This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Duties of a Cook + a Housemaid (named Barlow) circa 1899

As you can imagine, these lovely old books came with lots of extra pages and snippets tucked in here and there.   Most of them are additional recipes, many of which were passed on by friends.

However, there are  five pages of instructions for the Housemaid and the Cook; detailing what their duties werre on any given day of the week.   Interestingly, there are two slightly different sets of instructions.   The paper sizes are different and so is the handwriting, although the duties are similar.   Possibly a young, newly married,  housewife was being advised by her mother in drawing up instructions for the servants, I'll never know.

Whatever the answer, I find them fascinating, a little glimpse into a middle class home of the late 19th century.

Housemaid Barlow


  • Tidy Drawing Room and Dining Room.
  •  Set Breakfast tables and get breakfast ready.
  •  After, turn down beds, open windows
  • Clear breakfast and wash up then to and finish upstairs.

  • Get the laundry clothes ready.
  • Go into kitchen and help with the washing till lunch.
  • Set lunch and clear away, wash up.  If the washing is not quite finished help 
  • till it is done.
  • Fold clothes that are dry.
  •  After dinner fold clothes and mangle.


  • Before breakfast do the Drawing Room
  • Clean the boots
  • Set the breakfast table.
  • After breakfast do the bedrooms.
  • Iron clothes.

  • Turn the bedrooms out.

  • One week the Drawing Room is turned out, the other the Dining Room so that each room is turned out once a fortnight.
  • Before breakfast clean grate and fire irons well (cover furniture with dustsheets)
  • Cook and housemaid help each other in finishing room after breakfast after the housemaid has finished the bedrooms.
  • Clean stair rods once a fortnight.

  • After breakfast clean Bath Room, landing, cylinder closet and stairs.
  • After lunch wash salt cellars, knife tray, shelves, etc.

  • After breakfast dust spare room, clean pantry, get dessert ready for Sunday, plates, mats, knives, forks, etc.

As for the Cook, her duties were outlined as being:

  • Washing day, Light kitchen fire, wash.

  • After Breakfast, sweep and dust passages.
  • Clean the front steps
  • Clean brasses/name plate every day.
  • Iron.

  • Clean attic
  • Clean kitchen
  • Clean dark closet.

  • Help clean dining room and drawing room.
  • After lunch clean back room downstairs and cellar.

  • Clean kitchen range before breakfast
  • Afterwards, wash breakfast things.
  • Take up kitchen carpets
  • Clean fender and Betty and put them in back room.
  • Swill yard.
  • Clean steps and passage.

  • Clean hall and front steps.
  • Put clothes to steep for washing on Monday.
N.B.  Brass plate and bell, etc, to be cleaned every day.
Bake Tuesday and Friday.
Clean tins.

They certainly expected to get their money's-worth from their servants!  

No comments:

Post a Comment