From Servants to Staff at Chatsworth

Did you know that there’s an exciting archival research project going on at Chatsworth House?  The archives of the Dukes of Devonshire are still held at Chatsworth, under the care of the Chatsworth Archives team.  The collection is huge and full of so many amazing things that I couldn’t possibly enumerate them here – I recommend that you take a look at the Chatsworth blog to get a glimpse into their collections.

So back to the archival research project… Chatsworth is working in partnership with Sheffield University to look at the lives of servants from the 18th to the 20th century.  Three Sheffield University PhD students are working on Chatsworth’s archives, each student working on a separate century of records.  Together they will be piecing together the social changes that have transformed masters and servants to employers and staff.

Since January, the students  (Hannah, Lauren and Fiona) have been writing a monthly post for the Chatsworth blog about their discoveries.  If you want to get an insight into the lives of the governess, housekeeper and more, take a look at the Servants to Staff posts so far.

Even though Chatsworth holds its own archives, within our own collections we do have a very tiny glimpse into the life of one Chatsworth servant.  We hold three letters written by Elizabeth Winchester to her mother in Bakewell between 1803 and 1806 (reference nos D5430/76/22-24).  Elizabeth seems to have been  lady’s maid to ‘Little G’, Georgiana Howard, the eldest daughter of the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

We have no pictures of Elizabeth – as a servant, she was unlikely ever to have her portrait painted – but here’s a famous portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire with Elizabeth’s mistress, Georgiana Howard, as a child:

Elizabeth travelled with ‘her lady’ to Paris in 1803, and writes her first letter from there, about which she says: “I can only wonder how any English person can like France, there seems to be so few comforts here to what there is in England”.  Her mistress clearly attended a lot of evening parties, as Elizabeth complains bitterly that:

…had I my time to spend again I would never undertake such a sort of situation as this I am in and I think I shall very soon look out for something different, as I am to get my own living I may as well do it in a situation that I like better than I do my present one, besides I think I am losing my time by living here for fifteen pounds a year, besides destroying my Health as I never have a good Nights rest, I have not been in Bed since we have been in Paris till, four, five, & six o’clock in the Morning, which is a very uncomfortable thing, and what I am sure no constitution can bear for any length of time I should not care what I did in the Day if I could have rest at Night…

By February 1805, they are back in London, but Elizabeth is still very unhappy with her situation, as Devonshire House is undergoing some renovations so the family is staying in Grillons Hotel, in Albemarle Street.  This very fashionable hotel didn’t please Elizabeth, who says:

…you can have no Idea how very dirty everything is, I do not think I ever was more uncomfortable in my life … to think of her grace putting us in a French Hotel, there are only about four or five English people in the House, and I have to Dine and Drink Tea & Sup with such a dirty set of French people, that can scarce speak five words of English that one can understand but the Duchess likes everything that is French, and must give them every encouragement.

Poor Elizabeth!  She is one servant who definitely did not seem to enjoy the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the ‘great families’.  Hopefully, the Servants to Staff project will reveal more of Elizabeth Winchester’s employment history, and the histories of many others who worked for the family at Chatsworth.

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