The Regency Wardrobe collection - research - Regency and Victorian servants

Keeping white fabric white for its wearer was just one reason why servants played such an important role in larger households during this period. Their own lives are of course mostly less well documented. As a rule the clothes they wore have not been preserved in national collections in the same way. What we do know is that according to the account books of the 3rd Viscount Gage (1761-1808) he clothed all his servants at Firle Place, East Sussex (and his other properties such as Westbury House, Hants and London, though often his servants travelled between houses). It is not possible to tell whether they wore livery, some of the senior male serving staff may have done so. There is a reference to John Beeny, post boy, who received a jacket “wate” (waistcoat), a pair of braces and a greatcoat of Whitney coating for 18s 0d. The servants were all clothed, housed, fed and paid a wage greater than any agricultural labourer of the time. Mourning was provided at the death of their master, and each received a legacy. While there are not as accurate accounts relating to the 4th Viscount (1791-1877), we know he followed the same tradition in regard to his servants. Though the census is the clearest way of establishing the inhabitants of a historic household it only began to be kept in 1841.

As a researcher at The Regency Town House, Hove Jill Vigus has done a lot of looking for more detail about those people who worked and lived as servants, as part of the households of Brunswick square, Brighton & Hove, and beyond during the Regency. Such detail is hard to find however.

As inspiration for The Regency Wardrobe collection she has helped me to track down guests lists of balls and social gatherings and historical records concerning the great and the good.

A certain amount of information is available about tradespeople through work related records. The location of a servants work however was someone else's home and so documented differently, if at all.

The national census in England didn't begin until 1841 and so we lack that layer of overview for the Regency period; whereas from then onwards, every ten years, we have a snapshot record of the inhabitants of every household, who they were and what their role was.

Servants didn't attend notable functions or, therefore, wear the latest fashions. I have found myself guiltily drawn toward the finery of the rich as I've researched Regency fashion, wondering what those with less money would have worn but of course finding few examples in museum stores or even in illustrations and books. Some presumptions can be made, simpler, cheaper examples of the less glamourous styles of the time, more hard wearing fabrics, plainer colours etc.

In the end however The Regency Wardrobe collection doesn't include any servants dresses not because I couldn't have gleaned enough snippets to construct a piece but because in the time I've had available to reflect some of the primary themes of the period I've been aware of the servants of that time more as ghostly half seen black and white shadows than as men and women living and working in a coloured in world. This humble sketch seems to sum up what we might imagine of their lot yet of course they would also have laughed together and held their heads up high.

The early nineteenth-century maid. By William Brocas (1762-1837), pencil drawing c.1800 (National Library of Ireland)


As I've looked at more and more black paper cut silhouettes from this period, as inspiration for the 5 black dresses I would make (please see here), the colour that is black has taken on a density and a presence. Though I have read, and believe, that the art of the paper cut silhouette in fact democratized portraiture and made the capture of one's self-image more affordable to the masses it remained true that the image in my mind of the servants of that time would be better portrayed not by looking at the cut out shape of a figure but by looking at what is left behind, the background that figure has been cut out of.

For this seems to better portray their ghostly presence and/or conspicuous absence from the general impression we largely have of that period. They would have kept the whole show on the road but it's hard to flesh out the detail, to visualise real individuals. The details of their lives and their clothes have been less well preserved, and therefore have more generally disintegrated, with the passing of time.

Of the few images I found of servants here is:

Title: A Milkmaid

Creator: John Augustus Atkinson, 1775–1831

Date: undated; Medium: Pen and brown ink, watercolor and graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, beige wove paper. Dimensions:Sheet: 12 7/8 × 3 3/8 inches (32.7 × 8.6 cm) Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering: Inscribed on back top center in graphite: "34"; on back center in graphite: "27"Credit Line: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

And there is the image of a housemaid here:

Whilst I was seeing such an impression in my mind I didn't know that in fact the creation of this style of silhouette, or absence thereof, was not unpractised. The man or woman being portrayed by the silhouette artist might have been portrayed as the positive of a cream/white piece of paper or they might indeed have been portrayed as the missing form from a similarly coloured page. The woman on the right is unknown, as you can see here, could it be that she was indeed a servant? The hairstyle leads me to believe not but it's an intriguing idea than during this time when the background that was society ran on the labour of the unsung masses the form of portraiture that became popular did not require the portrayal of features, simply the outline form.

That's my impression but what else could I in fact find?

For a little more about the research the Regency Town House has done into the lives of servants please click here

And for a bit more colour and to find our more about how to dine like a servant have a look at the work of Paul Couchman, The Regency Cook, here

There are some more images linked to Regency food and the preparation thereof here

And a nice description about the running of a household, Regency fair and mention of the staff at the Brighton Pavilion here

With a list of servant's titles here

And a post about the duties of a valet here

During her research Jill Vigus came across a few figures who's family lines and lives she could follow a little way and who she could tell once worked in Brunswick square. Sometimes it was easiest to first track down the employers and thereby find the names of their employees, for example:

Jane Florentia (1805-1878). Jane Florentia Creighton was born in Meerut, Bengal, India. Her mother was Frances. Her father Henry Creighton was an indigo planter by trade but also an amateur archaeologist and artist. He was particularly interested in the ancient ruined city of Gaur in West Bengal and the British Library have a number of his works.

Richard Carr Glyn was born in 1794 in St James’s London. He went out to India on behalf of the Honourable East India Company where he was a collector of revenue in Meerut. He lived in a spacious mansion. He met Jane Florentia and married her in Meerut on 5th May 1828.

In the 1830’s they returned to England and initially lived at the family home Durrington House, Sheering, Essex. The 1841 census shows them living there with their daughter Henrietta Amelia age 12 and Lydia Jane age 2. They also had a son Richard Thomas, born in 1832 but not present at the time of the census, perhaps he was away at school. All the children were born in India. By 1843 according to the Brighton Gazette the Glyn’s were living at 22 Brunswick Square Hove. They continued to live there for over 30 years.

In the 1851 census Richard Carr Glyn is described as a fundholder he is living at number 22 with Jane Florentia and daughters Henrietta age 21 and Lydia age 12.

Also present were a number of servants: -

Eliza J Radley age 49 a ladies’ maid

Mary Johnstone age 37 a cook

Mary Rapley age 21 a house maid

Isaac Roffey age 29 a footman

Ellen Moore age 17 a ladies’ maid

Of particular interest is Eliza Jane Radley a widow born in Frome Somerset as she remained with the family for a number of years. In the 1861 census she is listed as a House keeper and in the 1871 census age 69 she is still the House keeper. She died in 1881 while living at 3 Parkmore Terrace Brighton, she was 79. It is not evident whether she married.

In 1859 Henrietta Amelia married her cousin, clergyman George Lewen Glyn (born 1805) he was a widow 24 years older than her. He had four children from his first marriage. We are now a bit later in time and considering Victorians, therefore there are some photographs available here On the date of the 1861 census Jane Florentia and Richard Carr Glyn are living at 22 Brunswick Square. With them are daughter Lydia Jane age 22. Also there are son Richard Thomas, his wife Anne Penelope and their two children Anne Jane age 2 and Elizabeth Jane age 1. Also present was her sister in law Frances Rosina Malony a widow age 65 born in Bengal India.

There are now 7 servants including housekeeper Eliza Jane Radley.

Brunswick square

We can of course imagine backwards from information gleaned later and relating specifically to Brunswick square, the location of The Regency Town House, Jill was able to track down a further eight individuals who were born during the 1820's and worked at some point as servants in one or other of the townhouses of the square. These include:

Frances (Fanny) Slimmonds born Petworth 1826 in the 1851 census working at 1 Brunswick Terrace as a Housemaid. Also living there are Henry Slimonds age 56 brother and Eliza Slimonds age 56 sister.

Susan (Sussex/Sarah) Nye born 1828, Henfield and Charles Paskins born 1829 Worthing.