Monday, September 28, 2009

The price of service

Monday, September 28, 2009

Loretta reports:

Imagining Byron in the Palazzo Mocenigo, "working" on his poetry, got me thinking about money. Like other Englishmen, he found most of continental Europe easier on his pocketbook. (It's believed that one of the reasons for his crazy behavior, which led to the dissolution of his marriage, was money, a prime cause of marital turmoil today.)

Let us contemplate the wealth of the Regency era upper classes. Browsing in The Complete Servant, by Samuel & Sarah Adams, Butler & Housekeeper, first published in 1825, we find that a "Gentleman and Lady with Children" in possession of an annual income of £3000-4000 could afford "Nine Female and eleven Male Servants; viz.--A Housekeeper, Cook, Lady's-Maid, Nurse, two House-Maids, a Laundry-Maid, Kitchen-Maid, and a Nursery-Maid; with a Butler, Coachman, two Grooms, Valet, two Footmen, two Gardeners, and a Labourer.”

What's £3000 worth today? Depending on the measure you use, the amount varies from around $225,000-550,000. If you want to know why it varies, here's the place to investigate. One less finicky way is to simply multiply by 60 and then convert pounds to dollars. It takes you to the same general vicinity.

The housekeeper would be paid about 24 guineas. A year.

A guinea was twenty-one shillings (old style shillings, before the switch in 1971 to a decimal system), or one pound plus one shilling. Do not ask me to explain British money. At least not in this post. I only wanted to give a little basis of comparison, between our gentleman's annual income and the incomes of his various servants.

The butler would be paid about 50 guineas a year.
A nursery maid would be paid 7 guineas per year.

Hardly princely sums. But let's bear in mind that the household servants were fed, housed, and clothed at the employer's expense. He paid their medical bills and, usually, an annuity when they retired. As jobs went in those days, service wasn't a bad job.

But of course, it was better to be the master or mistress, and when I think of time-traveling, I do not picture myself as the scullery maid.

6 comments:

Monica Burns said...

Looks like I'd be one of the merchant class, working hard to push my daughters up the social ladder with hefty dowries. *grin*

And I sure would love to have the equivalent of that upper class income. *grin*

Susan Holloway Scott said...

As usual, love the cartoon ("I should like to be under your Man-Cook by Way of Improvement")!

And yes, I agree, it must have always been better to have been the master and mistress than even the most imperious butler or housekeeper. Funny how whenever we imagine that we've lived a previous life, it was never in the scullery....

Danielle Thorne said...

Excellent post today. One of the easiest explanations I've read. Thank you for the details. I love getting my TNHG's emails every day.

Ms. Lucy said...

Yes, Mistress any day:) I'm dying to go to the Mocenigo- which, although is now no longer un palazzo- because there is still the statue of Napoleon that was brought over at the time. It's apparently somewhere in the back...I'd love to see that and will make a point of it when I go back. Another enjoyable post-) Thanks:)

Loretta Chase said...

Monica, the book doesn't even list the kinds of incomes one sees in the peerage. In 1806 Lord Hertford had 70,000 pounds annual income. In the 1820s, the king's dentist made 10,000. Susan, I especially love the cook laughing his head off in the background. Danielle, & Ms. Lucy, grazie! We were very sure we'd find kindred spirits when we started this blog. Ms. Lucy, I will try to hunt down the name of the book about Byron's landlady at the Mocenigo. I, too, long to see the house. One of these days I will get to Venice.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Wow! That's some income for the king's dentist. I read something recently about William Knighton, man/midwife to the ton. His practice brought in about 10,000 a year.

And I also love the prints you guys always manage to find. Even the cat is freaking out!

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