Yate Heritage Centre: Life in domestic service

September 03 2021
Yate Heritage Centre: Life in domestic service

AHEAD of a new exhibition at Yate & District Heritage Centre, David Hardill looks at the era of domestic service in the area's big houses

ALTHOUGH we think we may know a lot about domestic service, having watched Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, local history often neglects this strand of working life.

With this in mind, Yate Heritage Centre will be putting on an exhibition on the history of domestic service in the Yate area in October. Although there is local evidence of paid domestic service dating back several centuries, it is the late 19th and early 20th centuries which mark the heyday of the paid service.

That domestic service was an important part of the local economy there is no doubt.

Historians often focus on the role of farming and mining in Yate’s history, yet the domestic service industry was a large employer.

From the late Victorian and Edwardian censuses we know that both Poole Court and Stanshawes Court always had more than ten live-in servants, not to mention several outworkers. 

There were also several domestic servants living at Ridge House (since demolished), Yate House (later Rockwood and now flats) and Yate Rectory.

As the Hooper Family of Stanshawes grew in the later 19th century, a servant wing was constructed at the back of the house, which can still be seen today at the back of the main building.

Smaller, middle class homes often had at least one servant. Lawns House (now the Lawns) normally had three or four in-house servants, and there were several villas along Station Road with one live-in servant. Larger farms, too, could afford to have one domestic servant working alongside the family.

Large houses had cosmopolitan households, relative to the surrounding area. Stanshawes Court was able to attract servants from different areas: in 1901, many of the female servants came to Stanshawes from the South East, and there was a housemaid from Scotland.

The upper strata of female servants often came further afield and from big cities. Many ladies' maids, who attended to the 'lady' of the house, appear to have come from London and probably better-off areas of the capital.

Similarly governesses, with responsibilities for education, often originated from well-to-do areas: in 1881, the governess at Yate Rectory came from Richmond, London and Yate House had a governess from Edinburgh.

Governesses might also come from abroad: Dorothea Zelman was a governess from Pomerania, on the German/Polish border, working at Poole Court in 1891.

Other workers were also attracted from abroad and in 1901, Ridge House had a ladies' maid from Germany and a maid from Switzerland.        

September diary dates

September 14: Heritage Open Days Tour around Stanshawes Court area and Kingsgate Park, 5pm. Please book via info@yateheritage.uk or call 01454 862200.

September 15: Mystery of the Holy Blood with John Aldred – Yate Archaeological Group Meeting, 7.30pm.

September 16: Heritage Open Day Tour of Historic Yate (St Mary’s Church area), 2pm. Book via info@yateheritage.co.uk or 01454 862200.

September 18: Yate International Festival, 10.30am-4.30pm. Music and dance performances, theatre, activities and food from Indian, Chinese, Irish and English performers and groups. Free event.

September 21: Yate Lecture Series, 7.30pm: The Royal Progress through South Gloucestershire in 1535, with Alan Pilbeam.