Charles Dickens said it himself: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” And when it comes to Victorian-era England, it's the "worst" we remember most. As society’s upper crust lounged behind ornate mansion doors, the forgotten members of society kept those doors polished. Yes, household servants and maids did the dirty work no one else wanted — or had the stomach — to do. But now, almost 200 years later, we’re finally learning their stories... and they’re even more disturbing than we thought.
If you had to choose between being a Victorian factory worker or maid, you’d probably pick “maid” without question. Who would risk their life in a factory — no doubt surrounded by toxic chemicals and dangerous machinery —when you could be folding linens? Well, you may want to re-think that choice.
And being a maid was a popular pick. “In 1851 one in three women between the ages of 15 and 24 in London worked as a domestic servant,” a 2018 piece in The American Spectator claimed. But as it turns out, factories may not have actually been the most dangerous place for women to work. Houses had a lot of problems of their own.
You may have heard of some unhygienic practices in Victorian England, and it was the housemaid who had to clean up the worst messes. The kitchen and scullery — a room attached to the kitchen where you washed clothes and dishes — were particularly unpleasant places to be.
Food scraps and dirt
Despite the cleaning that went on there, kitchens and sculleries were particularly disgusting. In the maids’ haste to get meals on the table, scraps of food, mud, and whatever else was on someone’s plate or shirt would literally fall through the cracks.