History Blog by Caroline Devey (June 2023)

The Life of a Victorian Scullery Maid

Mary Thornbury was about to feel the excitement of change. Mary’s life had been the same for the past three years since she had been taken on as the scullery maid for Saltram House. Her daily routine hadn’t changed, her jobs ranged from swilling the floors to emptying the servant’s chamber pots. “There has to be more to life than this” she would tell the cook, “All in good time, give it another year and you will be old enough to ask about becoming a maid of the household.” It was a bold step for a scullery maid, but Mary was determined to push herself and prove that she was more than just a 13-year-old girl. She was ready to be taken seriously, and she longed to spend more time away from the kitchens and in the house. One of her favourite jobs was going into the rooms in the early hours of the morning to light the fireplace. The thought of that warm glow brought a smile to her face and a beam of confidence tingled inside her.

One frosty morning, Mary and the scullery maids had just poured themselves a warm tea when the kitchen door creaked open. The Housekeeper walked briskly in startling the occupants of the kitchen.

“Mary Thornbury, it is time for us to speak with Earl of Morley about you taking the position of a

Housemaid,” she called in a stern voice. Mary’s stomach filled with butterflies, she pressed down her large white bib-apron that sat over her blue dress, checking for any marks and scuffs on her stockings or shoes. “Hurry up Mary, the Earl doesn’t have all day!”

Mary followed behind the housekeeper who told her that she must keep quiet at all times unless

spoken to. Her mind started to imagine what it would be like to become a Housemaid. She knew it would make her parents proud as well as her three sisters. She couldn’t wait to write to her eldest sister Maria, she remembered in the springtime they would play in the garden together talking about what they would become when they were older, this dream for Mary now was more practical than her plan to become a Lady all those years ago. Her chance to build her way up to something more suited to her way of life and not too disappointing as to where she was now, she could become a Lady’s maid or a future housekeeper. Anything she could put her mind to but not a lady. Mary was quickly brought back to reality after an abrupt stop behind the Housekeeper. She turned to her and pointed, “Remember do not speak, unless spoken to” she whispered before opening the door to the library. Mary’s hands were sweaty and her chest tightened, was she going to prevail on her chance to build her way up to her goal?