But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Although the Bennets were of somewhat higher means than the Dashwoods, they still employed only a few servants for their small country cottage, despite their dwindling budget and with so many able young daughters.
As most of us have made do without servants and somehow managed to fend for ourselves quite easily, it probably seems a bit odd that a family whose finances have taken a shock would employ any servants. However, according to Kelly Giles in her essay Help!—Servants During the Regency, “before electricity and indoor plumbing it took a lot of manpower (or more often womanpower) to keep a household running. Keeping even a modest home lit, heated, and clean could be a full-time job. Maintaining a grand home and an equally grand lifestyle might require a small army. The Duke of Westminster employed 50 servants at Eaton Hall.” Additionally, the local economy relied heavily on the availability of such positions. Domestic service was one of the few employment opportunities for those of lesser means, especially for women. Many families had members in service for several generations.
However large estates such as Netherfield and Pemberley would need as many as one hundred servants to take care of both the house and the grounds effectively. It took a ton of hands to keep everything running smoothly so that the stewards of the estates could preserve them for future generations
If you are curious about the servants necessary for the running of homes of wealthier families, PeriodDrama.com has compiled a useful list of the “servant hierarchy” of the nineteenth century:
Served, but were not considered Servants
Maids-of-all-work (“between maids”)
Kitchen Maid Scullery Maid
For more detailed information about the individual positions mentioned above, definitely check out PeriodDrama.com.
(The 1920’s maid’s memoir that inspired the creation of Downton Abbey. Not the same century, granted, but still a super cool resource!)