Poor Crawleys: A Study of Downton Abbey’s Staffing Woes

You may also like...

26 Responses

  1. Bookwoman says:

    This is great – thanks!

    In Sunday’s episode, when Lord G comes downstairs to tell everyone the war is over and how they’re going to assemble on the 11th at 11:00, he says “I expect all of you, including the kitchen staff and hall boys, everyone, to be there.” This implied to me that there are other servants, but since they don’t have plot lines, we simply don’t see them.

    • Jodi says:

      Also, could not some of the servants live in town? I was under

    • brinnc says:

      So true, I believe they had well over 20 servants, you tend to see them in the background carrying sheets and other household items, and they did have a land agent prior to Mathew, he resigned over a disagreement with Lord G, and him following Mathew’s advice, the land agent actually took over for his father and grew up on the estate. Though this information is not known when this article was first posted, I seem to remember it didnt come out until season3. But I assure you they have the normal amount of servants that an estate of this size was expected to have, probably more, as you posted they just arent part of the story, to many speaking parts would get confusing and very difficult to follow all the drama for every servant, oh and eventually as everyone knows, Branson takes over as land agent later in the story.

    • Helen Lane says:

      I was reading this with interest, and it is a good analysis. However, it seems clear from the series that there are a number of other servants in the household who effectively serve as “extras” in the series. For example, when Lady Sybil comes down to the kitchen to be taught to cook during series 2, there are several other kitchen maids, in addition to Daisy, around. Even if the first episode, as we follow Thomas around the house collecting up glasses, there are a number of servants that are un-named doing various jobs.

  2. corkingiron says:

    Et tu, JHarper2?

    Sigh. I wage a one-man War against the forelock-tugging worship of all things that glorify a parasitic aristocracy – and then am betrayed! My fellow-Canadian – and a resident of that historic hotbed of Socialism and socialized medicine called Saskatchewan – has turned on me!

    Oh Woe! Alas and alack! (Do they mean the same thing?)

    OK – seriously, this was a good post. Highly informative, while at the same time completely avoiding the fetish known as hat worship. Thanks – and courage, my friend.

  3. Bookwoman says:

    “Alas and alack! (Do they mean the same thing?)”

    Yes, and yea verily, they do.

  4. scone says:

    I love this post. (especially how it brings in the Honorary Colonel posting at the end to tie everything together!)

    Thank you, JHarper2! (And anibundel, for posting!)

  5. Captain Button says:

    I recently rewatched the second season of Upstairs, Downstairs, and I have some general questions/want to check if I understand things right.

    Room, board, and at least some clothing came with the job in addition to the money, right?

    Servants were not allowed to marry of have children of their own. Which would mean female servants would have to be celibate or very careful.

    What happened to servants who did get pregnant? Where they just fired and thrown out?

    What happened to servants when they got too old to work?

    • kayelem says:

      Fired, thrown out. Unless pregnant by a member of the household in which case they might also get paid off.

      Too old to work? Pensioned off, but you worked until you were really old, and dying was a lot easier then anyway. Staff was generational too: the more senior but still relatively young maids and footmen and underbutlers etc. would be promoted into the households of the adult children, and grow old with them. with any luck.

      • brinnc says:

        Most worked until they could no longer perform to standards, most also started very young and if they remained with the house their whole working life they were usually given a cottage on the estate to live out their golden years, while that benefit has gone away, or almost extinct, there are a few that still get the benefit od a small cottage, also the servants could marry and have children especially later in 20th century.

  6. ralphdibny says:

    This is fantastic information–thank you.

    I believe that your desire for a portrayal of the economic reality of Downton Abbey is running smack against the economic reality of 21st century television. The only kind of television show that was economically able to have such a large cast of regular actors (those with speaking parts, let alone character arcs) were the soap operas of the 1960s-1980s. DA has a huge cast by today’s television standards (it is the closest thing we have to the old-time soap opera tradition, in both scale and plot devices–amnesia! forbidden love!). I tend to rationalize it that there are lots of other servants that we never see, just as high school dramas only focus on a handful of students and neglect the other 98%.

    Actually, I would prefer to see more actors less often, rather than the current DA model, where every actor appears in every episode. Seriously, we don’t need to see Ethel in every episode. Except I guess we do, since each episode seems to span months, and sometimes years. DA is about to have the opposite problem of most TV shows, where the actors age faster than the plots move (I’m looking at you, kid from Lost! And you, 30 year old actor playing a high schooler!). In two years of real time, DA has progressed eight years. Maggie Smith will be playing a 120 year old by the time this show wraps production.

    • anibundel says:

      I’ve already stated that I am going to cry at the Dowager’s funeral–something else I assume will will see in season three

      • ralphdibny says:

        I told you over at TNC’s place, and I’ll say it again–Maggie Smith will never die, so you just stop that nonsense. 🙂

  7. watson42 says:

    Captain Button, as far as I understand it:

    Room, board and I think work-appropriate clothing (uniform, etc) came with the job along with salary.

    Servants who married often left, though the employer could find a position for the spouse within the establishment if they wanted to keep the servant.

    Servants who got pregnant were often fired and thrown out. Occaisionally a servant who became pregnant by a member of The Family would be paid off (but also fired), depending.

  8. Bill Harshaw says:

    I was fascinated to read in a recent memoir, I think Tony Judt, that he considered his family to be lower middle class but they had a maid in 1950. England is another country.

    Maybe we’ll find out more about the family finances in season III, when Cora’s mother appears.

    • kayelem says:

      The same was true here. Even fairly low on the middle class scale, money would be found for part time live out help. Housekeeping was hard physical labor before central heat and air made houses cleaner; and standards of dustfree shining cleanliness were higher, not to mention the only way to have food was to cook from complete scratch every day and many households still made at least some of their own clothing. If all you could afford was ‘a girl’ a couple days a week, you got one.

    • kayelem says:

      I’d noticed before the maids uniforms don’t quite match. I suppose they are buying them as needed from the shops rather than having them made to match, or even expecting the maids to sew their own to a matching pattern.

      • Sylvia says:

        Good eye! I hadn’t noticed that. From reading “Below Stairs” by Margaret Powell is seems some employers made their servants to buy or make their own uniforms, and other provided them or parts of them (such as the cap). You would think a big house like “Downton” would provide them, but perhaps not. There may be a difference between housemaid and parlourmaid uniforms, and perhaps differences in rank too.

  9. Mark F. says:

    Just wondering — assuming you could afford a house like Downton today, what would your staffing needs be now as compared to 1920? I assume you would not as many full time staff.

    • anibundel says:

      That’s a good question.
      You’d still want Cook, and she’d probably want an assistant.
      You’d still want a maid to do laundry and vacuum. It’s a big house after all. If you were in the business of doing events and hosting lots of parties, that maid staff would probably expand to two or three.
      Having a butler to buttle and function as house manager would be good, considering that in today’s world, Husband and Wife would have the kind of two-salary high powered jobs that can afford that size house. Again, hosting events, parties and random BBC shows who want to film period pieces on your grounds might require him to have an assistant or two.

  10. Edward Murphy says:

    Downton has about six housemaids who do all duties of parlour and chamber, there’s about 3-5 kitchen maids besides Daisy, who, poor darling, is the scullery maid I think, in additon to being a VERY young undercook, she couldn’t have been much older than 14 at the start, probably younger, the footmen, you are quite correct on that mark. Now I’ve never seen a tweeny, but there seem to be about two hallboys/odd job men. The laundry was in a different building and the laundry staff were seperate, so its no wonder you don’t see them, but you really should watch the series over, if you watch the downstairs secnes there’s about 20 or more extras running around behind all the servants who get a character. Anna maids the three daughters, plus different houses had different rules for daughters, some gave them maids and let them have breakfast in bed, others didn’t, Downton is obviously the latter. The Crawleys of Manchester I think are recently upper middle class, Doctor Crawley must have been middle middle class along with Mrs. Crawley’s Doctor father, as Matthew is a solicitor they must have moved up in the world and bought a bigger house but not a bigger staff, they had a cook and two maids, if you listen to Mrs. Bird she says she’s always had one kitchen maid and gotten on perfectly well. The Crawley’s Manchester house was well furnished (what we saw of it) and fashionably furnished, so they redecorated within the last 5/10 years, they still had all their tea sets and china and silver. I think Mrs. Crawley is merely a very independant person, you’d have to be if you were a Manchester matriarch, which, given her interests in charities and hospitals and so on is more than likely.

  11. Marianne C. says:

    We often see servants in the background, coming and going, whose names and positions we don’t know. Gardeners have been referred to, as have gamekeepers and general “outdoor staff.” We’ve seen at least one groom, too. We saw some gamekeepers in the shooting episode in which Mary was accompanied by Sir Richard. Thomas is now Under Butler, and there are two footmen. There are also hallboys and other maids whose names we don’t know. In season 3, Edith mentions a new (presumably lady’s) maid, but we never see her. Matthew and Isobel did seem to live in Crawley House with a staff of only two, however, and Isobel seemed for a time to have only Mrs. Bird, and then Ethyl. I’ve wondered who does Isobel’s hair, and who does the laundry and ironing. Tweenies had pretty much gone out of fashion by 1900, so the absence is perhaps not as surprising as the apparent absence of a laundress.

  12. Mac says:

    Your conclusion on the number of staff at Downton Abbey is Wrong. The story ONLY Focused on 8-9 staff but you Constantly saw Another 6 to 10 members of staff doing things around the house or sitting down at each meal time.

  1. January 28, 2015

    […] workers, actually earn more than the median U.S. worker. Thomas, as a second footman, would have earned an annual salary $37,379.37 (in 2014 dollars). Daisy, as an undercook, would have earned $22,150 a year. (They also received […]

  2. June 1, 2015