Downton Savvy! 5 Victorian Household Tips & Tricks For The Servant In-The-Know

Rejoice! The complete Series 1 – 6 of Downton Abbey has just been added to Netflix, rekindling our love for the period-drama masterpiece set in the tail-end of the Victorian Era. We’re all about food, fashion and lifestyle here at Indulge, and a new book I’ve recently come across by the name of Victorian Household Tips has got me thinking about what blogging would be like back in the day…

In Victorian times, the divide between the have and have-nots was stark. There wasn’t much in the way of a middle class, so being “in service”, took up a large proportion of the workforce. However, it wasn’t just the massive country estates that took on house-help; many inner-city households on the wealthy side employed a number of staff to keep their homes comfortable and ticking over.

I do love a self-help book, and non-fiction has to be my favourite genre… Which is why when I came across this particular book left out on the street for refuse collection in a box full of miscellaneous books (“The Life of the Giraffe” anyone?), I nabbed it without haste. What I found was a plethora of natural lotions and potions for just about anything a busy household could want for. Concoctions for cleaning, polishing and prettifying aplenty, and what’s most interesting of all is that little call for a few more ingredients that can be found in the modern-day kitchen cupboard and garden. With the rise of eco-consciousness, most Victorian methods of fighting off colds and coaxing out stubborn stains are well and truly above board by environmentalist standards. By the looks of things, simple vinegar and bicarbonate of soda can go a long way!

The household tips collated in this insightful book were researched meticulously, taking clippings from several servants’ and nannies’ magazines like The Lady, and personal manuals passed down from the highest ranking butlers and maids of the time to their next in-line. Reading their tips felt like I was being let into their private diaries of top life-hacks to make their duties in service all that easier. I’ve skimmed through the pages and whittled down some of my favourites for your reading pleasure. Make use them or not, here’s what Indulge has to share!

1. To Keep Kettles Free of Limescale

We all know that hard water can cause an annoying buildup of flaky limescale in a kettle. The Victorian housemaid had just the trick for this without frequent scrubbing, by placing a flat, clean oyster shell at the bottom of the stovetop kettle. The limescale will subsequently form only on the shell – just like with a pearl – and can be thrown out and replaced with another oyster shell when necessary.

2. To Perfume Pressed Linen

Nowadays, we’ve all sorts of detergents and fabric conditioners for washing our clothes and making sure they smell lovely and fresh, but in Victorian times, it was more likely that a good scrub with soap would be just about as far as it gets when it comes to hand-washing. Therefore, clothing and linen were scented after they were dried. One sweet concoction calls for a mixture of dried rose leaves, cloves and nutmeg beaten to a powder and kept in little cloth bags for the chest of drawers.

3. To Blacken Eyelashes

Before the invention of mascara as we know it as a tube and wand, a certain French perfumer-entrepreneur Eugène Rimmel invented the world’s first commercially available mascara. The 1872 lash-plumping formula consisted of a wand which looked like a mini-toothbrush, and a cake of pigment made of petroleum jelly and coal dust. For a flirty fix at home, Victorian ladies would use the juice of elderberries or even burnt corks to “Get the London Look”!

4. To Prevent Hysteria

“Hysteria” was a catch-all, pretty lazy psychological “diagnosis” from times gone by. It referred to females displaying symptoms such as anxiety, neurosis and “emotionally charged behaviour”, including “sexual forwardness” – yikes. One remedy taken from The Housewife’s Receipt-Book, 1837, suggests finely pounded caraway seeds, ginger and salt spread upon bread and butter to be consumed early in the morning and before going to bed. That should do the trick!

5. To Remove Wrinkles

Yep, this is precisely the heading it’s listed under in The Complete Servant from 1825 – move over Botox! The elixir calls for two ounces of onion juice, two ounces of white lily water, two ounces of honey and an ounce of white wax mixed in a ceramic pot and melted over coals on the fire. Stir with a wooden spatula until cooled, apply at night, and be prepared for dazzling results in the morning. Who knew!?


Do you have any peculiar old-fashioned tips and tricks? Let us know in the comments on Facebook!

Nicole Parnis

Nicole is a culture writer and lifestyle journalist with a passion for fashion, food, music and anything retro. She indulges by thrifting her Sundays away at flea markets, followed by a cappuccino or two in a pretty village square.

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