Workshop 1: The material cultures of country house servants

The network hosted its first workshop on “The material culture of country house servants” at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) on 23 January 2024. Six of the network’s members shared their research on servants and material culture, each showcasing very rich material.

Economic historian Göran Ulväng (Uppsala University, Sweden) highlighted the huge differences between housekeepers’ and maids’ wages and possessions in Swedish country houses in the eighteenth century. This presentation also sparked a discussion on credit among the audience. Anne Sophie Overkamp (University of Tübingen, Germany) fascinated the audience with rich descriptions of the thick bedding and wealth compiled in duvets in her German country houses.

Elizabeth Jamieson (Attingham Study Programme, University of Oxford, National Trust; UK) shed light on the servants working with horses and transportation – seen through art and material culture. Particularly one picture of a livery coat that had been passed down from footman to footman brought out the people inside the uniforms. Alyssa Myers (Manchester Metropolitan University and English Heritage, UK) emphasized how the lackeys and footmen serving dinner would function almost as décor in the country house, an important part of the dining experience. Kerry Bristoll (Leeds University and National Trust, UK) talked about the Wynn family’s difficulties in hiring and keeping servants for their estate of Nostell in Yorkshire, and their house in St. James’ Square, London. Finally, Jon Stobart (Manchester Metropolitan University) discussed evolving elements of comfort in servants’ possessions over the eighteenth century, prompting us to consider servants’ comfort and privacy, rather than their day jobs.