A life in service

This is an interesting obit.

And it shows up one of the oft unappreciated details of the way that the \”life in service\” worked. It wasn\’t actually a life at all.

Florence Georgina Copeland was born on December 8 1912 in West Ham, London, the daughter of a Billingsgate fish porter who was killed in the Great War. Having taken Flo and her younger brother to live at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, her mother remarried and had three more daughters.

Aged 16, Flo went to London, where she found work as a kitchen maid

So she enters service in 1928 or so.

In 1940 she married Robert Wadlow,

Which was the end of her life in service.

There were those who stayed in all their lives, yes. Those who became butlers and housekeepers for example. But for the majority of servants it was a period of life: almost, if I dare say it, an apprenticeship. There were indeed a couple of million servants around the turn of the last century. But not a couple of million who were simply servants all their lives: rather, a very decent chunk of the population passed through service for some number of years.

Very different from how we normally think of it.

4 comments on “A life in service

  1. I once read some reactionary saying that an advantage of a spell in service is that it taught girls from poor backgrounds some of the useful habits of their respectable working class fellow servants or even (gasp!) their middle class employers.

  2. I’ve a vague idea my maternal grandmother might have been in service, sometime before the Great War. She was one of 8, so getting away from a cramped house in Dockland must have been a step up. Kept a spotless house, did Gran & a superb cook. And I think she could have redefined the term ‘reactionary’ all on own.

    Tim adds: My paternal granny was in service. Left Ulster to be nanny to the kids of some Spanish Baron. Pater met the kids a couple of years back. “Do you actually remember my mother from your childhood?” “Oh yes, everyone remembers Nanny Rosaleen”.

    Seems to have combined the Papist and Presbyterian notions of child rearing at that point…..children did not mess with nanny.

  3. Maternal granny was in service 14-19 until she married. She seemed to have fond memories, but she wasn’t a scullery maid :-)

  4. I suspect service was more likely to be temporary for women – who could escape through marriage – than for men.

    My maternal grandmother was a lady’s maid (although she must have started as something else) until she married my grandfather.

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