However, a study published today suggests that the age of service is thriving in the modern era, with a new study showing that increasing numbers of ordinary families are turning to their own Jeeves or Mary Poppins for help around the home.
In a sign that the Upstairs Downstairs lifestyle is no longer a luxury enjoyed by Britain’s elite, more than one in four households in Britain hire some form of domestic help.
The survey of more than 2,000 people found 28 per cent currently employ help around their home, such as a cleaner, nanny, or gardener, as families look to juggle their working and home lives.
While the trend is strongest among households with children, with nearly a third of families making use of such services, singletons too are turning to domestic staff. More than a quarter of those who live alone regularly employ an extra pair of hands, such are the demands of their careers and social lives.
Echoing the survey’s findings, concierge firms north of the Border said there has been a significant increase in demand from working families with average earnings. Commonplace duties, such as cleaning and ironing, are the most routine requests. The companies are also helping with 21st-century dilemmas, like uploading songs to an iPod, or setting up broadband connections.
The survey, commissioned by a home insurance firm, found that among those who currently hire help, around one in six have gardeners and one in eight have house cleaners and two-thirds have window cleaners.
On average, people pay out £45.75 a month cash in hand to their domestic helpers, although in stark contrast to the Edwardian era, the clients are not necessarily wealthy – some 40 per cent of people who use domestic help have a household income of £28,000 or less.
One in nine of those polled admit longer working hours limit the spare time they have to maintain their homes, while one in 20 stated a preference for spending free time enjoying themselves rather than doing chores.
Mariella MacLeod, the founder of Dickory Dock, a Glasgow-based lifestyle management and concierge service, said she was not surprised by the findings.
She explained: “Ten to fifteen years ago, concierge services were for the very wealthy, the multimillionaires, but recently, especially in the last five years, it has become much more affordable. I have a selection of customers and they are not all rich.
“Working people are needing to stay in the office for longer hours nowadays and employers don’t look kindly on them calling a joiner from work. It helps them to have someone to take care of those jobs.”
She added: “The variety of jobs we have done over the past few years is amazing, and our job is to find solutions for people – if someone is heading out for work in the morning, and the dishwasher breaks down, we’re there to help. I’ve helped upholster furniture, upload songs to iPods, all kinds of jobs.”
The survey for LV= comes at a time when the UK government has floated an initiative which raised the possibility of tax breaks for people who hire domestic staff as a way of generating extra jobs and freeing more women so that they can join the workforce.
John O’Roarke, managing director of LV= home insurance, said: “Employing someone to help out in and around the home is no longer a luxury only afforded to the privileged few. With millions of people working longer hours, employing a helping hand is increasingly seen as a necessity to ensure a good work-life balance.”
• Servants led a repressed life with a strict pecking order
IN the Edwardian era, domestic staff working in country piles would adhere to a strict, hierarchical pecking order, made up of at least a dozen bodies, and sometimes many more.
They would include a dizzying array of workers tasked with very specific tasks, such as, stable boys, maids, and valets, along with those higher up the social scale, such as a chef, a housekeeper and a butler.
Such roles were widespread throughout the country. According to records from 1901, 1.5 million people were employed in domestic service at the beginning of the Edwardian era. While the great houses were also home to the domestic staff as well as the families they looked after, and sometimes provided advancement as well as employment, it was often a repressed and limited life.
It was common for staff to abide by a host of rules, such as having to stand still when being spoken to.