ABSTRACT

At any one time in Rochdale in the mid-nineteenth century there would probably have been over a thousand men and women employed as some sort of domestic servant. Since service was only a temporary occupation for most women, there must have been a continuous movement out of the occupation and a similar movement into it in order to keep the numbers stable. The normal duration of a woman’s career in service would certainly have been less than 10 years, from leaving her parental home in her teens to marrying in her early twenties. Thus out of the 997 servants recorded in the households samples for Rochdale in the three censal years only 10 servants, traced by their names, ages and places of birth, appeared in more than one census. Only three of these were servants in 1851 and 1871. Many of the other servants may have moved out of the area, and still others may have only temporarily left the occupation to return later. However, this still represents striking confirmation of the belief that domestic service was merely part of the life-cycle of working women.