Domestic Employment

Before the advent of public transport, it was the destiny of many young people to become servants; those who dealt with the more menial tasks involved in household management. As soon as they reached a suitable age, their parents sought a position for them, preferably in ‘good’ service. Some houses were large enough to employ outdoor as well as indoor domestic servants. Under these circumstances the boys would work for the gardener, the groom or the coachman and the girls would probably start as scullery maids, hoping to work themselves up the indoor hierarchy into something better.

Although Fovant had no house big enough to require such a large domestic staff, there were a few houses in the village of sufficient size to warrant the employment of several domestic servants. In the 1851 census, for instance, the village doctor listed a governess and three domestic servants, while the curate reported three house servants and a nursemaid. All of the larger farms, the local public houses and many of the village tradesmen employed domestic servants in one form or another. Even as late as 1901 there were still twenty-three villagers who stated their occupation as ‘domestic servant’ on the census returns. Some were residential, but many lived elsewhere in the village and came into work daily. Even though change was in the air as the 19th century drew to a close, this situation continued well into the 20th century.

It was World War I, with its need for women to fill the jobs vacated by men serving in the army, plus the lack of those same men in civilian jobs, which provided the main catalyst for change. Additionally, the social change engendered by wartime experiences ensured that few would willingly return to being someone else’s servant.

November 2003