Mrs Beetroot’s book of household mismanagement 7

It is heartening to note that after a mere six episodes, email correspondents are starting to refer to Mrs Beetroot as ‘that woman.’

One should not really laugh at such domestic tragedy.  Nevertheless……….


                    Bed making with the maid of all work.

Maids of all work by definition are persons from the lower echelons of the working classes whose nature, intelligence and limited capabilities ensure that they are not fitted to rise above their class in any substantial way.  Of all the servants, other than itinerant footmen, it will bear fruit for the conscientious mistress of the house to be cognisant of the doings of the maid of all work.  Despite her lowbrow leanings, the maid of all work is sometimes possessed of a species of native cunning that evinces itself in an urge to avoid work where possible.  It is therefore necessary for the mistress to be certain at all times of day of the whereabouts and occupation of the maid of all work.

The later morning should commence the premier intercourse of the mistress and maid when, following breakfast in a small to medium household, the mistress is obligated to assist the maid in her duties of bed making.  As this task is the only during the day when the mistress is able, directly, to supervise the thinking and deeds of the maid, it is of the utmost importance that the occasion proceeds rigorously to invariable precedent.

The mistress and the maid should first meet in the bedroom where the maid must attire herself in bed-making uniform.  This is most necessary where the maid has previously been sweeping chimneys, cleaning cinders, grate polishing and fire laying in all the bedrooms while the family are at breakfast.  Even a maid of superior intellect, of which there are few, if any, is unable to prevent herself becoming covered in smuts that would readily transfer themselves to the bedding to such a degree that the family and guests could arise looking as if they had spent the night carousing in the company of chimney sweeps rather than peacefully asleep dreaming genteel Christian dreams.

The maid must don stout cambric shoe covers buttoned down each side with ten or more buttons so that her boots are fully covered.  Her hair and cap should be encased in a bed making mob cap, with ear covers.  The bed-making apron, with sleeves, buttons at the back, for which task it is not unforeseen for her to require the assistance of the mistress.  At this point the mistress may take the opportunity of complimenting the maid on the cleanliness of her shoes, hair, dress and under pinafore if they are indeed clean, or taking opportunity to correct her and point out flaws if they are not.  If the maid can read, the mistress may wish to make a list of the points of personal appearance in which the maid may be of need for improvement.  If the stupidity of the maid prevents her from reading, the mistress should write the list and teach it to the maid by constant repetition while the maid dons her bed-making wristlets and gloves.

Thus attired, the mistress and the maid should each take a side of the coverlet and fold it with four folds to the bottom of the bed where the maid will halve the roll and remove to to the blanket chest.  If she fails to fold it exactly, the mistress should tell her so.  It is as much part of the duty of the mistress to correct her servant as it is for the servant to obey.

In this manner all coverings and bottom sheets are removed from the bed and the mattress is turned to spread the wear and rearrange the feathers, unless for an under palliasse.  For this, the mistress should examine it visually, telling the maid of each straw that is sticking out that the maid must return to the mattress and indicating the same with a pointed finger, or a china straw-pointer, furnished with a bell, if one is available.

The mattresses should then duly be fluffed up, each according to the requirements of the occupant.  Family members and guests may leave a note upon the night stand indicating if they prefer a hollow in the mattress at the centre, a built-up portion beneath the shoulders and so on to the taste of each.  The mistress will read these instructions to the maid, ensuring that all are filled to the letter for the comfort and health of the family and their guests. The covers are then returned in order, the mistress making note of any that necessitate mending, informing the maid of each, who will then repeat the position and degree of the tears or thin patches until she has them by heart, to identify and mend each on wash day. All drapes and curtains to the bed should be spread and dusted.  This task the maid will accomplish with a goose wing duster, having mounted the bed ladders and receiving instruction from the mistress, spying out any dust from the floor.

All rugs should be taken up and the floor swept vigorously to the dictate of the mistress, the maid subsequently rubbing the boards to a fine shine.  Wax is not advised for use under a rug, as utilisation may render the rug mobile to a dangerous degree.  Here the maid should apply elbow grease sufficient to raise a warm but not deep reflectivity, the mistress should follow her progress, advising each time she can or cannot see her own shoes reflected in the floor.  If the mistress finds the frequent instruction very wearing to the voice she may prefer simply to tap the floor with her toe at every spot she finds the depth of shine to be in error.

The maid of all work having replaced the rugs to the placings supervised by the mistress from the door, raised upon the room arranging steps, they next prepare, mistress and maid, to clean the ornaments in the room.  For this task the maid should change from her bed apron and clothing into her ornament wrapper, chamois ornament mittens and serge cap.  Thus attired she may take up each ornament and dust it with a lint free cloth.  These being difficult to obtain, the maid may make them on her day off by plaiting inch wide lengths of fabric surplus from dress making and simply hand sewing with a quick faggotting stitch along the lengths.  It is only necessary to hem the ends once so as to leave no loops that could catch on the ornaments to break them.  With these prepared cloths the maid will dust each ornament to the satisfaction of the mistress, whose sharp eyes will not be lax to spot any mote of dust that the maid has missed and inform her that this is so.

This task completed, the mistress should rest in a chair while the maid, in her furniture-polishing uniform and cap, polishes the rest of the furniture, empties and scalds the slops pail, removes the entire contents of the night stand to wash, scrub and wax it, subsequently replacing the sundries either exactly as they were or to the wishes of the supervising mistress, if she has recovered her vigour by resting sufficiently to enable her to point out any deviations from the former positions of the utensils.

The bedroom completed, each window should be opened exactly one inch and a half, which the mistress may check by means of a tape measure, carried for the purpose.  The door should then be shut.  Mistress and maid proceed to the next room taking care to speed the task so that all rooms are completed within the space of two hours, the maid thereby being freed to assist the cook, in a household without a vegetable maid, with the luncheon for the family.  Speed with a bedroom is of the essence; in a ten bedroom household there will be, at most, twelve minutes per room.  Where the maid is in any way slack she will fall behind so much in  her duties that she may be obliged to finish them in her own lunch time, or, worse, find the breakfasted family returning to unaired bedrooms, which is surely the precursor to consumption and lung rot in the winter time.  To this end it may be necessary for the mistress to adopt a sufficiently sharp tone to urge the maid to complete her tasks quickly and thoroughly and leave her little doubt of whom is in charge.

I might append a note here for the inexperienced mistress, who will thus be prepared to find maids of all work, even though thoroughly supervised, to be the least grateful of all servants.  I myself was set upon by a maid of all work with a warming pan when we had scarcely reached the eighth room and had fully five minutes spare to complete the remaining four, of which fact I thoughtfully reminded her, as she dawdled along the landing with the slops cabinet, polishing barrow, broom stand and housemaid’s box. I can hardly describe the awfulness of being flown at by a creature wearing three different aprons, four caps and a fierce expression and being the possessor of alarmingly muscular forearms developed through mattress turning.  Fortuitously her double layer of boot covers took her off down the stairs, which she had just finished polishing, before the warming pan could connect with my coiffure, though the spring of my my stuffed egret was a little dented. I was obliged to get the butler to dismiss her, after he had sent for the footman to collect the cold coals that were sprinkled all down the stairway.  Should any reader of this gazette be furnished with a surplus of maids of all work, I should be obliged if they would inform me that this is so as I shall be interviewing maids upon the morrow.  The pay is modest, the housework light and the sweet-natured mistress of a kindly and amiable disposition, though the maids I fear, will be to type of their species, many somewhat less able than a monkey, sad to say, causing difficulty to even the most patient and godly supervisor.  I should add, for the benefit of inexperienced readers, that I have found praying over the maid for guidance prior to commencing work, to be much less helpful than one would surmise.

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