better off in the country than in London. The men there, as a class, are far more
respectable and better behaved. If steadily disposed, too, they have more chance of
remaining so, as they are not exposed to the great temptations that beset the man servant
in town. The clubs, the betting men, the bad example, sometimes, of their young masters,
the bad society and temptations to drink they are constantly exposed to, when waiting by
the hour for their mistress at some fashionable party; all these evil influences surround the
young man, without perhaps a single good one to counteract them—without a friend or
mother near, to warn, at a time of life when the passions are strongest, and principles
weakest, and when from every necessary creature comfort being provided, means are
given for indulgence, and habits acquired, which the same man in any other position,
toiling for daily bread, would not dream of.
We do not know how it is that even the best masters and mistresses, those who do take
an individual interest in their servants, seem to maintain a strict reserve towards their
footmen: the very servant that most needs a special surveillance and interest has none of it.
They know the family history, perhaps, of every maid in the house. They can talk to the
butler, and be interested in his private affairs; but the unfortunate footmen may come and
go, and as long as they are honest and clean, and do their work well, no questions are
asked, no information is wanted; and John or William leaves at the end of his two years
(and we think really he is right to do so), and no one is surprised: he was not expected to
become attached to the family, and the family have not become attached to him. He signs
a receipt for his wages, and says good-bye, without a shade of feeling being aroused
upstairs, whatever there may be below. The departure of a kitchen-maid would cause
more excitement, whilst that of a nurse or lady's-maid creates a disturbance, and makes
a blank in the family almost as great as the absence of a relative.
And, indeed, good servants in these capacities are often as much and deservedly
cherished as if really part of the family; and there are many good ones to be met with, in
spite of the outcry of the day. If a lady is worth anything as a mistress at all, she does not
change her nurse or maid often. These two servants will stay for years in a place where the
cooks and housemaids are perpetually being changed, proving how great is the personal
influence, the constant communication with a superior educated mind. The nurse, perhaps,
may be retained by the tie of strong affection to the children, but the maid will not stay
unless the mistress she serves has those qualities that make her respected and loved.
When we see a lady perpetually changing her own maid, we are convinced the fault is all
her own. With her other servants, other influences work; with her personal attendants, her
own is paramount. Women-servants in London—if we except the cooks, of whom we are
afraid we cannot speak so highly—are as respectable and hard-working a class of people
as can be met with. For every worthless, ungrateful one, we feel satisfied we could produce
two, capable of acts of devotion to their employers that their superiors in station would not
dream of. Early isolated from their own families, the loving heart of woman often finds a
vent for those affections which her own kindred should claim, in the family of her master
and mistress. Their sorrows become her sorrows; their prosperity or adversity is hers also.
She will excuse when the world condemns, and ofttimes becomes the best comforter in
the hour of trial, and she will rejoice, without a shade of envy or jealousy, when fortune
smiles on those whom she might deem already blessed enough. We have known the
hard-earned savings of a female servant tendered, without thought of self, to her master's
young son in his first trouble, or to her perhaps ill-treated mistress. Then what shall we say
of the nurse? Who can contemplate the unselfish devotion of these women to their duties;
their renunciation of all liberty and pleasure for themselves; their watchfulness, their
self-denial, that their shillings and sixpences may buy a toy for this one, a ribbon for the
other, and not be struck with admiration?
We have in our mind one, whose dying hours were embittered by the dread that the loved
children might not be well cared for when she was gone. Her mistress, thinking she might
like to see their young faces once more, offered to bring them. "Oh! no," she exclaimed; "I
could not part again. Let me not see them. Let me not hear their voices." Oh! deep, pure
love! How can we, how ought we, to run down, as a body, those amongst whom such
characters are found? No, we will not. The material is good, and, as far as women-servants
in London are concerned, we are certain a good mistress will make a good servant. The
cooks we have excepted. We are sorry to say that their habits are bad after a certain age.
Most of them drink, and few stand the temptation of making out of their place. They have
much in their power—much they can legitimately dispose of. If they would but stop there,
how delightful it would be! Their wages are high, too; so they have no excuse; but the fact
is, that servants' code of morals, with regard to what they think they may honestly do, wants
a complete revision, or, rather, a remaking. They have chosen to lay down for themselves
rules for the disposal of certain portions of their master's property, without ever consulting
the lawful owner, and choose to consider any departure from those rules as a breach of
privilege. "There," said a gentleman one day to his father's butler—"there is a pair of
boots for you."
"Thank you, sir," replied the man; "but they belong to the footman."
"Do they?" returned the gentleman. "I thought they belonged to me. Put them down again."
And neither footman nor butler ever got boots from that gentleman again.
People of late years have very properly made a stand against the cook's "perquisites"
[casual benefits attached to an employment beyond salary or wages]. Ladies have
determined to dispose of their left-off clothes as they pleased, and gentlemen to pay their
own bills; and servants will be better and happier when they consider as gifts what they
have before looked upon as "rights." The scale of wages in the present day is high enough
to place them above these considerations, in Belgravia at any rate.
To begin with female servants. Kitchenmaids and under-housemaids begin at £10 a year,
and get on to £12 and £14. Upper housemaids have £16 a year, and in great houses are
found, as the expression is, in tea and sugar, besides beer and washing, which are given
to all servants. A plain cook in a small family, who does some housework, gets from £18
to £25 a year; whilst a cook and housekeeper, or cook, with one or two kitchenmaids
under her, receives from £30 to £40 yearly. This high rate of payment places what is called
a good cook out of many people's reach; consequently those who can only afford what is
called a plain cook, and think the dinner they eat themselves every day, not good enough
to invite their friends to, resort to the expedient of having one sent in by a Gunter or a
Bridgeman, if they can manage it, or an inferior purveyor if not. The present fashion of a
dinner "a' la Russe" has been a great relief to some other housekeepers. Their peace of
mind is not disturbed if the jelly does fall, because it will not appear on the table; and if the
capon is not well larded, who, they think, will detect the failure in the delicate slice doled
out to them. They regret, it is true, the corner-dishes and epergne [center ornament for
dinner-table] it cost so much to obtain, ill-replaced by a few cut-glass dishes and pots of
flowers; but then the saving of being able to employ their own cook is a consolation to
them, although often none to their friends.
The wages of ladies' maids and nurses are much the same, from £18 to £25 a year; whilst
a young lady's attendant has £16 a year, and nursemaids from £8 to £14.
The page, or "buttons," begins with a wage of £8 and his clothes; a footman from £20 to
£28, with two suits, and sometimes three suits of livery [distinctive clothes worn by a
person's servants] in the year, and so many hats, and so many pairs of white silk hose in
"my lord's" house, and so many pairs of black in Sir John's, and so much for powder, and
so much for gloves, and everything else, these high, important, and now difficult to-be-got
servants, can bargain for. The 19th century considers livery a badge of servitude, or
"Punch," with his "Jeames of Buckley Square," has made it ridiculous, or—but it matters
little for what reasons—certain it is a man for livery is scarcer than he was, and one of
height and figure may command his price, and be almost as impertinent as he pleases.
"Pray, sir," inquired one of these individuals when he was being hired—"pray, who is to
carry coals up to the drawing-room?"
"Well," replied the gentleman, "I hardly know; but I don't think I do it myself."
These servants hardly ever stay more than two years in their places. It seems to be an
understood thing amongst them that they are to go at the end of the time, even if they
cannot get the same advantages elsewhere; and many people are so accustomed to this
biennial movement of their footmen, that they look with suspicion on the man that prolongs
his stay, and imagine there must be some, not good, but bad reason for his not going.
In what are called single-handed places it is still more difficult to get the man to wear livery,
and many families are obliged to put up with a short, ill-looking man when, from having
carriage, it becomes necessary that the man should be in livery. A man's height is not a
mere matter of fancy. It is an inconvenience if the man cannot hasp the windows without a
stool, and if his arms are too short to carry the tray, or put it properly on the sideboard;
but, as the strong, well-made men are now off to the railroads, there is no help for it. The
single-handed man likes to be out of livery, and to consider himself on the level of a
butler; but he is, generally speaking, a much more humble-minded and useful individual
than he whom he aspires to compete with. We can easily believe the lady of rank who
declared to a friend one day that she had been better served when she had only one man
and a boy than she was then, with five men in the house. She knocked at her own door one
Sunday morning, unexpectedly, when they all thought she was gone to church, and had to
wait more than half an hour before she was finally let in by the under housemaid! The butler
was at home, but far too grand to open the door. John, who was also at home, left it to
James, who was out, and so on. So, out of the five, not one was at hand. The strictness
practised in some great houses, where the establishment is large, seems justified by such
instances as this. No order could probably be kept if any fault was passed over.
A lady, hiring a housemaid, asked her why she left her last place. "I was discharged," she
replied, "because the fire went out." This was found to be true. She had lighted the fire, but
not attended to it well; it went out. The lady complained, and the housekeeper gave her
warning, as it had happened once before. No doubt the lesson was not lost on the other
If the footman leaves his place every two years, the butler's aim, when once comfortably
installed, is to stay. The longer he remains in a family, the more important he becomes, or
fancies he becomes, and the less, generally speaking, he contrives to do. How often have
we seen this high and mighty functionary at a dinner-party limiting his duties to the handing
round the champagne, or putting the claret on the table! Dickens has drawn an amusing
picture of a man overawed by his awful butler; and really it is astonishing how these
individuals impose upon themselves, if they do not upon others, the idea of their vast
importance, and of what, as they consider, is due to themselves.
A gentleman who was in want of a butler stopped to speak to one who came after the
place on his way out to his carriage. "Sir," said the man, with an air of great dignity, after
a few questions had been asked, "save yourself needless discussion; your situation will
not suit me, for I am not accustomed to be spoke to in the 'all." The London
butler endeavors to impress upon his master that it is inconsistent with the position of a
butler to ask leave to go out. Their morning walk and their evening visit to a friend, or the
club, are sources of quarrel between many a master and man. Few masters would deny a
man reasonable air and exercise, but all who study their own comfort should fight against
any special hour being appropriated by the servant for his outing. His time belongs to his
master, and ought to be subservient to his, to say nothing of the danger of a butler, who
has so much in his charge, making a practice of being absent at a stated time, and thus
giving the opportunity, so soon taken, for many a serious plate robbery.
A very well-known nobleman, it is said, was told the other day by a servant who was
leaving him, that the reason was, "His lordship's hours did not suit with his; they were so
very uncertain that he found he could not get any regular time to himself!"
Butler's wages are inordinately high, and their habits self-indulgent. The rich parvenus, the
cotton lords, and great contractors, who do not mind what they pay to secure a man whom
they think will, by his savoir faire [quickness to see and do the right thing], make their table
outvie my lord's, have to answer for the preposterous demands of some of these men.
A gentleman (and we think he ought to be ashamed of himself), who gave his butler £100
a year, was rather astonished when a man he had decided to engage stepped back and
said there was one question he had forgotten to ask, which was, "What wine, besides
port and sherry, he allowed."
In quiet and regular families, where a butler and footmen are kept for instance, we need
not say that no wine of any description is allowed; but in the homes of many noblemen,
where upper servants are very responsible, and have many under them, they have the
habits and indulgences of their masters. In a certain earl's house, who died a few years
ago, and was one of England's wealthiest noblemen, the table of the upper servants—the
house-steward, housekeeper, butler, countess's maid, &c., was as luxurious as their
master's. Four corner dishes and four sweets were put down every day before these
fortunate individuals, whilst they were waited upon by a man out of livery.
In many a nobleman's home, it is true that there is greater simplicity and economy in the
household arrangements than in many a commoner's; but still the habits and dress of
great people's servants, on the whole, are very much out of keeping with their position,
and unfortunate for themselves, as they acquire extravagant ideas, that prevent many
saving for the rainy day. We must also deprecate the system of two tables; servants are
but servants; and this separation at meals does not promote good fellowship, and makes
them troublesome visitors, where there is but one.
When the Cornish squire, with a pedigree four times as old as his noble guest, was
asked by the latter, "What his valet could do, as he found the squire had no second table
for his servants?" he replied, "He really did not know, unless his lordship preferred that
the man should dine with them," an alternative which settled the question.
The days are gone by when servants were looked upon as paid machines, and their food
and lodging indifferently cared for; but from one extreme we are running into another; and
when the enthusiastic nursemaid described her master and mistress, a wealthy
stockbroker at Blackheath, as the "best people she had ever known," she founded that
opinion on the fact "that their servants' comfort was their constant care." She, like many
others of her class, did not stop to consider anything else, or whether Mr. and Mrs. Scrip
were wise or kind to provide a table and mode of living for servants which they could not
find in many other places. No; if she had been questioned, she would tell you she never
meant to take a place where she could not have what she had at the Scrips'. She wouldn't
go to mean people like the Hon. Mrs. Bragg, who only allowed her servants a pudding on
Sundays, "not for all the gold of the Ingies," &c., &c. In this way a class of servants soon
spring up of extravagant pretensions; and a class of people like the Scrips, who, with
more money than wit, pique themselves on the peculiar advantages their servants enjoy,
foster in them habits of self-indulgence and idleness, to which those in whom intellect is
little cultivated are ever prone. Servants are, after all, very like children: overindulgence
spoils them; and if we would make them good and useful members of our household, we
must train them with all kindness, but in wholesome fear. We want them to think of us, to
study our comfort; and not as we now perpetually see, to become in reality the first people
in the house: their hours so important, their work so defined, that a master or mistress
dare not venture to disarrange one of their meals, or to ask any servant to do anything
not precisely stipulated for, without encountering black looks, or, "If you please ma'am,
to suit yourself this day month."
But, as we have said before, the materiel is good, as far as women servants are concerned,
and therefore the remedy is in the hands of the masters. Men servants are, doubtless,
more difficult to manage; but we think here something may be done too. People are too
apt to expect from their "men" what is impossible in the nineteenth century—the life of a
hermit in the midst of society. He is to have no friends, no family, no failings of any kind;
music is discouraged, conversation in the kitchen strictly forbidden, his newspaper is half
objected to, and his bird, or his two or three plants outside the pantry window, sometimes
considered a liberty. No; plate-cleaning should be his relaxation, folding his napkins his
sole delight. Can one wonder that the devilled kidney for breakfast is a treat, and the
buttered toast at tea a consolation to those forlorn creatures, who naturally become
selfish and self-indulgent from having nobody to think about but themselves?
Why should people object so much to their men-servants being married? Most of them
are; and half of them go into their places with a lie on their lips, vowing they are single.
They can't help themselves; they might starve, if they spoke the truth, and those dear to
Mrs. L. S. D. is so glad her son is going to be married, because marriage always
steadies a man, and "dear Augustus has perhaps been just a little wild," but she won't
have a married man-servant on any account, "because, then, you know, I should have his
family living out of this house too."
Not if the man is honest, dear Mrs. L. S. D.; and if he is not honest he will pilfer or purloin
all the same, whether he has a wife or no; for if he has not, perhaps there is something
worse, for men-servants, dear lady, are no better than their betters in les affaires de coeur.
If dear Augustus is steadier and better for being married, so I assure you is honest
John, and more content to stay at home and save his money, and do his duty, if he is a
man at all, for having ties and claims upon him that he is not ashamed to own, than when
he was a single man tempted out to the servants' club at the public-house round the
corner, where he lost his money at cards, and made a book for the Derby, and sometimes
got himself into such straits for money that he just borrowed a few spoons and forks for a
time, only a very short time, to help him on until he could get clear again,—which time
sometimes never came at all, but ended in ruin to himself and serious loss to his master.
Let masters and mistresses weigh well this truth, that their servants have the same
passions, affections, and feelings as themselves; let them keep them well in their places,
strict to their duties, and endeavour to influence them by the same motives they would
employ for the guidance of their own flesh and blood, and they may then perhaps find the
key to many a domestic difficulty.
Next to the troubles with one's servants come the troubles of one's tradespeople; but
these are more easily overcome, for London is so large, so well supplied, and competition
so great, that if discontented with A you have only to go to B, and from B to C, until you
are satisfied. All this, provided you are master of your own house: if your cook or
housekeeper reigns, you may find that, spite of all you say or do, you return to A, or that
difficulties insurmountable prevent your dealing with M if your servant has settled to
employ N. The fact is, your custom [business patronage] is large, and the tradesman
makes it worth the while of your cook to have him retained. Of course in the end, it is you
who pay the Christmas gratuity, or the odd pence which the butler, who pays your bills,
always gets, and which amount to a pretty handsome sum at the end of the year. It is only
the credit, or first-class tradesmen, as they call themselves, who can afford these retaining
fees, and they do it by putting a higher price on their goods, which are often not so good
as those of the man who sells cheaper next door, and who, having a ready-money custom
and quick sale, has seldom a stale or depreciated article on hand.
All this, however, is well understood by Belgravians; and those who care to study economy
pay their own bills, and choose their own tradespeople. It is no longer received as an
axiom, that the dearer you pay the better you are served.
The best fishmonger in the neighbourhood of Belgrave and Eaton Squares was Charles,
who has made a fortune, left the business to his son, and became a landed proprietor, by
selling good fish at moderate prices. To many families he supplied fish every day, or two
or three times a week, at sixpence a head; a family of eight, therefore, had an ample dish
of fish for 4s., whilst two people were supplied for one shilling. At the close of the day his
surplus stock was sold off at reduced prices to anybody who chose to fetch it away. His
customers, therefore, were sure of always having fresh fish. We wish the greengrocers
would adopt a similar plan, and sell off their stale greens, &c., at the end of the day. Still,
how much less have we to complain of here than in former years: railroads and steam
bring to this mighty mart of men all that is fit for food, and "good and pleasant to the eyes"
also. Our grapes and plums come to us with the bloom on, spring vegetables arrive
steeped in the morning dew, countries vie with each other in sending us their best
products; in short, let a man travel where he will—to the east for his ease, or the south
for his pleasure—if he have but Fortunatus' purse he will find there is no place in the wide
world where he can make life more truly comfortable and enjoyable than when he is
keeping house in Belgravia.