Downstairs in Downton: a guide to the life of an Edwardian servant

Everyday life for a domestic servant in Edwardian townhouses was often far removed from the splendour of their surroundings…

The cast of Downton Abbey in front of Highclere Castle

The Edwardian period in Britain was a time when society still closely resembled that of the Victorian age with clear class divides, but it was also a transformative time. 


In 1911, there were more than 1.3 million people (mainly women) employed as domestic servants in Britain – compared to 1.2 million working in agriculture and around 971,000 coal miners. 

The upstairs/downstairs world of Downton Abbey: how true to life is it?

How much do the relationships on screen reflect the real sensibilities of the Edwardian period and the interwar years – and how do they serve as a reflection of our own perceptions of early 20th century history?

Highclere Castle, is pictured in Highclere, southern England, on May 12, 2016.
As Britain mulls questions of identity and its possible exit from the European Union, 2016 is an anniversary year for three of its most potent symbols: the queen, Shakespeare and gardener "Capability" Brown. Lancelot "Capability" Brown is credited with having created over 170 gardens, among them the grounds of Highclere Castle, made famous as the set of the hit television series Downton Abbey. / AFP / NIKLAS HALLE'N / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY FLORENCE BIEDERMANN        (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP/Getty Images)

The upper classes could afford to have housemaids, cooks and butler to ensure their homes ran efficiently, with minimal effort from the family. A typical Edwardian townhouse would include accommodation for servants who would live alongside the family they served.

Find out more with our infographic guide to life ‘downstairs’ in a typical Edwardian house…

Click to enlarge

Read more about the history behind Downton Abbey here


This infographic first appeared in BBC History Revealed magazine