As John Burnett points out in his introduction to The Annals of Labour,
“Throughout the nineteenth century and until the First World War domestic service constituted the largest single employment for English women, and the second-largest employment for all English people, male and female. Yet it is a largely unknown occupation. No Royal Commission investigated it or suggested legislative protection of the worker; no outburst of trade union activity called attention to the lot of servants, as it did to that of the building workers, the cotton-spinners and the dock labourers. . . Immured in their basements and attic bedrooms, shut away from private gaze and public conscience, the domestic servants remained mute and forgotten until, in the end, only their growing scarcity aroused interest in “the servant problem.””
The following information is taken from Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale
“The chart (list) 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.
Professional Staff Hierarchy
Responsible for managing the farms, collecting rents and undertaking all those activities associated with making the estate profitable. This would be a highly educated gentleman who was regarded not as a servant but a professional employee with a status higher than the family lawyer. In addition to an annual salary of 100-300 pounds ($11,000- $33,000) he would have a private house on the estate.
Responsible for all purchasing, hiring, firing and paying the servant staff. He would not be onsidered a servant but a professional man like a lawyer. Fifty to 100 pounds ($5,500-$11,000) per year.
Upper Staff Hierarchy
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 vendors
selling goods to maintain the house. In smaller estates the butler assumed the house steward’s responsibilities.
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 Hierarchy
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.
Similar to the first footman but in more of an apprenticeship status. Twenty-five pound ($2,700) per year. Premium salaries were paid to a pair of first and second footman whose size and appearance made them look like twins. The idea was that they were most
impressive if, like book ends, they matched.
In charge of the nursing staff in houses with several nurses. Many of these nurses, charged with watching over young children, were themselves only 12-14 years old. Head nurses earned 25 pounds ($2,700) per year.
Additional male staff for opening doors, waiting at table, assisting gentleman or accompanying ladies as needed. Twenty pounds ($2,100) per year.
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.
Responsible for cleaning and maintaining the sitting rooms, drawing rooms, etc. of the house. Twenty pounds ($2,100) per year.
General purpose worker. Sixteen pounds ($1,700) a year.
Worked in either the house or the kitchen as needed. Fifteen pounds ($1,600) a year.
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.
Apprentice to the chef. Prepares meals for the staff. Worked for low wages to work his way up to a full chef’s job. Fifteen pounds ($1,600) per year.
Assists in kitchen work. Fifteen pounds ($1,600) a year.
Dish washer. Thirteen pounds ($1,300) per year
Washing and ironing. Thirteen pounds ($1,300) a year.
Page or Tea Boy
Apprentice footman. Typically 10 to 16 years old. Eight to 16 pounds ($860-$1,700) per year depending on age, height, appearance and abilities.
Head Groom or Stable Master
Responsible for running the stables. Positionally he might rank as upper staff but because he wasn’t part of the inside staff he didn’t have their privileges. However, as master of his own
staff he undoubtedly occupied a similar status. Thirty to 50 pounds ($3,100- $5,300) a year.
Cared for horses: grooming, saddling, etc. fifteen pounds ($1,600) per year.
Cleaned stables and etc. Six to 12 pounds ($640-$1,300) per year depending on age and ability. Many times they started when they were only 10.
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.
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.
Responsible for maintaining the bird population of the estate so that the Master and guests would have game birds, such as pheasant, to hunt. Thirty to 50 pounds ($3,100- $5,400) per year.
I’m listing governesses as a separate category because they existed in a kind of social limbo. Typically they were unmarried daughters of gentlemen who for one reason or another had to go into service to support themselves. Because they officially belonged to the genteel class it would be unspeakable for them to accept service as a maid. As a governess they were able
to make use of their education and in theory retain a little of their dignity. In reality their lives were miserable. They were looked down on by the house’s family as being from a failed family. Equally, the staff looked down on them because they represented hypocrisy: they
worked for wages like any servant yet were supposed to be gentee.
Their job was to care for the family’s teenage girls. (Teenage males were sent off to boarding school.) Their salaries were 25 pounds ($2,700) per year. I found no references that clearly stated whether they were considered upper or lower staff. Movies that show governesses
walking through the front door and assuming a status high above that of house servants are not consistent with the lives described in my references.