Social Life in Queen Anne's Reign, Volume I.

Ashton, John


CHAPTER VI: Servants

CHAPTER VI: Servants


THE quantity of servants in vogue at that time, especially of male servants, seems to us to be excessive, but when we look how useful they were, apart from their menial duties, as guards, and assistants when the carriage stuck in a deep rut when travelling, and remember that the old feudal system of having retainers about one for show was then only moribund (it is not yet dead), their number is accounted for. First on the list stands my lord's page, who wore his livery, although of more costly material than that worn by the footman. He served his apprenticeship as 'a little foot page,' but it was always understood that, afterwards, his rise in life should be looked to by his patron. It was very much the same relation that existed between knight and squire. How he accompanied his lord on state occasions is shown in one of the illustrations of carriages. speaks disparagingly of the lad's position.[1]  ' I know a Man of good Sense who put his Son to a Blacksmith, tho' an Offer was made him of his being received a Page to a Man of Quality.'

But it was the footman of that age, and indeed of the whole of the early Georgian era, who was the perpetual butt of the satirist-probably not without reason. 'There's nothing we Beaus take more Pride in than a Sett of Genteel Footmen. I never have any but what wear their own Hair, and I allow em a Crown a Week for Gloves and Powder; if one shouldn't, they'd Steal horridly to set themselves out, for now, not one in


ten is without a Watch, and a nice Snuff Box with the best Orangerie; and the Liberty of the Upper Gallery, has made 'em so confounded pert, that, as they wait behind one at Table, they'll either put in their Word, or Mimick a body, and People must bear with 'em or else pay 'em their Wages.' [2] , of course, could not resist such a tempting theme for his pen, and, consequently, devotes a whole (No. 88) to footmen. He says: 'They are but in a lower Degree what their Masters themselves are ; and usually affect an Imitation of their Manners; and you have in Liveries, Beaux, Fops, and Coxcombs, in as high perfection, as among People that keep Equipages. It is a common Humour among the Retinue of People of Quality, when they are in their Revels, that is when they are out of their Master's Sight, to assume in a humourous Way the Names and Titles of those whose Liveries they wear.'

Indeed, the footmen of that age must have had a good time of it, for the custom of feeing them, or, as it was called, of giving them was very prevalent. It got worse later on-indeed, it became such a nuisance that it was obliged to be stopped. Yet even now it has to be done, like feeing waiters. Certainly their wages were not great. 'I love punctual Dealings, Sir; Now my Wages comes to at Six Pound per Annum, Thirty two Pounds the Five Years and four Months, the odd Week two Shillings Sixpence, the two Hours one halfpenny,' etc.[3]  This, certainly, even at the then enhanced value of money, was not a great yearly wage, and to a certain extent must plead excuse for the custom of giving vails. As a rule they were treated like dogs by their masters, and were caned mercilessly for very trivial faults. They were very far from being faultless, and 's man Patrick seems to have been a specimen of his kind. How humorously used to describe his faults to Stella! how he was always going to get rid of him, and never did!

Their liveries were, perhaps, not so gorgeous as in the later Georgian time, but they liked fine clothes. 'Her footmen, as I told you before, are such Beaus, that I do not much care for asking them Questions; when I do, they answer me with a sawcy Frown, and say that every thing, which I find fault with,


was done by my Lady Mary's Order. She tells me that she intends they shall wear Swords with their next Liveries, having lately observed the Footmen of two or three Persons of Quality hanging behind the Coach with Swords by their Sides.' [4] 

One part of their duty was to call on their master's or mistress's acquaintances, and ask, with their compliments, ' How do ye ? ' --equivalent to our sending in a card; and this custom is frequently mentioned in contemporary literature. 'And I'll undertake, if the How d'ye Servants of our Women were to make a Weekly Bill of Sickness,' &c.,[5]  'While she sleeps I'm Employ'd in Howdee's,' [6]  'We have so many come with How-dee's, I never mind 'em.'

The upper gallery at the play was theirs by prescriptive right; their verdict greatly influenced the success or failure of a play, and they were worth conciliating. , who played to the gallery, knew this, and in 's comedy of ' The Basset Table,' where he took a footman's part, spoke the prologue, in which he not only addressed them in preference to the other portion of the audience, but showed his power over them by making them rattle their sticks and clap their hands at his command.

Therefore dear Brethren (since I am one of you) Whether adorn'd in Grey, Green, Brown or Blue, This day stand all by me, as I will fall by you; And now to let- The poor Pit see how Pinky's Voice Commands, Silence-Now rattle all your Sticks and clap your grimy Hands. I greet your Love, and let the vainest Author show, Half this command on cleaner hands below, Nay, more to prove your Interest, let this Play live by you. So may you share good Claret with your Masters, Still free in your Amours from their Disasters; Free from poor Housekeeping, where Peck is under Locks. Free from Cold Kitchings, and no Christmas Box: So may no long Debates i' th' House of Commons, Make you in the Lobby starve, when hunger summons; But may your plenteous Vails come flowing in, Give you a lucky Hit, and make you Gentlemen; And thus preferr'd, ne'er fear the World's Reproaches, But shake your Elbows with my Lord, and keep your Coaches.

Whilst waiting in the House of Commons, as alluded to in the foregoing, the footmen used to form a parliament of their own, and discussed politics like their masters. As a joke upon the poverty of the Scotch lords, it used to be said that, in the footmen's House of Lords, many questions were lost to the court party, which were carried in the real House, owing to there being so few footmen belonging to them. alludes to this practice [7]  : ' Pompey, Colonel Hill's black, designs to stand speaker for the footmen. I am engaged to use my interest for him, and have spoken to Patrick to get him some votes.'

'Give you a lucky Hit' shows that the spirit of Chawles Jeames Yellow Plush was then in existence, and that he sometimes speculated; and, if the following newspaper paragraph is reliable, he sometimes won: and would be in a position to realise the last line in the prologue: 'The Ticket which entitled the Bearer to 10,000l. drawn in this present Lottery, belongs to a Brewer's Man and Maid Servant.' [8] 

The accomplishments of male servants seem to have been varied. says, [9]  'I remember the time when some of our well-bred Country Women kept their Valet de Chambre, because, forsooth, a Man was much more handy about them than one of their own Sex. I myself have seen one of these Male Abigails tripping about the Room with a looking glass in his Hand, and combing his Lady's Hair a whole Morning together.' And another of the fraternity advertises thus: 'A likely sober Person, who can give a very good Account of himself, by several Gentlemen and others: He has a Mind to serve a Gentleman as a Valet de Chambre or Buttler; or to wait on a single Gentleman in Town or Country; he is known to shave well, and can make Wigs; he well understands the Practice of Surgery, which may be of great Use to a Family in the Country or elsewhere; he is a Sportsman; he understands shooting flying, Hunting and Fishing, and all other Sports relating thereunto; he well understands a Horse.'

But (and it is a curious little revelation of social life) men did not monopolise the position of body servants to their


masters. , writing as Isaac Bickerstaff, about his club, says [10]  : 'This may suffice to give the world a taste of our innocent conversation, which we spun out until about ten of the clock, when my maid came with a lantern to light me home.'

There was, however, another class of servants-black slaves; for the children of Ham were still in their cruel bondage here-and many are the advertisements respecting them, from 'a parcel of beads for the Guinea trade' to a 'Mulatto Maid missing.' It seems curious to us, now, to think of the somewhat inconsequent behaviour of those times, keeping black slaves with one hand, and redeeming white ones from Barbary with the other. One thing is, the poor whites only changed their method of slavery, for they were draughted into the navy, and in the long war that followed, there was very little hope of their release. The papers of March 10, , tell of 143 out of 190 of these poor wretches going to St. Paul's, where the Bishop of London gave them 70l. between them, and the dean, Dr. Sherlock, 'admonished them to return thanks to the Government for their Deliverance, and to the People for their Charity, and that they should not pursue the Practices to which Sailers, &c., are too much addicted, viz. Swearing and Cursing. There are about 42 left behind, as 'tis said because some of the Powder, which was carried thither, happened not to be Proof.' And the London Post, March 11 / 13, tells a touching little romance of this event: 'This day the Slaves lately arrived from Barbary, went in a Body to the Admiralty Office, in order to enter themselves on Board the Queen's Ships; And 'twas observable, that when they came Yesterday out of Paul's, one of them was spy'd out by 2 of his Daughters who came thither only out of Curiosity, and so soon as they saw their Father, run with open Arms, imbraced and kissed him.'

It is needless to say that the negro slaves were always running away, and being advertised for; but, as the rewards given were not high, it is probable that recapture was almost certain. One or two instances will suffice: 'A Slender middle sized India Black, in a dark grey Livery with Brass Buttons,


went from Mrs. Thwaits, in Stepney, the 4th of June, and is, suppos'd to be gone on board some Ship in the Downs; whosoever secures and gives notice of him to Mrs. Thwaits or Mr. Tresham, two doors within Aldgate, shall have 10s. reward and reasonable Charges. ' 'Went away from his Master's House in , upon Monday the 6th Instant, and has since been seen at , and Tottenham Court, an Indian Black boy, with long Hair, about 15 Years of Age, speaks very good English; he went away in a brown Fustian Frock, a blew Wastecoate, and scarlet Shag Breeches, and is called by the name of Morat; Whoever brings him to, or gives Notice of him, so as he may be brought to Mr. Pain's House in Prince's Court, , shall have a Guinea Reward, and the Boy shall be kindly received.' Judging by his 'long Hair,' this boy was not a negro-indeed it would seem that it only needed a dark skin to constitute a slave; for 'an East India young man, named Caesar,' ran away. ' A Negro Maid, aged about 16 Years, much pitted with the Small Pox, speaks English well, having a piece of her left Ear bit off by a Dog; She hath on a strip'd Stuff Wastcoat and Petticoat . . . they shall have a Guinea Reward and reasonable Charges.' Sometimes (indeed it was rather fashionable) the poor wretches had collars round their necks. 'A Tall Negro young fellow commonly known as Jack Chelsea, having a Collar about his Neck (unless it be lately filed off), with these Words; Mr. Moses Goodyeare of his Negro, ran away from his Master last Tuesday evening.' This habit of wearing collars is noticed by , [11]  who inserts a letter from 'a blackamoor boy-Pompey.' ' Besides this, the shock dog has a collar that cost almost as much as mine.' Sometimes these collars were of silver. 'Run away from his Master about a Fortnight since, a lusty Negroe Boy about 18 years of Age, full of pock holes, had a Silver Collar about his Neck engrav'd Capt. Tho. Mitchel's Negroe, living in Griffith Street in Shadwel.'

They were rarely advertised to be sold-indeed, I have only found one instance in all the newspapers of the twelve years of Anne's reign, and that is very simple. 'A Negro boy about 12 years of age, that speaks English, is to be sold.


Enquire of Mr. Step Rayner, a Watchmaker, at the sign of the Dial, without Bishopsgate.'

Another kind of servant must not be forgotten, although his servitude was but a limited one-and that is the apprentice, of whom says: ' An Apprentice is a sort of a Slave; he wears neither Hat nor Cap in his Master's presence; he can't marry, nor lave any Dealings on his own Account. All he earns is his Masters.' is slightly in error in one part of this description, but it is a piece of delicate etiquette, which probably escaped a foreigner's eye: the apprentice might wear his cap in his master's presence during the last year of his time. A branch of industry then existedalthough probably it was practised by very few:- 'Attendance will be given at the Sun Coffee House in Queen Street, very near , on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, where Youth may be furnished with Masters to go Apprentices to Merchants, Wholesale or Retale Trades, or Handicraft Trades.'


[1] Spectator, 214.

[2] Tunbridge Walks, ed. 1703.

[3] The Perplexed Lovers, by Mrs. Centlivre, ed. 1712.

[4] Spectator, No. 299.

[5] Ibid. 143.

[6] The Basset Table, sc. i., ed. 1706.

[7] Journal to Stella, letter 10.

[8] Postboy, Jan. 21/23, 1714.

[9] Spectator, No. 45.

[10] The Tatler, No. 132.

[11] Tatler, No. 245.