In large households, scullery maids were hired to assist the cook. Scullery maids, who were usually very young girls, were also the lowest-ranked of the female servants. As such they were the first to wake up in the morning and the last to go to bed, worked very hard and were looked down upon even by the other servants. They didn’t even eat at the communal servants’ dining hall table, because they had to stay in the kitchen to keep an eye on the food that was still cooking. But what were her duties?
In their book, The complete servant, Samuel and Sarah Adams write:
It is the business of this servant to light the fires in the kitchen range, and under the copper or boilers, and stew-holes—to wash up all the plates and dishes—scour and clean all the sauce-pans, stew-pans, kettles, pots, and all other kitchen utensils; and to take care that all the latter are always kept clean, dry, and fit for use. She is to assist the kitchen-maid in picking, trimming, washing and boiling the vegetables, cleaning the kitchen and offices, the servants’-hall, housekeeper’s room, and steward’s room; and to clean the steps of the front door and the area. She makes the beds for the stable men—and generally fetches, carries, and clears away for the cook and kitchenmaid, and otherwise assists in all the laborious parts of the kitchen business. [Wages from 8 to 12 guineas a year.]
But that’s not all. The scullery maid was sometimes also required to do other heavy tasks such helping with the laundry and pumping water. It certainly wasn’t an enviable position but, like Mrs Beeton pointed out in her The Book of Household Management, scullery maids could sometimes be promoted to kitchen maid and eventually up to a cook:
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.
A Life of Service, a BBC Radio Scotland programme, has interviewed a woman who worked as a scullery maid in the 1930s. You can hear her describing her job, which boarded on slavery, here.
The Book of Household Management by Mrs Beeton
The complete servant, by Samuel and Sarah Adams