Loose change

"As Lethbridge explains, the power to command a domestic staff enabled employers to gratify eccentric whims, pursue strange obsessions, or simply behave in a monstously selfish fashion. The cooking, dusting, cleaning and polishing were essential tasks, but overlaid by an accumulation of ritual and fetish that verged on the pathological. “Among the duties of lady’s maids”, Lethbridge writes, “was the nightly washing of their employer’s loose change, the coins having been handled by who knows how many undesirables before it made its way into her purse”. The Duke of Portland insisted that at all times a chicken should be turning on a spit in the kitchen, in case he became peckish. At Beech Hill Park in Epping Forest, “there was a hall entirely covered in mosaic that had to be washed with milk by hand every week by five maids; yet there was no telephone in Beech Hill and it was lit entirely by candles until the late 1940s”. This attachment to a labour-intensive culture, Lethbridge argues, helps to explain the resistance of the British to labour-saving devices. So long as there were maids to light the fire, why put in electricity or central heating?"

Recension de Servants, A downstairs view of twentieth-century Britain de Lucy Lethbridge (Bloomsbury, 2013) par Paul Addison dans le TLS du 8 mai 2013.