Guides for servants

19th Century Domestic Advice Manuals

Guides for servants were written by authors from varied social classes, including ex-servants.

They were published for those learning to work, and could be owned by the servant or held by households as reference books. Manuals contain material relevant to the functions of a specific role, or multiple positions required to staff households and large estates. Many go beyond advice on how to perform duties, with information on servant hierarchies, social guidance and moral encouragement.

The Footman's Directory

Thomas Cosnett, The footman’s directory and butler’s remembrancer; or, the advice of Onesimus to his young friends: comprising hints on the arrangement and performance of their work; rules for setting out tables and sideboards; the art of waiting table, and conducting large and small parties; directions for cleaning plate, glass, furniture, clothes, and all other things which come within the care of a man-servant; and advice respecting behaviour, to superiors, tradespeople, and fellow-servants, fourth edition, London: T. Cosnett, 1825.

Thomas Cosnett, The footman’s directory and butler’s remembrancer; or, the advice of Onesimus to his young friends: comprising hints on the arrangement and performance of their work; rules for setting out tables and sideboards; the art of waiting table, and conducting large and small parties; directions for cleaning plate, glass, furniture, clothes, and all other things which come within the care of a man-servant; and advice respecting behaviour, to superiors, tradespeople, and fellow-servants, fourth edition, London: T. Cosnett, 1825.

The footman’s directory was first published in 1823, this fourth edition released just two years later. Authored and published by Thomas Cosnett (b.1788), the work provides detailed information to young men regarding the duties of a footman or butler. Written in conversational style, ‘… clear to the meanest capacity…’, the character Onesimus instructs young James and William by means of dialogue which also communicates moral and religious principles.

According to the Christian tradition, Onesimus (from the Greek ‘useful’) was a slave who became a Bishop before his martyrdom around 95AD. Cosnett rationalises the 19th century notion of servants ‘knowing their place’ by presenting service as an honourable role to be played in ‘God’s grand scheme’.

… every servant ought to possess it, and ladies and gentlemen will find it greatly to their advantage to place this work in the hands of their servants …


Contents of the manual include an extensive list of duties with instructions on how to perform them, as well as advice on dress, behaviour and improvement of time etc. The appendix includes arithmetical tables, numerous methods and recipes regarding first-aid and cleaning, and even covers topics such as ‘to extinguish Fire in Female Dress’.

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The Servants' Guide and Family Manual

The servants' guide and family manual, with new and improved receipts, arranged and adapted to the duties of all classes of servants ... : forming a complete system of domestic management, from the most recent and authentic sources, aided by numerous private communications, third edition, London: J. Limbird, 1832.

This advice manual is aimed at both young servants and the experienced ‘upper’ servants, working for middle-class families where, unlike larger establishments, multiple roles were often done by the one person. The author was possibly previously employed in a domestic service role, declaring the work draws on his ‘own experiences’. It was also written in consultation with other advice manuals.

English publisher, stationer and bookseller John Limbird (1796-1883) released a two penny weekly titled The mirror of literature, amusement, and instruction from 1822 to 1847. This became the Mirror Monthly Magazine in 1847 and later, the London Review.

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Simple Rules

Lady Darling, Simple rules for the guidance of persons in humble life; more particularly for young girls going out into service, Cheltenham: William Wight, 1839.

Simple rules is dedicated to ‘The children educated in the Female School of Industry, Sydney, New South Wales’ [p.iii]. The work is written in the style of catechisms - doctrinal manuals written in the form of questions followed by answers, to be memorised for easy learning. The format has been used to introduce Christian religious teaching to children and adult converts and was commonly employed in 19th century secular contexts. First published in 1834, the booklet promoted the notion of status between servant and employer as ‘laid down by God’ and gave instruction on domestic duties and behaviour as well as moral and religious education.

The Servant's Book of Reference

Blonsell, J.R., The servant’s book of reference; or, butler’s, housemaid’s, and footman’s assistant, London: Bailey and Company, c1840.

The servant’s book of reference begins with rules about instructions for ‘Waiting at table’, and provides a diagram titled ‘Family entertainment of one course’, which illustrates how to place dishes on a table correctly. The manual mostly comprises instructions on specific cleaning and maintenance, as well as recipes for the solutions and creams used by butlers, housemaids and footmen in their duties.

Many former servants became authors of advice manuals, using their experience as a means to earn an income other than from service. Author J. R. Blonsell had previously worked for the Earl of Munster, William IV (1765 –1837). William IV was King of Great Britain and Ireland and King of Hanover from 1830 until his death.

London publisher Bailey and Company was a family business established by Thomas Bailey (d.1746) in 1740 and continued trading under that name until 1840.

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Ilustration table layout Blonsell
Title page Servants book of reference Blonsell

The Footman's Guide

James Williams, The Footman’s guide: containing plain instructions to the footman and butler, for the proper arrangement and regular performance of their varied duties, third edition, London: Dean and Munday, 1840.

The Footman’s guide is principally written for young servant boys starting a ‘new life’ in the house of an employer. The manual includes instruction and advice on ‘fitting-in’ with the rules, traditions and hierarchies of middle-class households - that a boy may:

… learn to render himself an useful though humble member of the domestic circle …

The guidebook contains an extensive alphabetised list of instructions, with headings such as: performance of duties for either large or small families; manner of setting out tables; art of waiting at table; man-servant’s duties. It includes advice on behaviour; dress; ‘general knowledge of town essential’; ‘improvement of time’; ‘cautions’; and ‘care of wages’. The book also provides encouragement for boys, who could advance along a clearly defined career path, starting as hall boy and moving through the various ranks of footman, to the supervisory or managerial position of butler - to become better qualified to fill ‘higher’ positions.

Publishers Dean and Munday were the fourth generation of a business established in 1702 by Thomas Bailey, who published reprints and salacious ‘chapbooks’. The daughters of descendant Susan Bailey married apprentices Thomas Dean (Sr.) and William Munday, who took over the business in 1811. In 1843 Thomas Dean Jr. re-named it Thomas Dean & Co., then Thomas Dean & Son in 1847.

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The Housemaid

The housemaid, Houlston’s Industrial Library, London: Houlston & Stoneman, 1849.

This copy of The housemaid is a reissue from Houlston’s original Industrial series. Now extremely rare, the Houlstons’s guide to service and Guide to trade series were first published in 1838 by Charles Knight (1791-1873). The comprehensive 34-volume series provide instruction on the specific duties of indoor and outdoor servants. Knight engaged social theorist Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) to write works such as The housemaid, The dressmaker, The lady’s maid, and The maid of all work volumes.

A number of volumes from the first series were reissued in 1849 by Houlston & Stoneman under the label of the Industrial Library. These include The housemaid and The lady’s maid, also held by the CSL&RC.

The entire Industrial Library was reissued between 1862 and 1865 by Houlston & Wright as a series of 34 numbered volumes, followed by a fourth series, published by Houlston and Sons, reissued in 1877-78.The Caroline Simpson Library holds 2 volumes from the fourth reissue - The butler, his duties and how to perform them (1877) and The laundry maid, her duties and how to perform them (1877).

The Industrial Library series are listed in an 1854 inventory of books from historic Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta, NSW. Surviving volumes are now part of the library at Camden Park House, the Macarthur’s second property. Elizabeth Farm was listed as a historic site in 1960 and in 1973 the NSW State Planning Authority assumed control of the property. The house was transferred to the Historic Houses Trust of NSW (now Sydney Living Museums) in 1983 and opened to the public as a house museum in 1984.

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Instructions in Household Matters

Instructions in household matters; or, the young girl’s guide to domestic service, written by a Lady, with an especial view to young girls intended for service on leaving school, fifth edition, London: John W. Parker and Son, 1852.

Instructions in household matters is aimed at girls preparing to find employment as domestic servants. The manual portrays the field as a serious profession for young women who wish to be both educated and trained to develop professional skills. Virtuous behaviours are held as central to preparation for household service:

… in the house of your parents you practice them, together with the habits of industry and care, which will be required of you in service.

The work provides guidance on the names and uses of objects found in the middle-class home and instruction on the performance of daily tasks. These include washing and maintenance, lighting of fires and the etiquette of serving at table. There are anecdotes from the Old Testament, references to teachings from the Gospels and hypothetical narratives which provide the correct responses to a variety of situations.

London publisher and printer John William Parker (1792 – 1870) established The Cambridge Repository in 1832. He circulated academic works as well as religious journals, bibles, testaments and prayer books. In the 1850s eldest son John William Parker (1820–1860) joined him in partnership with Thomas Richard Harrison, forming Harrison & Co. The business was later sold to Longman in 1863.

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Hints to Maid Servants

Mrs Motherly, Hints to maid servants in small households, on manners, dress, and duties, London: Bell and Daldy, 1859.

Hints to maid servants provides instruction on correct servant behaviour. Written in a strict, ‘motherly’ tone (in keeping with the author’s nom de plume), the work reinforces the 19th century notion that servants should be seen and not heard. Direction is given on the correct manner of speech, movement, dress and performance of duties. The method of delivery supports then accepted views of class, gender and the servant–master relationship.

Never let your voice be heard by the ladies and gentlemen of the house except when necessary, and then as little as possible…. and never begin to talk to your mistress, unless it is to deliver a message, or ask a question.

The book also gives exact instruction on behaviour when outside the work environment, with headings such as ‘Meeting in the street.’

If you meet any of your master’s family in the street …do nothing unless you are noticed first; then curtesy, and incline your head … never smile and nod, except to a child … always stand back, and make way for them to pass before you.

Mrs Motherly was the pseudonym for London born author Emily Augusta Patmore (1824-1862, nee Andrews). The daughter of Rev. Edward Andrews, LL.D. and Elizabeth H. Symons, Emily married poet and essayist Coventry Kersey Deighton Patmore (1823-1896) in 1847 and had 6 children. Mrs. Motherly also wrote The servant's behaviour book: or, hints on manners and dress for maid servants in small households(1859) and authored children’s stories such as Nursery poetry (1859) and Nursery tales (1860).

London publisher George Bell & Sons was founded in 1839 by George Bell. The firm initially functioned as bookseller for London University Presses and went on to independently release a series of railway companions as well as classics, children’s books and books on art, architecture and archaeology. The company was subsequently known as Deighton, Bell & Co., then Bell & Daldy, and finally George Bell & Sons, Ltd.

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