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Medieval to 16th century | 17th - 19th century | Garden Restoration | The Nonsuch Restoration Project

~ Informative articles on the history of gardening and garden restoration ~

Directions for Servants


As many very well meaning servants are ignorant of the best method of managing; and by that means cannot, (with the best possible intention) give satisfaction to their new mistresses, we shall here give a few instructions, which by their adhering to, will enable them to do their duty with more ease to themselves, and to satisfy their employers

Many of the remarks will not be found altogether undeserving of the attention of their mistress.

Flour should be kept in a cool dry room; and the bag being tied, should be changed from top to bottom every week.

Vegetables keep best on a stone floor, if the air is excluded.

Meat, sugar, sweetmeats, candles, dried meats, hams etc., should all be kept in a cool dry place.

Seeds of all sorts, for puddings, etc., should be close covered to preserve them from insects.

Soap, when first brought in should be cut with a wire, or a piece of twine, in pieces that form a long square; it should be kept out of the air for a fortnight, or three weeks; for, if it dries quick, it will crack, and break when wetted. It should be put upon a shelf with a small piece between each piece, and suffered to grow hard gradually. Adopting this mode will save a full third in the consumption of it.

Soda, by softening the water, saves a great deal of soap. It must be melted in a large jug of water, some of it should be poured into tubs and boilers, and when the lather becomes weak, more should be added. Soft soap is, if properly used, a saving of nearly half the quantity; and though something more costly than hard, is considerably cheaper, by its going much farther.

The price of starch depends upon that of flour; the best will keep in a good dry room for years; and when bread is cheap it may be bought to advantage, and kept covered close for use.

Candles are best made in cold weather. The prices of candles and soap rise and fall together; when they are likely to be high-priced it would be prudent to lay in a stock of both, as they are the better for keeping. This may be easily ascertained from the tallow-chandler. There are a few articles that better deserve attending to laying in, and allowing a proper quantity according to the size of the family.

Paper, by keeping, improves in quality; and, if bought by the ream from large dealers will be much cheaper than purchased by the quire. The surprising increase of the price of this article may be accounted for by additional duties, and a larger consumption besides the monopoly of rags: of the latter it is said there is a great scarcity. This might perhaps in some measure be obviated, if an order were given to the servants of every family to keep a bag to put all the waste bits and cuttings into.

Every article should be kept in its proper place, by which much waste may be avoided.

The custom of cutting bread in the room has been much adopted lately; by which means much waste may be guarded against. It should be kept in earthen pans and covers, and it should not be cut till at least a day old.

The best method of preserving blankets from moths is to fold them up, and lay them between feather beds and mattresses that are in use; they should be sometimes shaken. When soiled, they should be washed, not scoured.

When herbs are ordered, use basil, savory, and knotted marjoram, or London thyme; they must be used with care, as they are very powerful.

Pears should be tied by the stalks; and the straw that apples are laid on should be quite dry. Some of the lemons and oranges used for juice, should first be pared to preserve the peel dry; some should be halved, and when squeezed, the pulp cut out, and the outsides dried for grating. If for boiling in any liquid, the first way is best. When these fruits are cheap, a proper quantity should be bought, and prepared as above directed.

Bacon, when it has been salted about a fortnight, should be put into a box about the size of the pieces to be preserved, on a good bedding of hay, and each piece wrapped round with hay, and a layer of hay put between every two flitches or pieces. The box must be closed to keep out the rats, etc. It will thus keep good as at first, without the possibility of getting rusty, for more than a twelvemonth. It must be kept in a dry place.

When the whites of eggs are used for jellies or other purposes, puddings, custards, etc., they should be made to employ the yolks also.

Should you not want them for several hours, beat them up with a little water, and put them in a cool place, otherwise they will be hardened and useless. it is a mistake to suppose that the whites make cakes and puddings heavy; on the contrary, if beaten long and separately, the contribute greatly to give lightness, are a great advantage to paste, and make a pretty dish beaten with fruit, to set in cream, etc.

If chocolate, coffee, jelly, gruel, bark, etc., be suffered to boil over, the strength is lost.

The cook should be encouraged to be careful of coal and cinders; for the latter there is a new contrivance to sift, without dispersing the dust of the ashes, by means of a covered tin bucket. Small coal wetted makes the strongest fire for the back, but it must not be stirred till it cakes. Cinders wetted give great heat, and are better than coals for furnaces, ironing-stoves, and ovens.

Great care should be taken of jelly-bags, tapes for collarings, etc. which, if not well-scalded and kept dry, give an unpleasant flavour the next time they are used.

If copper utensils are used in the kitchen, great care should be taken not to let the tin be rubbed off; and to have them fresh tinned when the first defect appears, and never to put by any gravy, soup, etc. in them, or in any metal utensil; stone and earthen vessels are best for those purposes, as likewise plenty of common dishes should be provided, that the table set may be used to put by cold meat on.

Tin vessels, if kept damp, soon rust which causes holes. Fenders, tin linings of flower pots, etc. should be painted every year or two.

Vegetables soon sour, and corrode metals and glazed red ware, by which a strong poison is produced. Vinegar does the same by its acidity, the glazing being of lead or arsenic.

To cool liquor in hot weather, dip a cloth in cold water, and wrap it two or three times around the bottle: then place it in the sun. Repeat the process twice.

The advantage to be derived by the foregoing remarks, must be obvious to every one.


Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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