Treasure 42: a licence to employ a servant, 1878

This document (D1575/13/18) was chosen by Matthew, who is a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office. Matthew says “it always reminds me of the old dog licences, which makes me smile but also feel slightly uncomfortable at the same time”.


Employers needed to have licences like this one to prove they had paid the male servant duty.  This system was in operation from 1869 to 1937.  Its predecessor was a tax on male servants, dating from 1777.  Rosie Cox, author of “The Servant Problem: Domestic Employment in a Global Economy” (I B Tauris, 2006) says the tax was intended to “remove male servants from all but the most prestigious households”, making it easier to recruit men to serve in the navy during the American War of Independence.

Archives at the Abbey: 1 (un)stately home, 4 boxes, 8 hours, 600 visitors (well almost)

It was the busiest weekend I think we have ever had for staff from the record office, you have already heard about how we popped up at the Wirksworth Festival, which sounded amazing. I couldn’t make it along myself as I went along to Calke Abbey, home of the Harpur-Crewe family, with a small selection of original archives from their large collection (ref: D2375).

Oh my God! I can really touch it?! Oh my God!

It’s mouth watering stuff – are you putting up beds? I could stay all night. It’s wonderful

With over 580 visitors over just two afternoons, we were thrilled with how much people enjoyed handling the original material and amazed at some of the things they found out. Continue reading

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.

Advent Calendar – Day 19

Less than a week to go, not many more doors to investigate now…

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Account of ‘Crismas Boxes’ given to servants of the Chandos-Pole family of Radbourne in 1772 (Ref: D5557/23/2)


Long before the welfare state, individual families would make charitable donations to the less well-off in their household or their parish. Donations might be in cash such as the Christmas boxes from the Chandos-Pole family to their servants (each man receiving 1s). Other records of such Christmas giving include:

  • beef given to local families by Lady Agnes Fitzherbert in 1857 (Ref: D6943/2/1)
  • List of persons receiving Christmas dole (to the amount of 5s 4d), 1880; recorded in the account book of the Little Eaton Churchwardens (Ref: D1293/A/PW 1)
  • Mr Cavendish’s bounty given at Christmas 1900 to the relatives of West Derbyshire men serving in South Africa during the Boer War(Ref: D504/115/12)
  • the poor of Belper each receiving an additional 1s each and 6d per boarded-out child in Christmas week, approved by the Board of Guardians (responsible for the workhouse and provision of out-relief in 1914 (Ref: D19/CW/1/28)

About the Chandos-Pole of Radbourne archive collection: The item behind today’s door is held amongst the archive collection of the Chandos-Pole family of Radbourne (see the D5557 online catalogue for details of other items in the collection). The collection dates from the time of Sir German Pole (died 1634), and includes estate papers,  surveys, rentals and accounts relating to Chandos-Pole properties and interests in Derbyshire. There is also a good series of correspondence, especially for the time of German Pole (1626-1683), who married Anne, daughter of Richard Newdigate of Arbury in Warwickshire.  The correspondents include John Gell (D5557/2/131) and members of the Mundy family (for example, D5557/2/35,36,42,43,45,51).  There are also letters from Barbados (D5557/2/120,126). Furthermore, there are papers of R W Chandos Pole relating to the Derbyshire Imperial Yeomanry and to Mugginton School which was founded by the charity of Rev Samuel Pole and Ann Pole in the 18th century.

About the family: Sir German Pole served against the Spanish Armada and was made a Knight Banneret for his services in Ireland.  The surname Chandos was assumed by Sacheverell Pole in 1807 as representative of Sir John Chandos.  The family estate based at Radbourne included lands in Barton Park, Dalbury Lees, Littleover, Barlborough, Mercaston and Brailsford in Derbyshire, and Hanbury in Staffordshire.