Doing the Damn Housework; Downton Abbey and You

Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey. Original photo by Dgbtigger123 cropped and tinted by me [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

It seems to me that the problem with doing the Damn Housework is that we’re all amateurs acting like professionals.

Doing the Damn Housework

Professionals take specialised training, sign up to and work to a code of conduct, standards of practice, and accept ethical obligations. They join associations where they can continue to expand their professional knowledge, contacts and reputation. When they take job offers, they receive job descriptions explaining the tasks they must complete, their salary, and their hours. Their employers must maintain safe workplaces, but if they are injured their employers are responsible for paying their medical costs, and wages while they take treatment.

Amateurs don’t get paid. They don’t have job descriptions, only unarticulated expectations placed upon them. They don’t have tasks; they have chores. They don’t have qualifications or professional journals; they must teach themselves how to do their jobs through advertising periodicals masquerading as information and education. They are responsible for their own safety, pay their own costs, and continue to work while they are ill or injured.

Downton Abbey

Let’s look at Downton Abbey for comparison. The show is filmed at Highclere Castle. According to John Riha, the house is 11,148 m² (120,000 sq ft) with 80 bedrooms, 300 windows, 35 fireplaces. That is a lot of house!

Clearly, most amateurs will be working with smaller properties, but they will be trying to get the same level of control with less staff and more (undefined) responsibilities.

Housekeeper (Mrs Hughes)

The first thing to note is that Professional Housekeepers like Mrs Hughes don’t generally do any of the physical work. They coordinate the tasks that need doing and delegate to their direct reports. They may do rounds later in the day to inspect the quality of work to make sure it’s satisfactory. Their primary job is managing the paperwork side of running the house; procurement, accounts, maintenance and replacement of fixtures and household goods, project and event management, staff discipline, and so on. She reports to Carson (the butler), and he lets her know what’s coming up that she needs to prepare for.

Cook (Mrs Patmore)

Technically, Mrs Patmore reports directly to Lady Cora regarding menu planning. But she and Mrs Hughes work closely together to manage the budget, workload and staffing. Assisted by her kitchen maids, she cooks for the servants as well as the family. Has been known to treat Isis (the dog).

Cleaning (Head Housemaid Miss Smith)

Yes I know Anna’s been promoted to Lady’s maid, but we don’t know who replaced her. She was in charge of the day-to-day cleaning operations (doing some herself and delegating to a fleet of assorted housemaids).  It goes on all day; as the family leaves one room, maids will pop in, tidy up and stoke the fire, and make it ready for their return. She’s told when to open rooms for guests, close them when they leave, and the seasonal cleaning of carpets, curtains, and so on.

Laundry (Unnamed Head Laundress)

Does only the very delicate or expensive work herself, and delegates the rest to the laundry maids or sends it out. She’ll let Mrs Hughes know when household linens need replacing,

Other Damn Housework Amateurs Do

These jobs are also fulltime, but we usually don’t spend as much time on them as our homes are smaller. In some cases, someone else in the household will do these jobs.

Valet (Bates)/Lady’s Maid (Baxter)

Personal care of the family, and their clothing. Helping them shave, bathe, set their hair, and dress. Purchase, alter and maintain clothing and toilet articles. Make travel arrangements.


Some amateur housekeepers also have childcare responsibilities and some of them homeschool.

Pet Care

It’s not clear who takes care of the dogs in Downton Abbey, as they are mostly seen hanging around the Earl. But someone has to feed them, clean up after them, groom them and so on.

Head Gardner (Mr Brockit)

Care and maintenance of gardens, food production, and yards.

Stable Master

Car maintenance and provision of chauffeur services.

Librarian (Mr Pakison)

Purchase and maintenance of media materials for the family’s use. Manage property records and estate archive, preserve and conserve artefacts and archival materials.

Another Thing About Professionals

Professionals use time management techniques and productivity methodologies. Their capacity to gain promotion and pay increases are directly linked to their ability to get more done in less time. Not to mention preventing their bosses hounding them about late work!

It’s very rare that you would think about how the same techniques and methodologies can improve your efficiency at home. But if housekeeping is a “second shift” on top of your paid work, then it’s more important than ever to get as efficient as possible so that you can do the essentials and move on.

Increasing Your Damn Housework Productivity

Today, I’m just suggesting you think about how you can do more in less time. For example, how do your dinner dishes get washed; do you:

  • Pile them in your kitchen and go back later to put them in the dishwasher rather than just putting them in the dishwasher?
  • Take everyone’s dishes instead of requiring them to put their dishes in the dishwasher themselves?
  • Restack the dishwasher because your family hasn’t done it “right”?

As you identify your time wasters, think about how you can make your tasks quicker and easier.

How are you wasting time and effort at home?

29th April 2018

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  1. Vicki silva

    I’m finding it impossible to find out who where and how someone did all those dishes in the early 1900s.

    • Alexandria Blaelock

      Hi Vicki!

      Kitchens were usually at the back of the house, often in a basement. They were a suite of rooms, for example, the meat safe, root cellar and scullery. The youngest and least experienced maids washed the dishes in the scullery, thus the term scullery maid.

      If the houses weren’t plumbed, they carried buckets of water into the house, filled the sink, washed the dishes and emptied the water into another bucket, then carried it away. They used harsh abrasives for the pots (sometimes sand), and frothed a sliver of soap in a wire basket in the water for the china.

      Hope that helps.


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