Servant Bells

"Lydia, my love, ring the bell. I must speak to Hill, this moment." --from Chapter 13 of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice

The invention of a non-electrical internal bell system was advertised in London in 1744 as an invention that would enhance privacy. With this bell system, servants could be called from the kitchen level and need not be an intrusive presence in the family area of the house. Before the invention of the bell system, servants were a ubiquitous presence within rooms or stationed in the hallway just outside the door so that they could be quickly summoned.

servants bell
In the living areas, a piece of tapestry ribbon disguised the bell pull. A copper wire, covered by the piece of tapestry, ending with a brass loop hung from the wall. A tug on the brass loop carried the tug along the copper bell wire to a spring at the other end with a bell mounted on it. When the spring in the lower servant area of the house vibrated from a pull on the wire, a bell would ring. The bells were usually mounted on the wall of the hall outside the kitchens. Each bell had a metal label above it indicating the room it connected to. Footmen would sit on a bench beneath a row of bells waiting to be summoned. The servant then went up to the room to which they had been summoned and found out what was wanted and performed the service, which often entailed returning to the kitchens.

Servants were an absolute necessity in the Georgian and Regency time periods because of the large amount of labor necessary to maintain even a modest establishment. Heating a house required carrying wood or coal to fireplaces in the rooms in use and removal of ash. Laundry, beyond the hard labor of hand wringing wet clothing, required large amounts of heated water which in turn required more carrying of fuel for a fire. The hot water heater was not yet invented. Cast Iron kitchen ranges often had a hot water reservoir around the outside of the firebox to get the most use out of the cooking fire. Meal preparation also required more fuel. Most London houses did not have running water above the English basement kitchen level, so all water for bathing and cleaning had to be carried upstairs. Then there were meals to be served, beds to be made, and candles and lamps to replaced or filled and lit. Imagine housekeeping without a vacuum. Carpets must be taken out hung up on the clothes line and beaten, then returned to their place and the furniture moved back. It took a virtual army of servants to maintain a large establishment like a ducal residence. Fifty servants were employed in maintaining the Duke of Westminster's grand house Eaton Hall.

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