Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nineteenth Century Household Manuals, or What Housekeepers Used Before Google.

Byfield, Northamptonshire, UK
English Heritage NMR

Whenever I watch period shows (i.e. Downton Abbey), aside from drooling over the costumes, I always get very interested by what goes on below stairs. Since poor little ol' me doesn't have a staff of my own, and it's up to me to be not only the lady of the house, but also the housekeeper/butler/cook/scullery maid, I have quite an appreciation for how these great houses were run. These shows always inspire me to break out the silver polish...

Staff of Winsford Towers Estate, 1902. Devon, UK.

Stable staff. Unknown estate.
English Heritage NMR

I recently have been reading Arthur Inch's, Dinner is Served, and Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant, by Jeremy Musson. Both very fascinating books about being in service. Inch's book is a kind of how-to mixed with history, using knowledge from his many years as a butler, starting in the 1930's. Musson's book is an in depth study of country house service from the middle ages through today. I recommend both.

A man in the 18th century style livery of Blenheim Palace,
residence of the Duke of Marlborough.
The same home worked at by Arthur Inch. Photo c.1900.
English Heritage NMR

Butler's pantry at Barton Abbey, Oxfordshire.
English Heritage NMR.

But on to first hand, historical resources...

Housekeeper's and staff would have had reference books, just as today we might google a recipe. I start with Cassell's Household Guide, with volumes written in the latter half of the 19th century.

If you have never heard of Cassell's, I first learned about it while watching The 1900 House on PBS. Great show. It took a modern British family and transplanted them into a fully restored c.1900 house, where they had to live and breath the turn of the century way of life. Cassell's guide was used as a reference on the show, both for restoring the house and filling it with everything necessary to the 1900 era lifestyle. They also left the book for the family as a daily reference.

Original for sale at Inch's Books.

I soooo badly wanted to get my hands on that book! Unfortunately, then (1999), I couldn't find one that wasn't a zillion dollars at an antique seller. Fortunately though, now, Cassell's is ALL over the web! What a difference thirteen years makes!

So check it out here, here and here:

On google books for the scanned original.
On Victorian London for a fully indexed and searchable guide.
On Amazon - order a paperback copy and have all 392 pages at hand for your own personal reference. Bummer it's not leather-bound...

Two other well known period reference guides are Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, first published in 1861, and Sarah and Samuel Adams' The Complete Servant Being a Practical Guide to the Peculiar Duties of all descriptions of servants... with Useful Receipts and Tables, published 1825. Both of these books are now available for reference online like Cassell's. I have linked their titles. Mrs. Beeton even has her own website! Both books are also available for purchase on Amazon: Click Adams' and Beeton's for the pages.

Fascinating books for reference. If you browse them you will find not only information about cooking, cleaning, etc, but also mending and sewing. There are even some chapters in Cassell's on shoe mending and leatherwork!


  1. Love it! Thanks as well for the links to the scanned books/ online copies - so much easier to read and search those.

  2. Thanks for the tip on The 1900 house. I'm watching it now on youtube and I'm absolutely squirming with envy...Some people get all the luck!

  3. I know! When I saw it for the first time I was so jealous! I want an excuse to wear costumes everyday!

  4. Hello, I was wondering what your copyright policy is in regards to post images. I would love to use the Louis Brooks image for a blog.

    1. Hi! Feel free to use any of my pictures you want. Any pictures I take and post, I'm putting out there to share.

      As for any photos I use on posts that I have not taken, I don't 100% know the copyright policies. I try to assign credit, but I would use web pics at your own risk I guess. Most people are really cool, others might take issue. Recently I have just played it safe and tried not to use photos I haven't taken.

      Hope that helps!