Life Below Stairs: Life as a Maid-of-all Work in Victorian England

Maids-of-all-Work were the “general,” rather than the exception in Victorian England. Women employed in these positions were expected to be a combination of housemaid, nurse, parlourmaid, and even cook if something happened to incapacitate the cook. They were expected to perform all the duties and chores, except that of laundress. [Occasionally, a charwoman or a ‘step girl’ assisted with the required work, but not with any consistency.]

51S9IUq7BPL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg In some households, a single servant served in the role of maid-of-all work. Generally, this servant was a girl from the age of twelve to fifteen.  The conditions of the work were poor, with the girl often working from 5 A.M. to midnight for a wage of £6 to £9 per year. In James Fennimore Cooper’s Gleanings in Europe: England (Bentley, 1837, Vol.II, page 123), the author says: “These poor creatures have an air of dogged sullen misery that I have never seen equalled in any other class of human being, not even excepting the beggars in the streets.” He described one such slavey who entered a room with “a sort of drilled trot, as if she had been taught a particular movement to denote assiduity and diligence, and she never presumed to raise her eyes to mind, but stood the whole time looking meekly down. [Find a copy of the book HERE.] These young girls were often recruited from the workhouse. In the 1870s, the government permitted approved families to ‘adopt’ girls from the workhouses as foster children who would be trained for service in the households. This was a form of subsidized domestic labour. 

089b9ab068a37e079e0e6bfcb93fab81.jpgHouseholds benefited by employing those from workhouses as domestic servants Frank Huggett in Life Below Stairs [Book Club Associates, London, 1977, pages 110-111] describes an 1871-72 investigation into the practice of taking girls from the workhouses. “[The investigation] showed that only 16 per cent of the girls were given good marks by their mistresses; 30 per cent were considered ‘fair’; 38 per cent were rated ‘unsatisfactory’; and 16 per cent were described as ‘bad.’ Although the workhouses claimed that the children were already trained for service, many mistresses found that, in addition to their other manifold faults, they were often totally lacking in domestic abilities. One ‘unsatisfactory’ girl was described by her mistress as ‘a pilferer, untruthful, idle; incorrigibly dirty in habits. Can scrub a floor, but has no other accomplishments.’ A comment on another child read: ‘Girl said she had never lit a fire or cleaned a grate, but as she never spoke the truth about anything, probably she lied there.’ A number were unsound in both body and mind: one ‘half-witted’ orphan was round-backed and unhealthy, with one eye permanently dimmed by disease. No less than 8 per cent of the girls had weak or seriously defective eyesight. Another girl, who was described as ‘strong in body, but deficient in mind,’ was told to sweep the bedroom. When her mistress returned, expecting to find the room neat and tidy, she found to her amazement and annoyance that the girl had trodden all the tea leaves firmly into the carpet. 


image from the St Pancras workhouse at the turn of the century

“Lacking the security of a family, friends and home, these girls often reacted violently to any real imposition or imagined slight. One not unintelligent fifteen-year-old girl, whose father wad dead and whose mother was still living in a workhouse, would ‘sing like a bird’ at her work when she was in a good mood. But ‘when she took a fit of sulks, nothing could be done with her. She would fold her arms and stand behind the kitchen door, and absolutely refuse to do anything.’ Others howled and screamed their rage until a crowd gathered threateningly outside the house to the alarm of the mistress. Mistresses, who tested the girls’ honesty by leaving a coin under the carpet (a common stratagem in Victorian homes), often had their worst expectations confirmed. Some of the girls were violent. One threatened to stab the nurse; another broke a plate over the head of a fellow servant. About 8 per cent absconded and another 2.5 per cent were known, or believed, to have ‘fallen,’ joining the many other former servants who had sunk into the vast underworld of vice and crime in the capital. One girl, who left service to marry a £2-a week house painter, soon discovered that he was nothing but a pimp; another girl, who was dismissed for theft and violence, was later seen by the daughter of the house, walking along the street ‘with long curls down her back, and not looking respectable.’ It was amazing what some mistresses, obviously not uneducated, would put up with just in the hope of getting cheap domestic labour.” 

Posted in Great Britain, servant life, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

We Get Stacks and Stacks of Letters…The Expense of Mail During the Regency Period

On the Perry Como Show, which began back in 1955, the chorus customarily sang: “Letters, we get letters. We get stacks and stacks of letters.” However, during the Regency Period, the mail was expensive. MPs were the only ones who had a “free” ride for the mail delivery. Until 1840, MPs could “frank” their own letters, but they were supposed only to use this privilege for letters dealing with business for the Crown. That did not stop MPs from leaving pre-franked sheets with a friend for that friend’s personal use; therefore, the system was not perfect. Wax seals were used for the MPs letters. 











In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Edmund tells Fanny to have a friend or relative who was an MP to frank the letter for her and, hence, save the Price family from the cost of the letter. “As your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing.”’ Somewhere, I added the following quote to my stacks of research. (I wish I knew where to provide credit for the information. I apologize to the original blogger.) “There is a fashion in letter-paper and envelopes which is ever varying as to size and shape–sometimes small, at other times large; now oblong, now square; but one thing never alters, and that is the desirability of using good thick paper and envelopes, whatever shape may be. Nothing looks more mean and untidy than thin sheets and envelopes of the same quality, through which the writing exhibits itself.” 

Prior to the introduction of uniform penny postage in 1840, very few letters were sent in envelopes, as the extra paper for the envelope counted as another sheet and cost extra. By 1855, however, it was estimated that 93% if domestic letters were sent in envelopes. One can find a large number of examples of early letters for the aristocracy, the gentry, and for merchants. Fewer are available for those of the lower classes. Lack of literacy was one reason, and let’s face it, if a person of the peasant class had a haypence available, he would use it for food, not to send a letter.

Postage was based on the number of miles the letter traveled from point A to point B and the number of sheets, as mentioned above. The paper that one folded and sealed was one item. Even one tiny slip of paper inside counted as a second item, doubling the cost. Recipients paid, rather than the sender of the letter. Naturally, the person receiving the letter could refuse it and send it back to the sender.

Remember Elvis Presley’s hit “Return to Sender”? Same idea…

Return to sender, return to sender

I gave a letter to the postman, he put it his sack
Bright in early next morning, he brought my letter back

She wrote upon it
Return to sender, address unknown
No such number, no such zone


These were the going rates for a single page: fourpence for the first fifteen miles, eightpence for eighty miles, etc., etc., up to seventeen pence for a letter covering seven hundred miles. Additional pages increased the price accordingly. Afterward, costs were standardized and based on weight instead of distance times number of enclosures. 

To save on the expense of sending a letter, people developed their own form of “Tweeting.” Abbreviations saved space. Often the writer would “cross” the letter, which meant turning the letter at right angles and writing between the previously written words. Sometimes, they turned it again and again. One could spend hours figuring out what the letter said. 

A “two penny post,” which was developed for mail delivery within London proper, was separate from the General Post Office, which dealt with the national mail. There were designated shops for dropping off the mail. As with the writing of the letter, abbreviations were used as part of the address/directions to speed the delivery: “W” for the West End; “N” for north of the Old City, etc.

After 1840, a person could send a letter anywhere in England for the cost of one penny. Railroads sped the delivery system and made the mail service more economical. Also, before 1840 envelopes were generally not used. In Jane Austen’s stories, her characters use a wafer to seal the letters. A wafer was small disk made of flour and gum. A person would lick the wafer and stick it to the folded sheet of writing to form the envelope. Those of the upper class used seals. It was melted and applied to the letter. Commonly, red seals were used for business and other colors for social correspondence. Black was a sign of death and mourning.

I thought you might also find these two articles helpful: 

From Shannon Donnelly on Postal History:

An article posted by the British Museum notes (


Posted in British history, customs and tradiitons, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, political stance, Pride and Prejudice, real life tales, Regency era, Regency personalities, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Was an Annulment Possible in the Regency? + Release of “A Dance with Mr. Darcy” + Giveaway

 One of the “what ifs” in my latest Pride and Prejudice vagary, A Dance with Mr. Darcy, revolves around Lydia’s marriage to Mr. Wickham. What if the marriage could be voided? What would it entail to break her bond to the gentleman?

In my tale, after less than two months of marriage, Mr. Wickham has sent Lydia home to Longbourn. She believes he did so to protect her, for he was to be sent to the Continent with the Newcastle forces of King George’s Army. In reality, Wickham has abandoned her. He means to ditch her permanently. We must understand that during the Regency, Wickham’s doing so would indicate to the world that his wife was immoral. Realizing the shame Lydia’s new situation brings to the family, Elizabeth has accepted a man who is cruel and abusive, but who agrees to allow Elizabeth to bring Lydia with her into his household. The problem is that Lydia is in a state of perpetual limbo. She cannot remarry as long as  Mr. Wickham lives. She has no future. And divorce at this time was expensive, very public, and literally, an act of Parliament.

However, Lydia attracts the attention of Sir Robert Karn, an Englishman living on the Scottish border, and he means to discover a way to release her from Mr. Wickham. Sir Robert considers an annulment or to have the marriage voided, but the reasons for an such an action were not easy to achieve.

So how did one go about getting an annulment? Annulments were only granted if one or both of the couple were not of age, were too closely related (Remember first cousins could marry, but a man could not marry the sister of his late wife, so “related” was not always as clear cut as we might think in modern times.), the gentleman was impotent at the time of marriage, one of the pair had committed fraud, one or both could be considered insane at the time of marriage, or one of the pair was already married to another. Even if one of the couple was not of age, if they did not stop living together when they became of age (12 for women and 14 for men), then they were still considered married. I think it’s worth mentioning that the fraud, force, or lunacy had to have occurred during the wedding ceremony (or before, if it pertained to the permission granted to a minor), not after the couple were lawfully wed. Even wealthy peers were stuck with a spouse if problems arose only after the ceremony. For example, both the 11th Duke of Norfolk and the 4th Earl of Sandwich were stuck in unfortunate marriages when their wives went insane. In the Duke of Norfolk’s case, his wife was locked up before giving him an heir, so that the dukedom eventually passed to his cousin.

In the Regency period, fraud as a means to voiding the marriage rested in the question of parental permission. The fraud was not the type where a person misrepresented himself by saying he owned property that he did not or held a title that he did not. Lying about circumstances was not fraud. Being drunk at the wedding was not a cause as long as one knew what he was doing. And insanity had to previous to the wedding–simplemindedness came under that category as well. 

Also the idea of forcing someone into a marriage changed over the 19th century. At first force was considered only as more than a reasonable man could withstand. Over the period of time, the courts acknowledged that women were weaker and less force was necessary to overpower them. One had to literally run away or protest at the ceremony or at the signing of the register or in some other way express one’s denial of acceptance. The court did not take into consideration such things as a threats.

annulment.jpg Marriages could be annulled if the spouse was a previous in-law or if one was impotent. I know you have seen it in numerous romance novels, but non-consummation was not grounds for an annulment. Consummation could strengthen a claim of marriage in Scotland and could throw doubt over a claim of being forced into marriage, but non-consummation was not grounds. The church always assumed that the couple would get around to it sooner or later if they were able.

Impotence and real frigidity, on the other hand, were grounds as was a physical deformity of the necessary parts. An impenetrable hymen was also grounds, though that could be fixed by a surgeon.

Invalid marriages were those by minors by license without proper permission or the situation involved bigamy.

English law did not require consummation. Scottish law used it as proof in clandestine marriages, but only if the other forms were not followed. The Consistory court of the Church of England handled annulments.  This was located in London. The Courts within Doctors Commons were very much associated in the public mind with the making and unmaking of marriage from the 17th century forward. Gradually the London Consistory Court assumed a virtual monopoly in matrimonial suits and became the most important matrimonial court for the whole of the country. It became the court of first instance for most matrimonial cases.

The Hardwicke Act simplified the betrothal contract. It was generally believed that 15 and 16-year-old girls were too young to marry. However, the law still allowed parents to marry off children as young as seven. The children could request an annulment at age 12 for girls or 14 for boys as long as the pair had not been intimate. By the Regency period, the idea of force and “own free will” was beginning to change, but change came slowly to the law and especially to the ecclesiastical law. 

* * *

Now that you know more of Regency era annulments, enjoy this scene from A Dance with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary.

A Dance With Mr Darcy copy

The reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.

Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again.


“Well…well,” Sir Robert said in what sounded of satisfaction. “Now I know which former Bennet sister interests you.”

Darcy withdrew his eyes from the sway of Elizabeth’s hips as she sidestepped her way toward the kitchen. “Will that be another obstacle to our friendship?” he asked with a skeptical lift of his brow.

Sir Robert returned to his breakfast. “Most certainly not, for I prefer the younger.”

Darcy found himself frowning. It was not that he wished another admirer for Elizabeth’s charms, but he could not help but challenge the gentleman’s reasoning. “Mrs. McCaffney is the superior sister.”

Sir Robert shrugged his indifference. “Perhaps for you,” he declared. “But I possess a mother and two elderly aunts to keep my feet upon the right path. What I lack is a bit of spontaneity.”

“Does not the lady possess a husband? Speaking of which, is not Mr. Wickham about?”

Sir Robert put down his fork to study Darcy carefully. “Are you attempting to persuade me that you know nothing of Wickham or the ladies since last you encountered them?”

Darcy did not approve of Sir Robert’s accusation. “I am not the type of man to gossip,” he countered. “But if you must know, I have not seen any of the Bennet sisters or Mr. Wickham since we parted during the first part of November of ’13.”

“You appear quite certain,” Sir Robert said suspiciously.

Darcy recalled the day perfectly. He had argued with his aunt regarding the suitability of Miss Elizabeth to be his wife. “I suffered a serious carriage accident around that time. It was after my cautious return to society some six months later that Mr. Bingley informed me of the marriages of both Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth. I held no knowledge of the Bennet family’s fortuitous joinings until then.”

“Fortuitous?” Sir Robert accused. “And what may I ask did Mr. Bingley share of the future of the Bennet sisters?”

“Not much beyond the notice of the marriages of the two eldest,” he confessed. “Bingley encountered the Bennets’ neighbor Sir William Lucas in London. I fear Bingley was most upset at the loss of Miss Bennet.”

“The gentleman held no right to injury. It was Mr. Bingley’s choice to abandon the lady,” Sir Robert argued.

Darcy spoke through tight lips. Sir Robert’s censorious tones had Darcy’s backbone stiffening. “I suppose it was Bingley’s fault. I knew nothing of my friend’s withdrawal from Hertfordshire until some five months after the marriages of the Bennet sisters. The accident was severe enough that the surgeon provided me regular doses of laudanum, a medication I despise even when it is required. It was after my recovery began and my withdrawal from the opiate that I learned that the Bingley sisters had persuaded their brother to cry off from his proposal to Miss Bennet and to refuse his option to retain Netherfield as his estate. Miss Bingley informed me with some satisfaction that her brother provided Mr. Bennet with five hundred pounds to satisfy the Bennet family’s claim to retribution.”

Sir Robert shoved his plate aside as if in disgust. “Then you are truly ignorant of what occurred?”

Not certain whether to be offended or amused, Darcy suggested, “Perhaps you should enlighten me. Clear my nescience.”

Sir Robert presented Darcy a pitying look, one meant as acceptance of a bedraggled stray seeking a warm place to spend the night. “You shan’t like what I must disclose,” he announced. “But before I speak of the Bennet sisters, you should know that I was familiar with your name, although not your face, before today’s meeting.” He raised his hand when Darcy thought to respond. “I will explain all. Just bear with me.”

Darcy placed his fork upon his plate. He wished to know how the incomparable Elizabeth Bennet came to this existence and what the man knew of him. “Then I would demand to know both tales.”

Sir Robert curtly nodded his agreement. “You must understand I heard very little of what I am about to share from Mrs. McCaffney, so you will likely possess questions for which I hold no answers.”

“I comprehend that Mrs. McCaffney would be more tight-lipped than would be Mrs. Wickham. From my previous observations, such are their particular personalities,” he said to fill up the space between them.

Sir Robert smiled at Darcy’s attempt at tactfulness. “I knew I would enjoy our acquaintance when I first laid eyes upon you. Mrs. McCaffney has never made the effort to introduce me to another, so I assumed she held you with some regard. I am pleased to be proved correct.” He removed a flask from a pocket in his jacket and added a splash of what smelled of brandy to his tea, as well as to Darcy’s. “You will thank me for my forethought,” he assured when Darcy’s frown found a place upon his forehead. With an ironic smile upon his lips, the man began. “Some six weeks into their marriage, Mr. Wickham sent his wife home with a letter to Mr. Bennet stating that the dastard would not be returning for his lady. Only a few days short of her sixteenth birthday, Mr. Wickham abandoned his wife to a life of perpetual widowhood.”

“What brought Mr. Wickham to such a decision?” Darcy demanded. “What did Wickham do regarding his commission? The agreement was—“ He suddenly recalled that Elizabeth knew nothing of his involvement in Wickham and Miss Lydia’s marriage.

“Do not fret,” Sir Robert assured. “Mrs. Wickham has yet to comprehend your role in the matter. The lady shared with me how you tracked her and Mr. Wickham down and assisted her uncle in arranging her marriage, but I doubt if she has said so to Mrs. McCaffney, for Mrs. McCaffney has never uttered a word to speak to your involvement, and she and I have had numerous conversations upon the subject of the Wickhams’ marriage. I am the one who has placed the pieces of the puzzle together. Lydia thinks her husband asked you, his former companion, to stand up with him after Mr. Bennet pleaded for your intercession in the necessary negotiations for her marriage to the man. She assumes your long standing knowledge of Mr. Wickham’s habits caused her father to seek your assistance. I must admit that it took me several attempts on the subject before your interference made sense. I assumed you either had your heart set on Lydia and would not see her harmed or it was one of her sisters who stirred your passion.”

Darcy ignored Sir Robert’s probing. “Does the family possess any knowledge of Mr. Wickham’s whereabouts?” He wondered why Colonel Fitzwilliam had not mentioned the situation to him. Did his cousin have no knowledge of Wickham’s duplicity, or had the colonel shielded Darcy during his recovery? A letter would be on its way to Fitzwilliam as quickly as the weather permitted its delivery.

Following a sip of his tea, Sir Robert said, “Now that is an enigma. According to Mrs. Wickham, her husband met with an elderly, but immaculately dressed, woman the day before he announced Lydia’s departure for Hertfordshire. Afterwards, the lieutenant announced the necessity of his wife’s return to her parents’ household. He claimed the soldiers training at Newcastle were being sent to the Continent, and she could not remain alone in the city.”

Darcy summarized, “And so Mrs. Wickham returned to Meryton, thinking her husband treasured her safety.”

“It was only after Mr. Bennet read the lieutenant’s letter did the family understand Mr. Wickham’s true intentions of ‘returning’ his wife to her family.”

Darcy sat forward in tense anticipation. “Did not the Bennets protest?”

“By the time Mrs. Wickham traveled from Northumberland to Hertfordshire, and then their Uncle Gardiner made a journey to Newcastle, there was little the Bennets could do. According to Wickham’s commanding officer, the lieutenant volunteered to be part of the unit serving as reinforcements and being shipped to the Spanish-French border.”

Darcy’s mind raced with how well Wickham had executed another scheme. “Such does not sound of Mr. Wickham’s nature. If caught in the line of fire, he would fight to live, but he is not the type to volunteer for what was likely a death sentence,” he surmised.

Sir Robert nodded his agreement. “It was not. Within a week of Mr. Wickham’s arriving on the Continent, the lieutenant deserted his post. No one has heard of or seen the man since.”

“Wickham is a man who lives by his wits, and his not contacting anyone in England makes little sense. Surely he must have cohorts who aided him in this farce!”

Sir Robert’s expression was more troubled than Darcy cared to observe. “One of the few things Mrs. McCaffney shared in a moment of anger at her poor sister’s fate came when Mrs. Wickham described the woman who met with Mr. Wickham. Mrs. McCaffney told me in private conversation that the woman who met with Mr. Wickham resembled the relation of a gentleman she once knew. As you are the only gentleman of whom she has spoken of beyond Mr. Bingley, I assumed it was you. I formed the distinct impression that Mrs. McCaffney blamed herself for her sister’s fate.”

Now for the GIVEAWAY. I have two eBook gifts of A Dance with Mr. Darcy available to those who comment below. The giveaway ends at midnight EDST on Friday, February 7. 

Posted in Austen Authors, book excerpts, book release, customs and tradiitons, excerpt, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage, marriage customs, Pride and Prejudice, Regency era, Regency romance, research, Vagary | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

Life Below Stairs, Part 5 – The “Fallen” Female Servant

The life of a female servant in an English household of the 18th or 19th Century was a lonely one in terms of romantic entanglements, and we can only imagine how easily such a woman might be tempted to “taste” what her position denied her. The idea of a young girl, with aspirations of marriage and of love, entering her first position, only to encounter the handsome son of her wealthy employer to be seduced is a common motif in many historical romances. But how “common” was the situation?

Needless to say, the majority of the female servants were moral and respectable. They would not consider such an alliance, finding the “suggestion” of an assignation as repugnant. However, we must keep in mind that the choice of a marriage partner was greatly limited by their position. That was not to say that NONE achieved a higher position. According to Frank Huggett’s Life Below Stairs [page 117], “In 1763, Thomas Coutts, co-founder of the bank that bears his name, married his brother’s housemaid, Susannah Starkie, the daughter of a small farmer from Lancashire. Before she died in 1815, she had seen her first daughter marry the third Earl of Guildford; her second daughter, the first Marquis of Bute; and her third, Sir Francis Burdett. (Her husband’s fortune was, of course, a big attraction.) Samuel Horsley, Bishop of St Asaph, also married a servant. Shortly after his first wife died in 1777, he married her maid, Sarah Wright. Edward Miles, a nineteenth century Quaker, not only had two careers as a druggist and a dentist but also two wives – the second under common law – both of whom were servants.

tumblr_inline_nk4kkgD16X1rkz5wx“Such marriages were commonplace in ‘silly, sensational’ magazines, but much more exceptional in real life. The peak of most girls’ possibilities had been reached, if they were fortunate enough to marry an honest butler or footman (Downton Abbey plot between Daisy and William Mason, as well as Carson and Mrs. Hughes), who might then set up as a shopkeeper, a cabbie, a publican or a boarding house keeper on their joint savings, small businesses which seem to have failed almost as often as they succeeded. Otherwise, they could hope to marry a man of no higher social standing than a groom, a tradesman, a policeman, a soldier, or a sailor. Many of them returned home, with their little nest eggs, to marry the ‘penny post correspondent’ whom they had left behind in their own village years before.” 

AN00168591_001_l (Image via – Cruikshank’s “Check Mate) Yet, there many who did succumb to the perils of life below stairs. Male servants could set the eyes upon a naive miss. Gentlemen guests in the household sometimes took advantage of the females (another plot in Downton Abbey when Anna Bates is raped). Employers’ sons could also be a threat, as well as the master of the house himself.  Being sent on an errand, especially at night, could prove hazardous for unsuspecting females. The girls could be followed by a “young, disreputable gentleman in his cups” or a street thug. Sailors streamed upon shore and sought out “satisfaction” in port cities. Uniformed soldiers could affect (or is the word “infect”) many a servant girl with “scarlet fever.”

We must also remember that the expectations of a girl from a small village or rural community were quite different from those from the gentry and the aristocracy. In reality, the female from the rural communities likely held a better idea of “sexual matters” in nature than did the young ladies in Town. There were also rural traditions, such as “hand-fasting”in Scotland and “bundling” in Wales, as well as wife-swopping and trial marriage among those who kept with the older ways. Ancient orgiastic rites did not fall away so easily. And there still hiring fairs in the rural areas where farm and domestic servants were acquired, sometimes to the detriment of the females. However, a few “dollymops” cooperated with those who approached them in exchange for a bit of money or a present. 

“There is no means of knowing how many servants were also part-time prostitutes, or enthusiastic amateurs as we might call them, but according to some contemporary experts the number was surprisingly high. One of the greatest authorities on early Victorian prostitution was William Tait, who saw many of the final, and often fatal consequences in Edinburgh Lock Hospital (for venereal diseases), where he was the house surgeon. He estimated that there were about eight hundred full-time professionals in the Scottish capital; but, in addition, there were no less than three hundred servants working part-time at the same trade. Nurses, who had the greatest freedom to spend many hours out of doors, were sometimes inclined to combine their regular calling with a little moonlighting, even, occasionally, in broad daylight. One nurse from ‘a very respectable family’ used to leave her two young children sitting in the High Street, while she went off to oblige a gentleman in a house of assignation nearby. Most of these ‘clandestine prostitutes’ were ‘common servants’, like the one from Leith who visited a house in Edinburgh every alternate Sunday night for four years; but governesses, ladies’ maids and housekeepers were also involved.” (Huggetts, page 122) Imagine the master of the house meeting one of his servants in a house of ill repute. It happened to several. 




Posted in British history, commerce, Georgian England, Great Britain, history, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, Regency era, romance, servant life, vocabulary | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Was Sawney Bean Truly a 14th Century Scottish Cannibal or Was He a Legend? + a Giveaway of “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy”

Was Sawney Bean Real or a Legend?

Alexander Sawney Bean was reportedly the head of a cannibalistic family residing along Scotland’s Ayrshire/Galloway coast during the 14th Century. According to the legend, Sawney was born in a small East Lothian village, approximately ten miles from Edinburgh. Enable to hold job, Sawney soon left home and took up with a woman who thought nothing of gaining what she wanted by devious methods.

With no means of making a living, the Beans took up living in sea cave in Galloway. They supported themselves by robbing and murdering travelers and locals foolish enough to be caught out on the roads at night.

Living incestuously, the Bean family grew to a total of six and forty. Over a twenty-five years period, one thousand people lost their lives to the family. The Beans would cast the unwanted limbs of their victims in the sea to be washed up on the local beaches.

Unfortunately, the authorities of the time had few crime investigation skills available to them. In a time when people still believed in witches and vampires, many innocent people stood accused of Sawney’s crimes and lost their lives. As travelers were traced back to the inns in which they took shelter, local innkeepers were often charged with the crimes. Naturally, travelers began to shun the area.

As they grew in number, the Beans began to take on larger groups of travelers. With their cave being so designed as to hide their presence in the area, they were able to attack and then retreat to cave, which went almost a mile into the cliffs. In addition the tide filled the opening so people never looked for them there.

They were discovered when they attacked a couple returning from a local fayre. The man was able to plough his way through the band that attacked him, but the female cannibals managed to pull his wife from her horse. According to the legend, the Beans ripped out the woman’s entrails and feasted on the woman along the road. When revelers from the fayre appeared, the Beans retreated to their cave/home. The group took the distraught husband to the authorities in Glasgow. Eventually, King James IV took personal charge of the case personally. With 400 men and bloodhounds in tow, the hunt for the culprits began in earnest.

The bloodhounds took up the scent from the scene and soon hit on the Beans’ location. Entering the cave, the searchers found dried human parts being cured like other meats, pickled limbs in barrels, and piles of valuables stolen over the years. The Beans were brought to Edinburgh in chains. They were incarcerated in the Tollbooth and taken the next day to Leith. Because of the severity of their crimes, the Beans were barbarically executed. The crowds cut off the men’s hands and feet and were allowed to bleed to death. The Bean women were burned at the stake.

Many “experts” believe this story to be an 18th Century fabrication, one found in the popular chapbooks and broadsheets of the time. In 1843, John Nicholson included the legend in lurid details in his Historical and Traditional Tales Connected with the South of Scotland. However, several local psychics claim the ghosts of Sawney Bean’s family haunt the area. The legend has become part of the Tourism and Heritage trail. The cave is on the coast at Bennane head between Lendalfoot and Ballantrae. There is a reconstruction of the cave at the Edinburgh Dugeon on Market Street, near the Waverly Bridge.

The “meat” of Sawney’s tale inspired Wes Craven’s “The Hills Have Eyes.” In 1994, a British film group tried to come up with financing for a film based on the legend, but the attempt fell through. Snakefinger’s “The Ballad of Sawney Bean” was a part of Ralph Records “Potates”collection.

As a personal footnote, the Sawney Bean legend plays out in my Austen-inspired cozy mystery, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, for the Macbethan family in the novel are supposedly related to Bean.

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery  


SHACKLED IN THE DUNGEON of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor—the estate’s master. Trusting him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced— finding Georgiana before it’s too late.

Read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited




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The Return of “The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy” from Regina Jeffers + a Giveaway

Originally published on 12 April 2012, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery was my ninth novel released by Ulysses Press. Although I loved working with Ulysses, they have turned their interest toward nonfiction titles, and, so recently, I pushed to have the rights of all my books published with them returned to me. Those of you who have published with traditional publishing houses know that process is not an easy one. The author cannot customarily reclaim the rights to a book for a period of two years (sometimes up to seven years). He/She must ask for the books in a certified letter, return request required. Generally, the publisher has the option to rerelease the title, and if it does so, the cycle starts over. Even if the publisher agrees to release the title back to the author, it can take up to a year or more for that to happen. Some publishers require the author to purchase any copies of the book setting in a warehouse that have not yet sold. As I was asking for the rights returned of ten title, I feared the worst. Such can be an expensive undertaking. When Ulysses finally agreed to remove the titles from Amazon, Kobo, etc., I had to wait for six months for the returns to come back to Ulysses. I was fortunate in many ways as Print On Demand technology has eased the number of copies setting in various warehouses, but I am certain other authors are not so lucky. 

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy was only the second mystery I had written, but I am pleased how it turned out. Although the book can be read as a stand alone, I generally say it is helpful if one has read Christmas at Pemberley beforehand, for CaP introduces some of the minor characters in TDoGD. The story begins where Christmas at Pemberley leaves off. Georgiana and our ever-faithful Colonel Fitzwilliam have married right before he is sent back to the Continent after Napoleon’s escape from Elba. He has been made a Major General at the end of Christmas at Pemberley for the service he provided Prince George’s family, which is part of the plot of that book.

With this rerelease of the novel, it was necessary for me to change out the cover. As much as I adored the original cover, the image was purchased for use on the book by Ulysses Press. Moreover, I wanted a cover that reflected the main plot of the story: Georgiana Fitzwilliam has traveled to Scotland to meet her husband for an overdue wedding journey. However, before the Major General can arrive, she goes missing and Darcy and the rest of her family search for her on the Scottish moors. The new image better reflects that story line. 

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery 


SHACKLED IN THE DUNGEON of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor—the estate’s master. Trusting him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and his wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced— finding Georgiana before it’s too late.

Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Eleven: 

Edward Fitzwilliam bedded down in an orchard. Some of the aristocracy would name his choice of accommodations abhorrent. He was an earl’s son, after all. The “spare” for his brother Rowland. Yet, Edward had always preferred the outdoors and freedom to a crowded ballroom. It was the reason he had chosen the army over the navy when selecting his military calling. That and the fact that rough oceans made him seasick. “I would have made a deplorable captain in that respect,” he mumbled to his horse as he tied the stallion loosely to one of the bushes.

“Another day—maybe a day and a half,” he told the animal as he wiped down its coat. “Then you may rest, my friend, and I may bury myself in the sweet scent of jasmine. I have a beautiful wife, you know. A woman to quell the emptiness.” He patted the stallion’s neck.

He unwrapped the bedding and stretched out under the stars. “At least, there is no rain. No mud. No longer knee-deep in blood,” he continued to talk to himself. “No dreams of the horror that was Waterloo. Only Georgie’s beautiful countenance and her sweet body. Heaven on Earth.” A smile spread across his features. “A lifetime of proving myself worthy of Georgiana’s love.” He sighed deeply. “A sentence I will gladly serve.”

* * *

“Prisoners.” The word beat a staccato in her mind as she reentered the simple chamber with its obvious guard just outside the door. She had considered the idea that she was the MacBethans’ prisoner, but somehow she had not previously mustered the panic that now filled her chest. “Prisoner,” she mouthed the word. The MacBethans continued to lock her in this small room. “It is obviously not a guest room.”

She had observed several elaborate bedchambers during her house tour. With its plain furnishings, the room she occupied did not delineate her as an honored member of the household. What would happen if she refused to become Aulay’s bride? Would the MacBethans return her to where the others were being held? And where was that exactly? Lord Wotherspoon had rushed toward the lower staircase when he had left her in Ronald’s care. “What happens to the other prisoners?” she wondered aloud. “Are they tortured? Killed? Why are they here? What offense have they committed? And if I was one of them, what offense did I practice on the MacBethans to give them dominion over me?”

And there had to be more than one prisoner. The servant had specifically said, “One of the prisoners.” her thoughts flooded the room. Could she escape? Could she assist the others? She must learn exactly where she was being held. She could observe part of the estate’s entrance from the room’s small window. A better view of the grounds became paramount. If she escaped the MacBethans, could she discover someone who would come to her aid? Usually, estates were several miles apart. Could she locate a Good Samaritan before Lady Wotherspoon found her? The girl held no doubt the woman would hunt her down as if chasing a fox in the woods.

“I require more information,” she told herself as she paced the small open space. “What can I remember from my so-called sick-room stay?” she mused. The bandage on her wrist was an obvious reminder. Carefully, she unwrapped the cloth to examine the raw scrapes along the pale skin. “What could have caused these lacerations?” She gently touched the deepest cut, which had scabbed over. “I must remember why I felt gratitude for the kindness Lady Wotherspoon has shown me.” She rewrapped her wrist so no one would know she had considered her injuries to result from anything but a simple fall.

“This shan’t be easy,” she cautioned her rapidly beating pulse. “Lord Wotherspoon reminded me that I must settle my past before I accept the future his mother has designed for me. Most assuredly, I must do so carefully without offending the woman. Domhnall MacBethan has sworn to protect me, but can I trust anyone in this house?”

* * *

“I have sent a message to Drouot house,” Elizabeth explained. “I expect Mrs. Bingley to issue an invitation for your family to join them as quickly as she receives my letter. As Mr. Joseph and Mr. Darcy were to use Drouot as their base for their business dealings, the Bingleys shall be expecting your husband.”

Mary Joseph protested, “Yet, not as a man recovering from a gunshot wound.”

“Trust me, Mrs. Joseph,” Darcy countered, “Mrs. Bingley would be offended if you did not take shelter at Drouot House. My wife’s sister has the kindest of hearts.”

“That means Mrs. Bingley thought highly of Mr. Darcy long before I did,” Elizabeth teased. “Even so, my husband speaks the truth. The Bingleys are two of the most obliging adults on this earth. My father has always contended that Jane and Mr. Bingley would do very well together because their tempers are by no means unlike. Mr. Bennet claimed the Bingleys were each so complying that nothing would ever be resolved upon between them, and they were so easy that every servant would cheat them and so generous they would always exceed their income.”

Darcy chuckled. “I would call Mr. Bennet’s a fair evaluation.”

Mary’s lips twitched. “Mr. Joseph and I shall quash the urge to make the Bingleys our mark.”

“If you are tempted,” Darcy returned the smile, “keep in mind Mrs. Darcy and I will follow you to Newton Stewart, and my wife and I are less inclined to be generous.”

“Did you hear that, Matthew?” Mary teased.

The clergyman sat propped against a stack of pillows. Someone had shaved him, and although he still appeared pale, a bit of color had returned to his cheeks. “I would say we have been duly warned, Wife. And we are very familiar with the Darcys of Pemberley’s less than charitable natures,” he said jokingly. All four knew that if it had not been for the Darcys’ generosity, the Josephs’ son would have been born in a lowly stable and would have likely died. The couple owed them much more than could ever be repaid. Joseph extended his hand to Darcy. “Be safe, sir. You and Mrs. Darcy are very important to the Joseph family. You will remain in our daily prayers.”

“Thank you.” Darcy nodded his understanding. He stood and reached for his hat and gloves. “Mrs. Darcy, we should be on the road.”

“Certainly.” Elizabeth hugged Mary one last time. “Promise me you shall accept the Bingleys’ hospitality.”

Mary returned the embrace. “I promise.”

* * *

Darcy handed her into the carriage. He had taken Bennet from Mrs. Prulock and had deposited his son in his wife’s arms. Then he had assisted the wet nurse to a place beside Elizabeth. Traditionally, the nurse and Bennet would have followed in Darcy’s small coach, but they would make do with the one carriage. He would welcome the nurse’s presence if it meant having Bennet in close proximity. His son had brought Darcy a peace that he could not explain to anyone who had never walked the floor with a colicky baby in order to allow his mate a few extra hours of sleep. He and Elizabeth had created this beautiful bundle of arms and legs and joy as a result of their love. He placed his hat and gloves on the seat beside him. “I will hold Bennet,” he said softly.

Elizabeth smiled brightly. “You will notice, Mrs. Prulock,” she said in that familiar teasing tone he so adored—the one which had disappeared from his wife’s personality after her previous miscarriages. It was as if Bennet’s birth had given him back the woman Darcy loved with every fiber of his being. “That Mr. Darcy relishes holding his son when Bennet sleeps. However, let the boy kick up a fuss, and the child is instantly my son, not our son.”

“Wait until the young master be cutting his teeth. He be keeping the household awake with his temper,” Mrs. Prulock predicted.

With his fingertips, Darcy traced his child’s jawline. “Even a case of the Darcy stubbornness will not deter my joy at looking at this angelic countenance.”

“At least Mr. Darcy did not blame said stubbornness on my side of the family,” Elizabeth countered as the carriage lurched into motion.

Darcy did not remove his eyes from his son’s face, but he said, “I have learned, Mrs. Darcy, to accept that all Bennet’s failings lie at my feet while our son’s more magnanimous qualities are a direct result of your influence.”

Elizabeth suppressed her grin. “You were difficult to bring to the bit,” she teased. “But I am quite content with the end result.” They sat in silence for several minutes while each contemplated his own tumultuous part in their coming together as man and wife. Finally, she asked, “How long before we reach Alpin Hall?”

“Seven to eight hours depending on the roads,” he said softly.

“I am most anxious to settle what has transpired with Mrs. Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth said.

He nodded as he sat back into the soft squabs. “As am I. I have missed Georgiana.”

* * *

“Shall you sleep the day away?” the voice from her dream asked in concern.

She turned over to look at the room’s ceiling and once more to count the knots in the wood. “Two and twenty,” she said to test her voice.

“Yes, two and twenty,” the voice spoke with a bit of irritation. “What else shall you do today?”

She said defensively, “What else would you have me do?”

The voice “tutted” her disapproval. “Discover a means out of this dilemma. You are a brave, intelligent woman.”

“I would beg to differ. If I were brave and intelligent, I would not have succumbed to my doubts, and I would not be at another’s beck and call.”

* * *

“Shall ye sleep the day away?” Lady Wotherspoon said close to the girl’s ear, pulling her from her dreams. A splitting headache had driven her to her bed several hours prior. She had searched her memory for details of her life before coming to Normanna Hall, as well as what had happened to her since arriving at the estate. The process had left her exhausted and suffering with a megrim.

The girl shoved herself to a seated position. “Forgive me, Lady Wotherspoon. I thought it best to recover my energies fully. If I am to accept Aulay, then I must be at my best.”

“Most assuredly, ye shall accept Aulay,” the woman declared as she began to brush Esme’s hair to remove the tangles.

Esme’ frowned deeply. “I have thought much of what is best. I recall—” she paused. “I recall few details of my life prior to my time in this room.” She sat quietly for several minutes before saying, “Before I could accept Aulay, I must learn more of my child’s father.” Her fingers splayed protectively across her abdomen.

Her request had, evidently, surprised Lady Wotherspoon. The woman’s eyes flared with incredulity, but she quickly masked her true response. “A woman should have pleasant memories to share with the bairn.” She braided Esme’s hair. “I think it best if ye remember on yer own, but if’n ye kinnae I kin tell ye more of yer life.”

“You know of my lost memories?” Esme returned the woman’s earlier surprise.

“I’s know some of it. Enough to know yer husband be gone. Ye do not wish the child to be bairn without a lovin’ father. Aulay would be a good companion.”

“If I cannot remember on my own, you will tell me what you know?” The girl insisted.

“I shall share it all.”

* * *

Lady Wotherspoon rushed through Normanna’s intricate passageways until she reached the Grand Hall. Finding Munro, her husband’s nephew, drinking with several of the other cousins and distant relatives, with a tilt of her head, she motioned him to follow her into the chapel. Although he was of the MacBethan clan, the man had proved resourceful when she had sent him on previous tasks.

“What be it?” he grumbled when he sat behind her on one of the few pews within the circular room.

“Ye shud not be afeared of God’s hand,” she said coldly.

He warned, “Tell me what ye require, Aunt, and leave off worryin’ fer me soul.”

Dolina glanced around to assure their privacy. “I require information on the girl Blane found on the moor. Who might she be? Ride out and check the inns. See if’n anyone be lookin fer her.”

“Why? What hive ye in mind for the lass?”

“Jist do as I say,” she instructed. “What I’ve planned be none of yer doings.”






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Life Below Stairs ~ Part Four ~ The Work Never Ends

250px-smedley_maid_illustration_1906Up before dawn, the servants of an aristocratic household found the work tedious. Likely, the lower servants worked two hours before he/she was permitted to sit to his own meager breakfast.

The kitchen maid began her day with lighting the cooking fire. To do so in a cast iron stove, she must first rake out the cinders and sweep the bars, the hobs, and the hearth free of dust. She would then clean the stove with a round-headed brush and black lead mixed with some water to make a “paste.”  When the black lead dried, it was polished with a special brush, which was designed to get into the groves of the ornamental work. At least one weekly, she also swept away the accumulated soot from the flues. Generally, she was expected to bring the cook the woman’s morning tea.

The housemaids began their days with cleaning the carpets. An unusual ritual included scattering wet sand or damp tea leaves over the carpets before they swept them. They cleaned the main hall and receiving rooms thoroughly and set fires in the hearths (after cleaning the grates). After morning prayers, the housemaids cleaned the bedchambers: changed bed linens, emptied chamberpots and baths, swept the carpets, dusted the furnishings, washed and polished wooden floors, etc. One must recall that there were three mattresses on a Victorian bed. The bottom one was filled with straw and was turned once weekly. The middle one was filled with wool or horsehair. It was turned daily. The top mattress was filled with feathers. Please recall that the housemaids were supposed to finished with their work by mid day.

Upper servants (cook, lady’s maid, governess, parlour maid, and nurse) usually got an extra hour sleep while others began their days as early as 5 A.M. The cook was responsible for 4 meals daily for the master and mistress and their guests, the children, and the other servants. She prepared a different type of meal for each group. All the servants, minus the nursery staff, sat down to breakfast shortly after 8 A.M. They would dine on leftovers of yesterday’s roast or cold meat pie and a slice of bread, along with a weak tea or home brewed beer. A tea break for the servants came at approximately 11 A.M. The cook would meet regularly with the mistress to discuss the menus for the day. The servants had their “dinner” between midday and one o’clock. Generally, it was a roast and vegetables with a rice or suet pudding. Beer was served with the meal. The nursery staff were given a shepherd’s pie or mutton stew. The master and mistress and the older children had a luncheon served by liveried footmen. This was a more formal meal than was breakfast. The course was usual fish, which was followed by hot dishes and then a sweet dessert or fresh fruit. The ladies would be out the door for afternoon social calls. 

Parlour maids, which replaced butlers during the Victorian era, set the table in the dining room, as well as to oversee the removal of the leftovers. Occasionally, the parlour maid acted as a valet to the master of the house. Parlour maids, like footmen, were chosen for their height and good looks, and they were often a target for unfaithful husbands. At about 9 each morning, the parlour maid would summon the family, the children, and the other servants to family prayers in the drawing room. (If you recall, Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford discuss this practice in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.) Before she called the household to prayers, the parlour maid had set the table with linen and silverware. She had also placed bread, toast, butter, jam, and honey on the table, along with a cream and sugar for tea. After the prayers, she brought in the covered breakfast dishes. They family would then choose from hot and cold dishes: eggs, bacon, kidneys, kippers, fish, tongue, potted meat, etc.

The lady’s maid woke her mistress and helped the lady of the house with her ablutions and dress. Remember that women of the  Victorian Period wore tightly laced corsets or stays, several petticoats, steel-hooped crinolines, tight pantaloons, and dresses with yards and yards and yards of material.








Nursery maids swept and cleaned the day nursery and lit the hearth for warmth. The governess saw to the children. Upper class ladies rarely visited their children in the nursery for longer than 30 minutes per day. With infants, a wet nurse was engaged. Ladies of quality never breast fed their children. Governesses were occasionally accused of using a bit of laudanum to keep the children in order. The first duty of the day was to bath and feed the babies/children. A mixture of milk and barley water was used for the infants. The governess was also responsible for administering prescribed medicines and purges of castor oil, senna, or peppermint. They took the children out for morning and afternoon excursions. Older children were bathed and dressed. Even little boys wore stays until the age of 7 or 8. Breakfast was a porridge or gruel. It was quite bland when compared to what the parents ate.

Posted in British history, Georgian Era, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments