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Thursday, June 28

The Scullery

In November, I wrote about the scullery maid, a young girl or woman who occupied the lowest rung of the servant class. Her domain, when she was not hauling wood or water up steep stairs, was the scullery, where she labored from dawn until dusk.

The scullery, a room adjacent to the kitchen and with a door that led outside, was typically used for washing laundry, cleaning dishes and utensils, scrubbing pots and pans, preparing vegetables, and performing simple cooking tasks that aided the cook and kitchen maids. Herbs hung from the rafters, and big open sinks made of stone stood against the walls, such as in the photo above of the scullery at Harewood House.

The scullery floor was tiled and had a drain to drain water. Because of the heat and steam of cooking and washing, the room itself was cut off from the larder or pantry, or any other parts of the house that stored food. The scullery also needed to be near the kitchen yard, coal cellar, wood house, and ash bin, as these were the rooms that the scullery maid was most apt to use in performance of her duties.
You can find a description of a scullery and kitchen of Fota House, a Regency Style house in Ireland, here. And see the basement annex to the Regency Townhouse in Hove, East Sussex here. One can view the kitchen in a virtual tour, but not the scullery, which I suspect sits adjacent to the kitchen and coal bin.

A scullery maid held no rank in the servant hierarchy. She was at the absolute bottom. Mrs. Beeton, in her excellent Book of Household Management, writes in 1861:

The cook takes charge of the fish, soups, and poultry; and the kitchen-maid of the vegetables, sauces, and gravies. These she puts into their appropriate dishes, whilst the scullery-maid waits on and assists the cook. Everything must be timed so as to prevent its getting cold, whilst great care should be taken, that, between the first and second courses, no more time is allowed to elapse than is necessary, for fear that the company in the dining-room lose all relish for what has yet to come of the dinner.

Indeed, not all was hopeless for the scullery maid, as depicted above by Giuseppe Crespi in 1710. Mrs. Beeton continues:

The position of scullery-maid is not, of course, one of high rank, nor is the payment for her services large. But if she be fortunate enough to have over her a good kitchen-maid and clever cook, she may very soon learn to perform various little duties connected with cooking operations, which may be of considerable service in fitting her for a more responsible place. Now, it will be doubtless thought by the majority of our readers, that the fascinations connected with the position of the scullery-maid, are not so great as to induce many people to leave a comfortable home in order to work in a scullery. But we are acquainted with one instance in which the desire, on the part of a young girl, was so strong to become connected with the kitchen and cookery, that she absolutely left her parents, and engaged herself as a scullery-maid in a gentleman’s house. Here she showed herself so active and intelligent, that she very quickly rose to the rank of kitchen-maid; and from this, so great was her gastronomical genius, she became, in a short space of time, one of the best women-cooks in England.

Sculleries and the duties of the scullery maid remained essentially unchanged for centuries, as these 1910 images of the scullery at the White Lion Inn attest.

1 comment:

Icha said...

A bit out of topic, but this article (excellent as always, by the way) reminds me of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring' - Scarlett Johannson was very good as Griet. But of course, Colin Firth was such an amazing Vermeer.