Spanking the maid

29Dec10

Back in August last year there was a post on Annie B and her memoir of being in service in the early 20th century. Since then various snippets and other material have been collected to revisit the subject of the corporal punishment of servants.

Since starting this article the Spank Statement has also touched upon this subject, although with a focus on the movies.

For those of you who have seen the recent revival of Upstairs Downstairs, you will know that the BBC have not shied away from our favourite subject, albeit off camera. The cheeky youngest maid has been seen crying after being smacked by the lady of the house’s sister and later it was reported that she could not serve Art Malik’s breakfast because she had been ‘chastised’ again and was crying in the kitchen.

“Is she crying loudly?” Art Malik asks cheerfully.

Actually, it is the young sister of the house that really deserves the spanking, flirting with both the chauffeur and fascism, but that is another story.

It was not at all unusual for girls between 16 and their early twenties to serve as maids in English households right into the early 1960s. It was expected that the employers of such girls should act in loco parentis and spank them when required. Indeed a routine B Movie from the late1950s, title please if anyone recognises it, includes a brief conversation on this very subject between the husband and wife employing such a girl.

“I have had quite enough. Someone should give that girl a sound spanking,” says the husband.

“Don’t look at me, I would have thought that was your job,” the wife replies.

Unfortunately no spanking is carried out.

The age of the domestic servant has now passed and in truth, the classic image of the formal servant only had a brief reign in England. Before the ‘golden age’ of being ‘in-service’, say the mid-19th century to the First World War, the status of servants was much more fluid with many people expected to serve in their youth before ‘getting on’ themselves.

During the Middle Ages the nobility sent their sons and daughters to serve in an allies castle in quite menial positions as part of their education. Even a duke’s son might wait on table or serve as a page until he became a squire, itself servant’s role.

These noble servants were not immune from a firm hand and would not have dreamt of complaining to their families, but would have accepted it as their lot. Great figures such as Catherine de Medici ‘kept about them ladies and girls to thrash for their sport and by way of guidance.’

Even later on, the gentry drew upon poor relatives to serve in their households. This situation was even depicted in the classic 1980s BBC TV series, By the Sword Divided. Set in the 17th century, a distant cousin is taken into the house to serve as a maid. She is threatened with the birch and eventually after a serious betrayal, had her ‘thumbs pricked’ in a device set aside for just this purpose.

This was not only legal, but expected.

In 18th century London, one Thomas Bingham and his wife were notorious for flogging their servants ‘to the blood’ and one occasion turned a maid servant out ‘quite naked’ after being ‘birched sound.’ Their behaviour only came to the notice of the law when one servant died after such treatment. Although even here, the court ‘proved’ them innocent.

In the 19th century the law was also clear. Even after it became illegal in England and Wales to beat your wife, a test case ruled that ‘it was not only fair and just, but a man’s duty to beat his servants when it was required.’

Like Annie B, one Mrs Bannister, wrote of her girlhood in service that ‘cook would not skimp on taking the coal shovel to our behinds when we had a mind for mischief.’

‘Even the upstairs maid was spanked upon her scanties by the mistress. It never did us harm and I myself blistered many a girls bottom on returning to service after becoming a widow.’

In the 1990s there was a series of prints in a York bookshop window depicting a maid’s life. Never having seen them since, only two of the pictures stand out in one’s mind. The first was of a mistress standing over a broken dish in the kitchen with her hands on her hips. Against one hip she held a hairbrush as she severely regarded the cowering maid. Another showed the maid over the mistress’s knee with her skirts turned up and the hairbrush about to descend. None of the prints appeared to be erotic in intent and all had a contemporary 1950s feel to them.

This type of old fashioned maid service lasted up until the early 1960s in the UK. In a recent documentary on Bunny Girls, one of the ‘girls’ now in her 60s said that she became a bunny girl after leaving service as her employer ‘used to smack her if she came in late.’

Who knows what still goes on behind closed doors? Spanking the maid has a long tradition.

Ends.



6 Responses to “Spanking the maid”

  1. Wonderful picture…but is that saucepan about to be deployed as spanking implement?! Until that point, I was 100 percent certain that this was a documentary-type photo…;)

  2. 2 opsimath

    Nice historical underpinning to some of your stories, Damian. I believe CP was much more common in even the 60s, when Domestic Agencies were still to be found in most large towns and cities; I remember a huge place, Severn’s Domestic Agency being around when I was in my teens, and I occasionally met girls who were ‘in service’ who had some quite invigorating tales to tell!

    Thanks and I hope to read even more wonderful stories on your blog in the New Year.

  3. 3 DJ

    Aer,

    I am not sure if its meant to be documentary or not. It is from a series of pictures from the 1930s, I might publish the rest or at least some of them – but they have been used elsewhere.

    Opsimath,

    do tell us more.

    DJ

  4. 4 Christian

    I can’t figure how to leave anonymous comments, so as must leave this vague. I lived in a house with formal servants, and though the times have changed, the mistress of the house still holds sway with some swishy instruments. Excuses and pleading did no good. What went on behind doors isn’t spoken of much, so who’s to say it doesn’t happen more without us being privy.
    Christian

  5. 6 Wizard Birchwand

    If I understand the old hierarchy and protocol correctly I believe it would have been the butler’s job to spank the upstairs (ie chamber) maids and cook’s job to deal with the downstairs (ie kitchen) maids. These two were the real powers in the household and the Master would have left it to them to maintain order and discipline.

    Catherine de Medici is an interesting case because if the historic rumours and gossip are correct it was not just servants she spanked but also her ladies-in-waiting, who were of course all noblewomen and ladies of the court. She was really showing “who is the alpha-female round here!”


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