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Below Stairs

Many domestic staff found the College community a very happy place in which to work.


Royal Holloway's Domestic Staff

(RHC PH/208/3/2)

Some of the maids, being of a similar age to the students, got on very well with the girls whose rooms they cleaned everyday. Students gratitude was shown by the fact that there were tip-boxes into which students put tips for their maids. However, there wasn't absolute harmony. Senior maids spoke of having to break in first year students to make them conform to established practices.

“The senior corridor maids were real dragons. I incurred their wrath for removing my sheets from my bed for laundering on the wrong day, and had a note left for me saying that this was “their” job. At the end of each summer term the maids could be heard muttering that the new term would mean another batch of students to be “broken in”. -

Reminiscences of Joyce Pentelow, RHC student 1938-42 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/7


“We were waited on by maids. There was an Irish maid who looked after my bedroom – she didn’t think much of me. I remember one time saying to her that my plant had died, I forgot to water it. And she said, “God help the flowers that have to depend on you!” They were certainly not servile domestics – they were very happy with their life. They had a much more exciting life than we did.” - Reminiscences of Mrs. Burt, RHC student 1939-41 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/3)  

Facilities were provided for domestic and maintenance staff to make the drudgery of their jobs more bearable. The students' maids were resident on the 5th floor of Founder's, where they had their own common rooms. The were provided with gramophones for small parties, whilst bigger parties were thrown for them at Christmas in the Picture Gallery. However, maids also had to abide by the same restrictions as students. They had to be in by 10pm and they were not allowed males in their rooms without a chaperone.

Rules for Maids


(RHC AR/161/1)


However, they had ways of getting around the regulations. One maid working at the College in 1946 recalled that maids would hide groups of boys in the store-rooms on the west-wing's fifth floor. They also had secret arrangements with students, who would leave windows open for them after hours and the boiler house man who would leave the gate open so that the maids could run down the tunnel towards the College and come up on the east-side after they had been out in Staines.


“If you had a boyfriend up in your room you had to have a chaperone, you were never supposed to be in the room with your chap. But obviously I couldn’t have asked one of my friends, they wouldn’t have come in. So we used to hide them all in West 5, because it was only stores. I would jump into bed, fully clothed, and put the sheet up around me, and when they knocked on the door they would come in and say “Goodnight” and check to see that you were in bed. Then we used to go up and bring our boyfriends down into the sitting room. It was just one big happy crowd.” - Memories of Eileen Doe, Maid, c.1947 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/4)

However, there were attempts to sustain the Victorian social hierarchy within the workplace. The tunnel that runs from underneath the Founder's building to the Boiler House was built so that the delicate sensibilities of the girls would not be upset by the sight of menservant and their carts.



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