Domestic service in London, 1660-1750 : gender, life cycle, work and household relations.
Young people flooded into the capital in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries, and for many their experiences were moulded by working and living in
others' households. As metropolitan life-cycle service, the occupation of domestic
service provided them with a means of maintaining themselves by providing access
to remuneration amid the fluctuating metropolitan economy, but it also gave them
shelter in a city most were experiencing as migrants.
The historiography of this subject has been stymied by the concentration, often
thanks to limited record availability, of an older generation of scholars on the writings
and material evidence of elite employers. As a consequence, a picture has been
painted of an occupation dominated by the male liveiy to the resident nobility and
gentry, mirroring in miniature the polarised social relations allegedly found in London
as a whole. This thesis has sought to revise the history of domestic service by
exploring a wider range of sources, particularly the words of contemporary servants
themselves found in the church court depositions, in order to examine the nature of
the service experienced by most.
Servants largely worked in the households of the middling sort, whose numbers
were expanding in this period, and these households were overwhelmingly employers
of female domestic servants. The gendered experience of service is one of the
thesis's central themes: levels of remuneration, nature of work tasks, opportunities
for a career in service, relationships with employers, all differed significantly between
male and female servants. Examining the work servants did in London households,
a pattern emerges of three categories of task - housewifery, luxurious consumption
and 'production' - which demonstrated distinct differences according to household
size and function, and in household relations, in which very real work generated
social as well as economic value within a moral economy of service.