The Domestic Servants of Downton Abbey: Part 5-The Dressing Room and the Nursery

The Family: At Downton Abbey, this post is devoted to the servants who work closest with them and seek to their personal needs. Of course, it's not all the time do we have a family in which the both grandparents and grandchildren don't dress themselves.

The Family: At Downton Abbey, this post is devoted to the servants who work closest with them and seek to their personal needs. Of course, it’s not all the time do we have a family in which the both grandparents and grandchildren don’t dress themselves.

The reason why I combined servant jobs relating to the dressing room and the nursery because these were the servants who were probably the closest to the family and dealt with them on a daily basis (well, other than the butler, housekeeper, and cook but they had their own departments). Contrary to what you’d see on Downton Abbey, those with the large estates weren’t actively in contact with the lowliest scullery maid let alone took an active role in planning her wedding to her deathbed ridden fiance (then again, WWI was a time of extraordinary upheaval). Yet, most of the time, servants in general (save maybe the footmen and possibly the butler) were required to be invisible and many houses were designed to keep them separate from the family and unseen from not only the guests but also those who hired them. However, there were some positions in the household where invisibility wasn’t an option at least in regards where the family was concerned. After all, someone has to seek to the lord and lady of the house’s every need, make their clothes, keep them company, and raise their kids. I mean the family had a reputation to live up with all the fancy balls, banquets, and parties, which may take weeks to plan in advance. The mistress doesn’t have the time to get dressed or tend to her children’s every need, except maybe arrange a suitable marriage. As for the master, well, he’s too busy with his purchased government post and expanding his estate. So for your reading pleasure, here are the servant jobs relating to the Dressing Room and the Nursery.

The Dressing Room:

Master Dressing Room: At Downton Abbey, this is the room in the house where the resident Earl of Grantham gets dressed about 4 or more times a day. Also, serves as a second bedroom to the resident Earl whenever is wife is furious with him after their daughter died from post-partum eclampsia.

Master Dressing Room: At Downton Abbey, this is the room in the house where the resident Earl of Grantham gets dressed about 4 or more times a day. Also, serves as a second bedroom to the resident Earl whenever is wife is furious with him after their daughter died from post-partum eclampsia.

1.  Lady’s Companion
Function: Accompanied their mistress on excursions as well as participated in shopping, playing cards, and aiding in her comfort. They’re sort of like 24-hour on call friends for hire. You might call it an acceptable form of platonic prostitution.
Pay and Benefits: Well, I’m sure they received a generous compensation.
Status: Well, they weren’t actually considered servants, but they were addressed as “Mrs.” regardless of courtesy. Wouldn’t result in loss of class status.
Hours: Well, they were usually hired to work on call which could be all day.
Typical Candidate: Must be a young unmarried woman of upper or middle class birth who possessed an education in music, language, conversation, and the arts. Usually women who were too rich to be maids or prostitutes but don’t have any other opportunities available. Sometimes they could be male.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist on Downton Abbey since there were more opportunities for women by that time. However, until the mid-20th century, this job continued to exist (as I’ve seen in a few old movies. Carlo from My Man Godfrey is a good example despite being male. The second Mrs. de Winter was also one during her single years) but not in the same capacity as before the 19th century.

2. Valet

Valet: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give to the middle aged disabled war veteran with a history of alcoholism, prison time, and a vindictive estranged first wife. Sure he's a nice mild mannered guy who seems to have a lot of bad things happen to him. Yet, whatever you do, don't ever rape his wife Anna. Because he's will find out and can easily kill you. Also has a cool pimp cane.

Valet: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give to the middle aged disabled war veteran with a history of alcoholism, prison time, and a vindictive estranged first wife. Sure he’s a nice mild mannered guy who seems to have a lot of bad things happen to him. Yet, whatever you do, don’t ever rape his wife Anna. Because he will find out and can easily kill you. Also has a cool pimp cane.

Function: Gentleman’s male servant responsible to the master’s person seeking to his every personal need like preparing his toilette, dressing and undressing him, maintaining his clothes, shaving him, running his bath, and packing and unpacking his clothes while traveling. When his master is away, he accompanies him and is his constant companion. Not to mention, he loads his master’s rifle while shooting, stands behind his master’s chair during meals, brushes his clothes, and cleans his boots. Sometimes he even performs secretarial duties as well. If their master is infirm or elderly, he sometimes attends to his health needs. If there’s no valet present, then the butler or footman usually perform these duties and perhaps only for a single man.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 20-30 pounds ($2,100-$3,200). Usually are paid more than a lady’s maid. Might have his own room or cottage depending on marital status. Yet, might sleep in the same room as his master.
Status: Member of the Upper Staff and is only answerable to his master alone. Does not wear a livery. In some households, it’s possible for every adult male member to have their own. Addressed by his last name, usually. May possibly outrank the butler and be paid more than him, too.
Hours: Well, valets have long days attending to their masters’ needs (from the time he’s up to until he goes to bed) and they probably have the least free time. While the other servants may have some free time while the family is away, the valet doesn’t since he has to travel with his master wherever he goes.
Typical Candidate: Valets learn their skills for their roles in various ways. Some began as footmen and learning on the job as well as taking over for their master’s valet on some occasions (like Thomas). Sometimes they could learn by performing various tasks for the sons or male guests who didn’t travel with one (again, as Thomas did). Others started out as servants for military officers such as batmen for those in the army or stewards for those in the navy (as Bates did and William Mason would’ve if he hadn’t died). May have also started as a steward’s boy as well.
Characters who had this job: John Bates has this job at Downton Abbey serving as valet for Lord Robert, Earl of Grantham and has been employed since the very first episode (with Thomas and others occasionally taking over). Bates was hired since he served as the Earl’s batman during the Boer Wars. Joseph Molesley has worked as Matthew Crawley’s valet in Seasons 1 and 3 (in Season 2, he’s just hanging around the Crawley House). Outside the show, famous valets in fiction include Jeeves who works for Bertie Wooster from the P. G. Wodehouse stories (and is basically a saint since Wooster has the emotional maturity of a fratboy), Figaro who works for the Count of Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro which inspired two operas by Mozart and Rossini (though he’s sometimes listed as a barber), Passepartout for Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, and Alfred Pennyworth who works and acts as a father figure for Batman. Hercule Poirot and D’Artangnan employ one, too. Let’s just say, this position is very well represented in fiction.

3. Lady’s Maid

Lady's Maid: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give to a middle aged scheming bitch willing to take advantage of her mistress's horrible judge of character for all it's worth. Whether it's ransacking the housekeeper's room for a snuff box, tricking a footman into committing sexual assault, disseminating details about the boss's daughter and the Turk,  or causing a miscarriage through her ladyship's soap, she will always remain her mistress's most trusted servant. Yes, lack of background checks give this position ultimate job security.

Lady’s Maid: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give to a middle aged scheming bitch willing to take advantage of her mistress’s horrible judge of character for all it’s worth. Whether it’s ransacking the housekeeper’s room for a snuff box, tricking a footman into committing sexual assault, disseminating details about the boss’s daughter and the Turk, or causing a miscarriage through her ladyship’s soap, she will always remain her mistress’s most trusted servant. Yes, lack of background checks give this position ultimate job security.

Function: Charged with attending to her mistress’s appearance such as arranging her hair, caring for her clothes, packing and unpacking her clothes while traveling, and dressing her. Can also make her mistress’s dresses. Is responsible for bringing up her mistress’s breakfast, drawing her bath, putting out necessities for walking and riding, putting away her jewels, washing her lace and fine linens, and putting her room in order. At another time, she was said for being responsible for carrying messages in her clothes and accompanying her on errands.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 20-30 pounds ($2,100-$3,200) as well as own room or cottage depending on marital status.
Status: Usually addressed by her last name and “Miss” if unmarried. However, despite being paid lower than a valet this is perhaps the zenith position in the maid world. Also, is only answerable to the mistress alone. There could be as many lady’s maids on an estate as there are women. An estate the size of Downton Abbey would’ve included one for each adult female family member “out” in society (which means the Crawleys should have at least 3 or 4 of them).
Hours: Like a valet, lady’s maids have long days from early morning to late at night since they have to attend to their mistress’ every need. And while other servants have free time while the family is away, they have to go with them. Yet, at least the women of the house didn’t travel as often as the men in those days.
Typical Candidate: Usually a woman who’s spent considerable time as a maid whether it be as a house maid, chamber maid, or parlor maid. Not to mention, has experience tending to a woman’s personal needs.
Characters who had this job: Sarah O’Brien was one to Lady Cora, Countess of Grantham from Season 1 to Season 3. Yet, before she left, she had been working at Downton Abbey for over 20 years (about the same as Mrs. Patmore). Since Season 4, she’s left Downton Abbey to work for Lady Susan Flintshire (which furthers secures Thomas’ place since she was the only other resident baddie there). In Season 4 Cora’s lady’s maids have been Edna Braithwhite (who Mrs. Hughes had forced to resign) and Phyllis Baxter who holds that post as of Season 4 as well as known for her sewing machine and textile work. And from Season 3 onward, Anna Bates has been acting as lady’s maid to Lady Mary but she’s not addressed by her last name for obvious reasons.

4. Tailor
Function: Responsible for making, repairing, or altering clothing such as suits, pants, and trousers, particularly for men.
Pay and Benefits: I’m sure they received as fair compensation as well as room and board depending on the era.
Status: If a servant member of the Upper Staff and addressed by last name. Could also be a professional with his own shop.
Hours: Worked as often as needed.
Typical Candidate: Usually a man who’s apprenticed as well as has considerable skill making clothes.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t seem to exist at Downton Abbey, at least in a servant capacity, which probably became defunct with the sewing machine.

5. Dressmaker
Function: Responsible for making custom clothing for women such as dresses, blouses, evening gowns.
Pay and Benefits: I’m sure she received a generous sum of money besides room and board. If not a servant, she may have had her own shop.
Status: Either a member of the Upper Staff and addressed by last name or a professional.
Hours: Worked from early in the morning to late at night or as needed.
Typical Candidate: Usually a woman skilled in making clothes as well as with a great knowledge of styles and fabrics.
Characters who had this job: So far this job doesn’t exist at Downton Abbey since the sewing machine made that job obsolete in the servant capacity.

6. Seamstress

Seamstress: At Downton Abbey, this is an informal position given to the lady's maid who's brought her own sewing machine and could really operate one at that. Still, she also acts as the under butler's below the stairs spy through blackmail.

Seamstress: At Downton Abbey, this is an informal position given to the lady’s maid who’s brought her own sewing machine and could really operate one at that. Still, she also acts as the under butler’s below the stairs spy through blackmail.

Function: Responsible for sewing seams and repairing clothing.
Pay and Benefits: Other than room and board, not much pay as the dressmaker.
Status: Member of the Lower Staff, addressed by first name, and reported to Dressmaker or Tailor.
Hours: Worked from early morning to late at night.
Typical Candidate: Usually a woman with some sewing skill but not as much as a dressmaker.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist on Downton Abbey in the servant capacity thanks to the sewing machine. However, as of Season 4, Baxter seems to fulfill this role.

7. Hair Dresser
Function: Responsible for styling and cutting hair, especially for the ladies of the estate. Also, works with wigs depending on the era.
Pay and Benefits: I’m sure one would get fair compensation if not room and board.
Status: Either as a member of the Lower Staff or as a professional.
Hours: Worked as needed but his or her schedule would be packed in the 18th century.
Typical Candidate: Someone who’s skilled with styling hair.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist at Downton Abbey as of Season 4.

8. House Boy
Function: A male house cleaner who performed a lot of tasks in the household similar to a valet and house maid.
Pay and Benefits: Compensation may vary but he was usually given room and board.
Status: Member of the Lower Staff and addressed by first name, if he was part of a large household.
Hours: Worked 7 days a week from 6:00am-11:00pm.
Typical Candidate: Usually a boy between the ages of 10-16 and more often a person of color from the lower classes.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist on Downton Abbey because they were usually employed by families within the British Empire and outside Great Britain.

9. Steward’s Boy
Function: Responsible for attending the needs of the House Steward such as cleaning his dishes, brushing his clothes, attending to the lamps and candles in his room, polishing his shoes, and be a diligent messenger. Also, take over for an absent footman.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 8-16 pounds ($860-$1,700) as well as room and board.
Status: Member of the Lower Staff, addressed by first name, and reported to the House Steward.
Hours: Had long days since they waited on somebody hand and foot.
Typical Candidate: Usually a boy between the ages of 10-16 from the lower classes.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist at Downton Abbey but I wouldn’t be surprised if Carson was one as a kid. Same may go for Bates.

The Nursery

The Nursery: At Downton Abbey, this is the room where the small children spend most of the time with the nanny while their parents can devote significant time to either running the estate, getting entangled in love triangles, or attending fancy dress balls. After all, what else are children good for than continuing the family line, anyway?

The Nursery: At Downton Abbey, this is the room where the small children spend most of the time with the nanny while their parents can devote significant time to either running the estate, getting entangled in love triangles, or attending fancy dress balls. After all, what else are children good for than continuing the family line and future marriage alliances, anyway?

1. Head Nurse or Nanny

Nanny: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give the elderly woman who's a bossy control freak with family visitations as well as willing to bully and starve a two-year-old girl for being a "chauffeur's daughter" and "wicked little cross-breed." Turns out the spiteful under butler was inadvertently right.

Nanny: At Downton Abbey, this is the job you give the elderly woman who’s a bossy control freak with family visitations as well as willing to bully and starve a two-year-old girl for being a “chauffeur’s daughter” and “wicked little cross-breed.” Turns out the spiteful under butler was inadvertently right. Seems like the heir to the estate isn’t thrilled with her either.

Function: In charge of the nursing staff in houses with several nurses. Charged with caring for the household’s children from the time they are born until they’re turned over to a governess or tutor. Duties include washing and dressing children, feeding them, taking them on outings, and putting them to bed. May make the children’s underwear and repair their clothes.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 25 pounds ($2,700) as well as probably sleeps in the nursery or has a room nearby. Can have dinner brought to the nursery or dine with the other servants (Downton’s nanny probably does the former since the others rarely see her.)
Status: Depends on the household. Yet, they’re most likely members of the Senior Staff since they’re only answerable to their charges’ parents. Addressed by last name.
Hours: This is a 24/7 job with very few breaks and might even end when the kids are old enough for school.
Typical Candidate: Well, usually a woman who’s had experience with child care if she’s the head nurse. However, as a nanny she had to be at least a young woman who’s had a child.
Characters who had this job: Well, on Downton Abbey there’s the mean Nanny West of Season 4, who Thomas had fired for bullying and starving Lady Sybil’s daughter Sybbie. Her identity of her successor is unknown, but since the birth of Sybbie and George, this position certainly exists as of Season 4 (yet, the kids don’t really play much of a role anyway).

2. Monthly Nurse
Function: Responsible for looking after a mother and her baby within the first few weeks of birth. Could also take over as midwife and give instructions to first time mothers.
Pay and Benefits: She was usually recommended by the doctor and paid a handsome sum as well as room and board till her time was through.
Status: This was a Casual Staff position.
Hours: This was a 24/7 and only lasted a month.
Typical Candidate: Usually a woman who had child herself (and possibly a grandchild). She was typically between the ages of 30-50 years old.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist at Downton Abbey since it was more of an 18th and 19th century job. Probably should’ve used one with Lady Sybil concerned.

3. Wet Nurse
Function: Responsible for breastfeeding the infants of the house if the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse her child.
Pay and Benefits: Well, other than room and board, this job had a nice compensation since there was significant demand.
Status: Depends. She could be a Member of the Lower Staff, addressed by first name, and reported to Nanny or she could be promoted to Nanny.
Hours: This was a 24/7 job since she had to be available on demand.
Typical Candidate: Usually a young woman who’s recently had a child, particularly out of wed lock.
Characters who had this job: This job may or may not exist on Downton Abbey depending on how baby Sybbie was fed in Season 3. I mean, we know that she wasn’t breastfed by her mother. Yet, from the mid-19th century on, this profession fell out of favor in most developed areas except the American South.

4. Governess
Function: Responsible for educating any girls who’d be living on the estate from their childhood to their teenage years or when they’d enter boarding school, finishing school, be introduced to society, or get married. They’d also educate boys as well but only for a short time until they went to a tutor or boarding school. Still, when her job was done, she’d usually remain as a paid companion.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 25 pounds ($2,700) as well as room and board.
Status: It’s hard to say. Though not seen as servants, were certainly treated like them. However, their lives were miserable since family members and servants looked down on them either for coming from a failed family or representing hypocrisy. Existed in a social limbo and ate on her own (maybe this is why Jane Eyre went back to Mr. Rochester).
Hours: This was a 24/7 job since they functioned as teachers and babysitters.
Typical Candidate: An educated genteel unmarried woman who needs to financially support herself.
Characters who had this job: So far, no characters on Downton Abbey have had this job, but when Lady Mary’s son George is old enough there might be. However, outside the show, there are quite a few in fiction and real life. The most famous examples are Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, Mary Poppins, and Becky Sharpe from Vanity Fair. In the Sherlock Holmes series, Dr. Watson marries one. In real life, you have Maria von Trapp, Annie Sullivan, Anna Leonowens (from The King and I as well as great-aunt to Boris Karloff), and Marie Curie.

5. Tutor
Function: Responsible for providing an education to any of the family’s son on the estate whether it be general or in a specific subject until they either go to a secondary boarding school or university.
Pay and Benefits: Usually more than a governess as well as room and board.
Status: Well, he would be more or less considered to be at the same level as a governess but probably seen as a guy who couldn’t get a teaching job.
Hours: This could be a 24/7 job since he’d basically be a teacher and babysitter. But if it’s in a certain subject, then probably as often as needed.
Typical Candidate: Usually an unmarried man trained as a school master but couldn’t get a teaching job or has some particular skill in a subject. Might be from a genteel family or a foreign country.
Characters who had this job: This job doesn’t exist on Downton Abbey but once Lady Mary’s son George is old enough, there probably will be one. Then again, he might go to boarding school. Yet, you see tutors a lot in fictional works.

6. Nursery Maid
Function: Supporting the nanny in looking after young children. Often charged with washing diapers, cleaning and maintaining the nursery, maintaining fires, carrying meals and dishes between the nursery and kitchen or scullery, and removing soiled items from sight. Also, attended to the wet nurse if there was one.
Pay and Benefits: Annual salary of 10-15 pounds ($1,100-$1,600) depending on age and ability. May have a bed either near the nursery or in it.
Status: Member of the Lower Staff and may either eat in the nursery or in the servants’ hall. Report directly to the Nanny.
Hours: This is a 24/7 job with few breaks that usually ends when the children are old enough for school.
Typical Candidate: Usually a young unmarried woman at least in her teens, many could be 12-14 years old and perhaps even younger than 10. Most nannies probably started out as this.
Characters who had this job: Well, while there hasn’t been anyone at Downton Abbey with this job who’s a character, the estate at least employs a couple of them as far as I’ve seen.

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