Scullery maid

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Oil painting of a scullery maid by Jean-Siméon Chardin

In great houses, scullery maids were the lowest-ranked and often the youngest of the female domestic servants[1] and acted as assistant to a kitchen maid.[2]


The scullery maid reported (through the kitchen maid) to the cook or chef. Along with the junior kitchen-maid, the scullery maid did not eat at the communal servants' dining hall table, but in the kitchen in order to keep an eye on the food that was still cooking.[3]

Duties of the scullery maid included the most physical and demanding tasks in the kitchen[1] such as cleaning and scouring the floor, stoves, sinks, pots, and dishes. After scouring the plates in the scullery, she would leave them on racks to dry. The scullery maid also assisted in cleaning vegetables, plucking fowl, and scaling fish.[4]

The Book of Household Management[edit]

The duties of the scullery-maid are to assist the cook; to keep the scullery clean, and all the metallic as well as earthenware kitchen utensils.

The position of scullery-maid is not, of course, one of high rank, nor is the payment for her services large. But if she be fortunate enough to have over her a good kitchen-maid and clever cook, she may very soon learn to perform various little duties connected with cooking operations, which may be of considerable service in fitting her for a more responsible place. Now, it will be doubtless thought by the majority of our readers, that the fascinations connected with the position of the scullery-maid, are not so great as to induce many people to leave a comfortable home in order to work in a scullery.

Mrs. Beeton, The Book of Household Management, published 1861[5]

Additional duties[edit]

Scullery maids cleaned metallic and earthenware kitchen utensils, but not fine china, stemware, crystal or plate silver.

The scullery maid provided hot water for the scullery, kitchen tasks, and household. In addition to her other tasks, the scullery maid had to keep the scullery clean by clearing away meat and vegetable garbage, scrubbing work tables, and swilling the floors. The water was carried through a drain outside the house.[6] Scullery maids would rarely have handled fine china, stemware, crystal or plate silver; these are cleaned by housemaids and footmen. Before the advent of central heating systems, scullery maids were required to light the fires on the kitchen stove and supply hot water for tea and washing. She performed these tasks in the morning before the cook came down to the kitchens.[7]

In a household with no between maid, the scullery maid may also have waited on staff in the Servants' hall, although this may have been assigned to another maid or a junior footman. In the days before the indoor water closet she may have been required to empty and clean the servants' chamber pots as well.[8]

This work has, in modern times, primarily been performed by women, but in medieval households female domestics were relatively rare. A male servant performing the tasks described above would be called a scullion. In 1386, when the English Parliament requested the removal of certain of Richard II's ministers, the king infamously responded that he would not dismiss as much as a scullion from his kitchen at parliament's request.[9]

The root of the word scullery is the 1300–50 French word "escuelerie" (pronounced squillerye < equivalent to escuele -dish (< L scutella, dim. of scutra pan) + rie -ry.[10]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

  • In Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, Cosette is treated as a scullery maid for the duration of her stay in Montfermeil.
  • In A Little Princess and its different adaptions, Sara Crew works as a scullery maid for Miss Minchin following what happened to her father and works alongside another scullery maid named Becky.
  • Maria, of the story "Clay" in James Joyce's Dubliners, is widely considered to be a scullery maid.[citation needed]
  • In Jacqueline Wilson's Sapphire Battersea, Hetty Feather becomes a scullery maid
  • In Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, the protagonist Ella becomes a scullery maid for her wicked stepmother.
  • In The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the character Martha is depicted as a scullery maid, although she also performs some housemaid duties such as waiting on the children of the house and directly assisting the head housekeeper.
  • In the song "Dead Man's Chest", the scullion is "stabbed times four".
  • The titular subject of a Beatles song was found to have a corresponding historical person. The song, "Eleanor Rigby", may have come from that of a Liverpool scullery maid.[11]
  • In PBS's Manor House, Ellen Beard (and a few others) played the scullery maid.[12]
  • In the episode "A Tsar Is Born" of the television show Frasier, the Crane brothers learn that their great-grandmother was a scullery maid.
  • In Upstairs, Downstairs, Emily was the first scullery maid until she committed suicide; then Doris and for the briefest time, Sarah until Ruby became the permanent scullery maid.
  • In Downton Abbey, Daisy fulfills both the duties of the kitchen maid as well as those of the scullery maid. These include lighting the fires and helping the cook. She must also stay out of sight of the upstairs family but she is allowed to eat with the other servants in the kitchen. And in season (or series) three Daisy is promoted to assistant cook and Ivy becomes the scullery maid/kitchen maid
  • In You Rang, M'Lord?, Mabel was the scullery maid/charwoman in the House of Meldrum.
  • In My Little Pony and Friends Duchess and her daughter are scullery maids to Prince Phillipe.


  1. ^ a b Valentine Low (3 April 2002). "Modern girl too 'soft' for 1900s life". Evening Standard. Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  2. ^ Children Living in Victorian Britain, p. 13
  3. ^ The Country House Kitchen: 1650-1900, Pamela Sambrook and Peter Brears,1996, ISBN 0-7509-1642-7, p. 85.
  4. ^ The Country House Kitchen, p 85.
  5. ^ Beeton, Isabella (1861). "Chapter 4 - Introduction to Cookery". Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. London: S. O. Beeton Publishing. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  6. ^ The Country House Kitchen, p. 87
  7. ^ Edwardian Life: A Typical Day in the House
  8. ^ Dinner is Served: The Role of English Servants
  9. ^ Saul, Nigel (1997). Richard II. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07003-9. 
  10. ^ Scullery
  11. ^ Connolly, Ray (13 November 2008). "After it was revealed Eleanor Rigby was a Liverpool scullery maid... A look at the real secrets behind the Beatles' lyrics". Daily Mail. United Kingdom. Retrieved 22 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "The People: Ellen Beard: The Scullery Maid: Daily Duties". Manor House. PBS. Retrieved 21 August 2011. 

External links[edit]