Staff Shortages and Servants Houses

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I would never have expected staff shortages to be a problem in the 1800s, but apparently they were. You can’t say history doesn’t repeat itself! Reading through the enormous amount of letters stored within the archives, countless describe the struggles to both recruit and keep staff (or, dare we say, servants) at rural historic Browsholme.

While this isn’t a problem today, thanks to infrastructure and decent roads, in the 1800’s Browsholme was exceptionally rural and for those that worked here extremely isolating. On their days off, there wasn’t much to do - particularly if you wanted to get away from your place of work for the day. To get in to Clitheroe which is only a 10 minute drive today, was nearly a two-hour walk back then, and almost certainly not a safe one at that!

Offering a solution was the proprietor (Matron Mrs Martin) of a new Servant’s House in Strangeways, Manchester, which while famous nowadays for its prison, at the time was only just beginning its decline from what was previously a genteel middle-class suburb. Matron, Mrs Martin, wrote to ask the Parker family of Browsholme for patronage of her enterprise, in return for reliable staff.

She encloses within her letter a leaflet, describing the house and its mission. In the leaflet, the Matron’s house pledges to offer safe and hygienic lodgings for women as opposed to them living in “low, and dirty Lodgings (contaminating to mind and body)” when they’re out of employ. She says the lack of “cheap and respectable lodging has been the primary cause of crime and ruin of young women” and that by living in houses beyond their means to avoid such problems, ultimately “when their little money is expended, they have been compelled to seek a livelihood by dishonest means”.

We’re unclear thus far whether the Parker family of Browsholme took up the patronage, and benefitted from forming an alliance with Matron Mrs Martin. Certainly coming out of Manchester into rural Ribble Valley at the time (and even today!) may have been a culture shock or rather, by the sounds of it for many it may actually have been a welcome escape into honest employment.

If we uncover part 2 of this story, we’ll let you know!

by Eleanor Parker

Feb 22, 2023

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