Friday, December 17, 2010

Regency Domestics IV -
The Servants' Register Office

Westminster and Central Mart,
Universal Register Office,
at the corner of Southampton-street, Strand
Opened on New Year's Day, 1814
An Original Establishment, on an entire New Plan, for the Accommodation of the Public in general,
And for the Benefit of Persons Wanting Servants, and Servants in Particular who Want Places.
 I had heard of Register Offices--young ladies often head, in fiction, to an agency to find a position as governess or companion. Authentic details of such offices have been difficult to find, but I recently discovered an advertisement in the February 1, 1814 issue of La Belle Assemblee.

The header above is delightfully fulsome and thoroughly self-explanatory. The office seems well-organized, the advertisement certainly is. In addition to providing a register of employers and available employees, the business also encompasses "The Statute Rooms". These appear to be a suite of meeting rooms of some sort where the interested parties might meet and complete employment interviews and transactions.

In addition, The Statute Rooms held open house, or a kind of employment fair, as follows:

Masters and Mistresses, and Servants in general, being registered in this Office, if not satisfactorily suited before, will have the privilege of attending The Statute Rooms, without any additional Expence; viz. for Females on Tuesdays--for Men on Thursdays, until they are suited.

The Register Office was definitely a money-making proposition. For three pounds per annum, "Families, wishing to avoid the Trouble of frequent Registers, may be supplied with any number of Servants, when wanted, according to their own description of them." Or for one pound one shilling "Families may be supplied with One or Two Servants by the year when wanted." 

For more ordinary arrangements, fees for registration with the regency were charged both to the employer and the prospective employee. Generally such fees were from two to seven shillings, with most about five shillings.

Among the first class of servants were Companions, Governesses or Teachers, Bailiffs and House Stewards. To register in search of such an employee cost one pound. "Qualified Persons wanting such superior Situations, to pay ten shillings", or even a little more.

The second class of female servants were those called 'Women of Business'--Milliners, Dress-makers, or for Shops'. The third class were Housekeepers, 'professed' Cooks, Ladies' and Upper Nursery Maids. Fourth class included Cooks, Laundresses, House-Maids and Servants-of-all-Work. I was a little surprised by these rankings and I'm wondering how widely these classifications of servants were accepted and used. And what, I wonder, was a 'professed Cook'?

Male servants were not, it seems, included in these class rankings. There are separate groupings (without class designation) for menservants as follows:

- Tutors, Ushers, Clerks and experience young Men of Business
- Servants Out Of Livery, Valets, Butlers, Gamekeepers, Grooms and Gardeners
- Coachmen, Footmen, and other creditable Men Servants and Lads

The final entry on the list is for 'Waiters and Bar-Maids, wanted or wanting Situations'. The charge for them is also five shillings.

In the Regency, as now, you had to have money to make money. I'm sure the registration fee was, for many members of the servant class, an impossible expense. They had to rely on newspaper advertisements, such as this one from the Daily Advertiser, January 1, 1796:
Coachman, Wanted a sober careful Man, who is very steady, and has lived some Time in his last Place, and can have a good Character, for a small Family who live retired a few Miles from London.
The prospective servant could not be sure of the character of the household, or whether wages would be regular and accomodation adequate. I don't suppose use of the agency eased those worries.

The employer could pay for a newspaper advertisement, or pay the registration fee. I expect the agency fee was more substantial than advertising, but of course, one had--supposedly--more reliability with agency staff. And with house servants, it was probably all about reliability. When inviting staff into your home, surely security of person and property was a concern. 

Hiring good workers--or finding a good job--has ever been a challenge. Some things never change.

'Til next time,



Vic said...

I have read in several sources that the turnover of servants was high in the 18th and 19th century, as good servants were always looking for a better situation. Thank you for this most informative post!!


Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Glad you found it useful, Vic! I was delighted to find this advert--information about register offices has been hard to locate. All the best...

Joanna Waugh said...

A golden nugget of information, Lesley-Anne. Thanks for sharing it!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

You're welcome, Joanna! I'm pleased to be able to wishes!

Anonymous said...

Excellent find Lesley-Anne! Thank you for sharing and adding a bit more information to the ever-interesting servant question...

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

My pleasure, Deb! I love this kind of find--makes the search worthwhile.
Thanks for visiting my blog!