A brief history of Housekeepers in London

ūüēĎ 5 minutes read

Housekeeper to  Clean, Housekeeper to Cook, Housekeeper to Wash and Iron Рthe Housekeeper’s History

In the Victorian period, domestic service was the second largest form of employment in Britain after farm work. Housework was highly labour intensive in those days and both Edwardian and Victorian Housekeepers in London and in the Country worked long hours.

Housekeepers were once part of a domestic household hierarchy in the grand houses of London, and the Country.

Housekeepers in London Today

Today London and the Country’s  part time and full time housekeepers do only a fraction of the full range of jobs previously done by maids. Householders and their housekeepers alike benefit from an array of modern labour saving devices which in turn reduce the amount of hours you need to employ a housekeeper for. You can get the same amount of cleaning work done in a couple of hours that would have taken a Victorian Housekeeper a couple of days to do.

Maids and Housekeepers

In Britain, we now call a maid a Housekeeper , though as you will see later, the Housekeepers of old did far more than just clean. She did the cooking, the washing, the ironing, lit and maintained coal fires and acted as the de facto en-suite, carrying hot and cold water jugs to the bedrooms.

In some countries, the old concept of a live-in maid lives on. Where there is a greater divergence in incomes between wealthy and poor and between different social and economic classes, there are fewer opportunities for women, creating a large workforce of live-in full time domestic housekeepers.

The Housekeepers of old used to suffer terrible knee problems from long hours¬†spent on their knees scrubbing floors, making up the household fires and cleaning the hearth ‚Äď hence the phrase ‚Äėhousemaids knee‚Äô.

Housekeeper Chores

Housekeepers once performed a wide variety of chores and some (but not all) of these chores you may ask your housekeeper to perform today. A housekeepers duties now include cooking, ironing, washing, cleaning the house of course, taking the dog for walkies, doing the weekly shop for groceries, plus an element of child care duties.

Housekeepers traditionally enjoyed a fixed position in the hierarchy of large households. There is some overlap between definitions as depending on the size of the household the Housekeepers job description and duties might vary.

In days gone by large houses in London and the Countryside able to employ a full complement of domestic servants, the split would be as follows:

Lady’s Maid

A senior servant who reported directly to the Lady of the house. Though she reported directly, she still ranked beneath the Housekeeper. The Lady’s Maid would accompany her lady on travel.


An all-encompassing term for maids whose function was chiefly ‘above stairs’. Housemaids were usually a little older, and better paid. In larger households there could be many House Maids in which case they could be sub-divided on a hierarchical basis as below.

Head Housemaid

This would be the senior house maid. The Head Housemaid reported directly to the Housekeeper. In an establishment with only one or two upstairs maids she might instead be called a House Parlour Maid.

Parlour Maid

Cleaned the reception rooms and living areas in the morning. She might also be employed to serve daytime refreshments, afternoon tea, and even dinner. Parlour Maids tidied studies and libraries and would assist the footmen in answering bells calling for service.


Cleaned and maintained the bedrooms, ensured fires were lit and fireplaces cleaned and maintained. She also brought hot water to the bedrooms.

Laundry Maid

Maintained bedding and towels. She washed, dried, and ironed all the clothes for the whole household, including the household servants. Given the propensity of the household to change for each meal and for each separate outdoors activity, combined with the lack of washing machines and modern irons, this would have been very hard work indeed. Larger households would employ several laundry maids.

Under House Parlour Maid

A deputy to the house parlour maid. More commonly this position would exist in a small establishment which had only two upstairs maids.

Nursery Maid

She counted as an ‘upstairs maid’ but worked only in the children’s nursery. She would maintain the nursery fires, be responsible for the cleaning and general good order of the Nursery and she reported to the Nanny rather than to the Housekeeper.

Kitchen Maid

A ‘below stairs’ maid. She reported to the Cook and helped in the running of the kitchens. In larger households this role would be split hierarchically as follows:

Head Kitchen Maid

She was effectively a deputy to the Cook, helping with simpler cooking and maybe just cooking the servants’ meals. In today‚Äôs large houses this role might now be occupied by an assistant chef to the Head Chef. Consequently the position today would command much higher salaries as both Job Descriptions and Wages have been enhanced. Much as a gardener now becomes a ‚Äėlandscape gardener‚Äô or a ‚Äėtree surgeon‚Äô etc, so today‚Äôs kitchen maid (male or female of course) might now be called ‚Äėchef‚Äôs assistant‚Äô or ‚Äėdeputy¬†chef‚Äô or even the ‚ÄėSous-Chef‚Äô, while in the case of the Cook, they would be called the Head Chef nowadays. Of course we do also have a Pot Washer in today‚Äôs large houses (see below).

Under Kitchen Maid

Prepared vegetables, peeled potatoes, and assisted in presentation of finished cooking for serving. Today, depending on skill level, they might be called the Kitchen Assistant, or Steward.

Scullery Maid

The lowest grade of ‘below stairs’ maid, reporting to the Cook, the Scullery Maids were responsible for washing up cutlery, crockery, and glassware, and scrubbing kitchen floors. They also looked after the ovens whilst the Kitchen Maids ate their supper. In today‚Äôs large houses (at least, in our own Craig y Nos Castle) this role is now occupied by the ‚ÄúPot Washer‚ÄĚ and, being heavy work involving use of machinery, is generally but not necessarily held by a man. ¬†So presumably the old term of Scullery Maid would not work with a man, though¬†the role certainly¬†exists still in hotels and large country houses (mostly converted into hotels of course)!

Between Maid

Like scullery maids, but paid less. The Between Maid waited on the senior servants such as the Butler, Housekeeper and Cook. They were therefore answerable to all three department heads, a divided command which often led to friction.

Still Room Maid

A junior maid employed in the cellars or ‚ÄėStill Room‚Äô. As the work involved the supply of alcohol, cosmetics, medicines, and cooking ingredients across all departments of the house, the still room maids were part of the ‘between staff’, answerable to the Butler, Housekeeper, and Cook.

It is remarkable how many categories of maid there were ‚Äď and how many of these tasks are simply carried out by our modern housekeepers. housekeepers.

Work such as tending to fires and carrying jugs of cold and hot water to basins in the bedrooms are examples of jobs that no longer exist in modern Britain. The latter is now taken care of by en-suites while the former has been replaced by central heating.

Do you need a Housekeeper in London, the Country throughout the UK or Internationally?

Town and Country Domestic Staff can find you the best domestic staff and housekeepers in London, the Country throughout the UK or Internationally.

Please telephone 020 3174 2446 or email enquiries@tandcstaff.local.

You can read more about life in Victorian England here.