The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England

The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England

The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England

The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England

Excerpt

WERE it possible to chart accurately the relative size of occupational groups in eighteenth-century England, the servant class would undoubtedly rank with the largest. A variety of economic developments and resulting social changes created a steadily increasing demand for domestics throughout the period; multiple sources furnished a constantly increasing, though generally inadequate, supply.

The chief stimulus to demand was the accelerated growth of the middle classes that accompanied the commercial and industrial expansion of the century. Land no longer remained unrivalled as the principal source of wealth; trade in its various aspects presented numerous possibilities for the acquisition of new fortunes and the improvement of old. For the merchant who imported foreign luxuries and exported domestic staples, for the shipper engaged in the carrying trade and the shopkeeper concerned with the retail market there existed almost unlimited opportunity. Speculation and promotion also enriched a host of obscure men. And manufacturing--particularly during the second half of the period--brought wealth to entrepreneurs such as Joshua Fielden, Jedediah Strutt, Sir Richard Arkwright, and the first Sir Robert Peel. This increase in the number and size of individual fortunes meant new households in some cases, more elaborate households in others. Wealthy merchants like the elder Beckford, desiring to equal the magnificence of the upper classes, made certain that their tables Were as luxurious, their clothes as fashionable, and their houses as . . .

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