Edwardian Servants

My summer beach read was Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Allison Maloney, and it is a glimpse into a different world.

I brought this book, a gift from a family member, on my California beach vacation.  By coincidence, my hotel room offered these TV shows for a fee, listed like this:

  • Children’s shows
  • Recently broadcast shows
  • Downton Abbey

That was all.  Really, what’s better than Downton Abbey?

I watched Lady Edith’s wedding again, the servants smiling from the pews as she walked down the aisle. According to Life Below Stairs, servants going to church seated themselves in order of their status.  A class society, Edwardian England had large homes with a strict pecking order downstairs – and peck they did.

What about those spiffy uniforms the maids wore?  Their handsome dark dresses, ruffled white aprons and little caps?  I’d assumed that employers supplied them, and I had wondered whether the cost of the uniforms was taken from the wages of these women and girls.  Answer:  neither.  Desperately poor families and their daughters worked and saved to buy these, so the girl could become a maid and earn a tiny salary and three hearty meals a day.  This last is key.

Before the invention of our modern labor-saving appliances, ordinary housewives needed help, and many kept a servant or two.

English Cottage
image credit: 123RF.com, #18928567

Large houses required a few dozen servants or more, including the outdoor staff, and so servants had companions in each other.

Chatsworth House © David Hughes/123RF.com

With so many people under the same roof, I think there would be more drama than in our homes, even though the servants tried to be unobtrusive and give their employers as calm a home as possible.  That’s something to think about as we wash our own dishes – at least we have peace.

Life Below Stairs:  True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Allison Maloney (St. Martin’s Press) is an interesting, entertaining book detailing a lost world.

Check back next Monday for a very different home — photos of a Wyoming log cabin and what it tells us about life back then.

Bridal Gowns of the Early 1900s

1906-09 wedding dress “Complex works of art,” curator Sheryl Peters said of wedding gowns dating from about 1906 to 1915.

In this, our first dress, the lace around this collar is the most delicate I have ever seen.  It looks as if it would dissolve if I breathe on it.

Silk cord runs just above it, at the top of the collar, and also below the lace.  It is looped.

That same silk cord is pulled through net elsewhere on this dress to make elaborate designs on the bodice, cuffs and the belt.

And around the hem.

Long gloves would have been worn with all of these dresses, extending under the sleeve.

Wedding dress and jacket (800x600)

This bridal gown was worn in 1910, with the jacket over it.

PMH wedding dresses 006 (600x800)

This silk gown was worn by bride Louvena Grace Dolson in 1911.  The long, narrow pleated portions, like the one running down the center of this dress, were made on a separate piece of silk.  That piece of silk was pleated and stitched, then cut into strips.  The seamstress then sewed lace trim all around each strip of pleated silk before she inserted them into this opulent creation.

PMH wedding dresses 008 (800x800)

This 1914 gown has faux orange blossoms.  Orange trees bear fruit and bloom at the same time, and so are a symbol of fertility.  This gown has a beautiful train that is pleated when viewed from the side.

PMH wedding dresses 018 (800x600)

When I give tours of  “I Do, I Do, Pasadena Ties the Knot, 1850-1950,” patrons ask which of the forty-two dresses is my favorite.  My favorite, pictured below, was worn in 1915 by Margaret Whitney Collins and almost fifty years later by Julia Collins Haselton.  I would have worn this dress if I’d had the chance.

Worn 1915 and 1964 (600x800)

Swags and big tassels of faux pearls.

Handle on train (800x600)

The train has a handle on it — you can see it at the top of this photo — so the bride could hold up the train at the reception while she walked.  And danced with her groom.

These and many other beautiful dresses are on display at the Pasadena Museum of History, only until July 14.  My next post will feature beaded wedding gowns from the 1920s, and the following post will highlight dresses from the 1930s in historical context.

Here’s information on seeing this exhibit in person: