Within the wealth of literature on the country house and the elite, housekeeping has been easily ignored as insignificant expenditure overall. A few academics have mentioned the total sums of housekeeping at Wentworth Woodhouse (country seat of the Marquis of Rockingham and later the Earls Fitzwilliam) simply because of their relevance to general matters of elite consumption and highlighted the extravagances embodied by the substantial architectural plan of that house in particular. One in particular pointed out that the second Marquis of Rockingham spent £2,536 in 1759 on his stables and kennels, a sum which nearly matched that for housekeeping at £2,050 for the same year. The feeling gained from the historiography of the gentry and aristocracy is one of disregard for domestic expenditure. This may be because it has not evoked excitement in the same way as lavish architectural embellishment or entrepreneurial risk and agrarian development, even when these ultimately affected both the size of the household and its relative needs.
Household costs or housekeeping were generally the essentials – the living costs incurred in the country house. Global household account books would be written out in different styles depending upon those in charge of keeping them. Some would categorise aspects of the household such as servant wages, sundries, lighting and fuels, clothing, and general labour on the estate. Others might simply list everything as an outgoing per week and this seems to have been the most common method.
Throughout the first half of the eighteenth century, the regular servants at Wentworth Woodhouse received a total of about £300 in wages per annum, an amount which would increase when extra labour was needed in the event of a grand entertainment. The steward’s cash book for 1724-32 showed that over £2,000 was disbursed per annum with the £300 expenditure for household wages and a further £500 for additional labour incurred through building projects and landscaping the parks and gardens. The supply and demand of food at Wentworth Woodhouse depended upon these numbers plus the presence of extra guests at the house as recorded in day books and lists of people invited to dine with the Marquis.
Maintaining an appearance of self-sufficiency of the large estate meant variable costs in maintaining the household included foodstuffs like malt, barley and wheat could be supplied by the home farm. Large households made extensive use of home farms and parks but the cost per annum of external purchases could devour funds. For a thirty-year period between 1760 and 1790 at Wentworth expenditure of this sort included lean cattle and sheep, corn, hay and straw, housekeeping, furniture, liveries, cellar costs and incidentals all of which came to about £5,000 each year.The cost alone of fattening cattle and sheep before slaughtering came somewhere between £200 and £300 per annum.
(To understand the spending power of such sums in today’s money, then multiply by about sixty. So £5,000 would equal £300,000, and £300 would equal £18,000. To put this into further perspective, consider the running costs of York Minster today which exceed £3.6million per year!)
Supervising the household accounts was a key activity for the elite woman (wife, sister or daughter) in the country house. It represented a step into a traditionally perceived dimension of masculine activity and would demand she pay attention to detail, and maintain communication with the upper male servants like the steward, butler, clerk of the kitchen and maybe a footman. It was a sphere dominated by numerical activity, arithmetic and precision. For the elite mistress it was about gaining confidence in the socio-economic structure of her marital home and not growing ignorant of matters of expenditure and their effects upon staffing and provisioning.
However, it was extremely uncommon for women to be formally tutored in arithmetic. Few contemporary women writers sought to correct this matter, but the tutoring in book-keeping for many elite women may well have begun in the parental home. It was not unusual for women to receive some kind of instruction from an accomplished housekeeper, or an elderly relative. Fathers may have taught their daughters how to manage larger amounts of wealth, but it is most likely that mothers urged their female offspring to keep a pocket-book or to supervise the household accounts in order to be prepared in marriage for moments when her husband was away on business for long periods. Female accomplishment was deemed perfect in its most creative form through drawing, dancing, and paper and needle crafts. Knowledge of one or two European languages was an advantage on the marriage market, but the key activity in running a home was distinctly lacking. Book-keeping and accounts management in some form had to have been taught to young girls or they would founder early in their marriage.
Mary Rockingham (nee Bright) by Thomas Hudson, c.1750 copyright Muncaster Castle, Cumbria.
Mary Watson-Wentworth (née Bright, 1735-1804), second Marchioness of Rockingham was thought to have had a fortune worth £60,000. Mary proved advantageous with her inheritance of the estates at Badsworth and Eccleshall and moiety of AckworthPark. But on the other hand these estates had been weighed down by jointures and debt and though her portion was set at a wholesome £5,000, she would only receive £500 from the Rockingham estates which upon her marriage had sufficiently swallowed up anything left of the Brights as a separate family entity. By placing a supervisory eye upon the accounts a woman like Mary Rockingham as heiress was showing awareness of the financial investments being made upon her marriage portion as well as ensuring her lawful right to pin-money during marriage and a jointure if widowed. In this instance, it was crucial for her to pay attention to even the smallest of household expenditure, she might, after all, have found it convenient when meeting her own consumer desires to supplement some of the household costs through her own personal spending.
It is not unusual to discover in archives today pages and pages of correspondence containing instructions, queries and commissions written to stewards from masters and mistresses whilst at home on the estate or away in London or on the continent. Account books themselves can fetch up a great deal of information at any level including staffing, provisioning, open market costs, and transportation. Pages might note the presence of servants and auxiliary staff and recorded the specialist goods which belonged to the department of housekeeping and provisioning with lists made up of mainly grocery items like fuel, lighting and foodstuffs.
At Wentworth Woodhouse households expenses were logged within large bound volumes and supplementary papers; the grandest dating between 1769 and 1775. This was a key period in the household which saw the purging of untrustworthy staff and the re-evaluation of running costs. The Marchioness personally checked this ‘housekeeper’s book of stores’ and discussed any discrepancies with the steward Benjamin Hall directly. On several occasions she anxiously enquired after the rising costs of goods and what she perceived to be unnecessary quantities of stock being bought in compared to previous years:
I must now add something of my own relative to what you mention about the stores, for the Housekeeper I can’t but think they must be better bought in London and when you send me a list of all the sorts that will be seen in Martha’s book what quantities have been ordered in other years which I should like an account of and after talking the matter over with the Housekeeper if you find you can apply for a lesser stock this year so much the better.
The housekeeper, Mrs Elizabeth Broughton, was beginning to appear troublesome to Mary Rockingham especially when expenses seem to rise without good reason. To remedy this she approached her, but to no avail and Mary wrote to the steward again, ‘I am sorry my last conversation with her had so little effect in bringing about an amendment in her attention’. Once an impending marriage between Broughton and the Wentworth Land Surveyor, Mr Townley was announced in March 1773, Mary Rockingham wryly asserted that in ‘changing her name [she may] also change her behaviour in a more diligent care of all the particulars of her department’. Broughton remained a constant theme of Mary’s letters to her steward at Wentworth Woodhouse until the summer of that year when the Rockinghams were forced to let Broughton go altogether. A sloppy housekeeper was a disgraced creature; thrift was her most important virtue.
The book itself was laid out with each month to view on a double page spread in tablature format. Columns related to days of the week, weekly totals including quantities of goods consumed in that week, the replenishing of goods, and the total stock carried forward. What the book of stores does not always reveal was the actual cost of goods which had been bought on the open market. On the other hand it does provide some clarity in regards to country house production as an aspect of provisioning, especially with distilled waters and made wines, yet, this practice appeared to have ended by July 1769 when no entries were made for distilled waters and a year later the heading for that column had been abandoned altogether. No more peppermint and strawberry waters, no more cowslip, currant and birch wines.
On a different level, the household account books in particular can show instances of difficult social interaction with notes and marginalia highlighting brief employment, dismissals or even immoral behaviour! The Rockinghams were eventually inclined to dismiss their housekeeper Elizabeth Broughton because her manner was unsuitable to their domestic reorganisation at Wentworth Woodhouse during the early to mid 1770s. The previous worries Mary Rockingham may have had about discrepancies in the housekeeping stores were later discovered to be justified when Broughton was thought to have taken 11¼ pounds of common green tea and 446 pounds of ball soap with her upon her sending away. The theft of such a weight of goods suggests that Broughton had her accomplices and that the ball soap was either taken from Wentworth in smaller amounts or more covertly in one single attempt at embezzlement. Mary should have been made aware of the advice of William Ellis in his The Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750) when he presented an example of ‘A Lady now living, who…refused to hire any [servants] in her own Neighbourhood…because she thought her Goods the better secured from…the Enticements of wicked Parents or Neighbours’. The thought of making money from the sale of Wentworth ball soap and tea was clearly enticement enough for Broughton and her husband.
Unfortunately, I do not know what happened to the Wentworth Woodhouse housekeeper after her dismissal. The Rockinghams eventually hired another by 1775 who would prove thifty and responsible – the perfect model housekeeper despite her having a young son. The management of the household accounts was a crucial role and demanded attention from several members if things were to run smoothly. Wentworth Woodhouse proved an expensive establishment to inhabit from its very conception, and must have been a bustling place in its heyday; the 606ft east front, courtyards, corridors and impressive state rooms are testament to this notion. However, it rarely sees a visitor these days as it remains a private residence for an optimistic architect currently in the process of renovating portions of the house.
The majority of papers relating to Wentworth Woodhouse between c.1700 to the present are to be found at Sheffield Archives, 52 Shoreham Street, Sheffield, S1 4SP. These include estate and family papers of Thomas Watson-Wentworth, 1st Marquis of Rockingham (1693-1750), papers of Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham (1730-1782, papers of William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), papers of Charles Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 5th Earl Fitzwilliam (1786-1857). There is a wealth of material relating to the accounts and finances of the household and estate, much of which has been the focus of studies on the mining activity under the administration of the Earls Fitzwilliam.
Wentworth Woodhouse entry from the DiCamillo Companion, http://www.dicamillocompanion.com/houses_detail.asp?ID=2084
Up-to-date renovation details can be found at http://www.rothbiz.co.uk/2011/03/news-1850-wentworth-woodhouse.html
Charles Watson-Wentworth at Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Watson-Wentworth,_2nd_Marquess_of_Rockingham
Muncaster Castle holds many portraits of key people and personalities and is definitely worth checking out if staying in the Lake District http://www.muncaster.co.uk/ You might be surprised by what you find! And Mr and Mrs Gordon-Duff-Pennington are lovely, amiable people, a fact which is evident throughout the castle.
Catherine Bailey, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, (London: Penguin 2007)
Christopher Clay, ‘Marriage, Inheritance, and the Rise of Large Estates in England, 1660-1815’. Economic History Review XXI, second series (1968)
William Ellis, The Country Housewife’s Family Companion.London (1750), pp.iv-v.
John Habakkuk, Marriage, Debt, and the Estates System: English Landownership 1650-1950 (Oxford, 1994).
G. E. Mingay, English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century (1963), p. 159.
Paul Nunn. ‘Aristocratic Estates and Employment in South Yorkshire, 1700-1800, Essays in the Economic and Social History of South Yorkshire (1976). Edited by Sidney Pollard and Colin Holmes, pp.28-41, p. 40 See also, Nunn, ‘The Management of Some South Yorkshire Landed Estates in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, Linked with the Central Economic Development of the Area.’ (Ph.D thesis, University of Sheffield, 1985), pp.520, 565-68.
Peter Roebuck, Yorkshire Baronets, 1640-1760: Families, Estates, and Fortunes. University of Hull (Oxford, 1980), pp.243-245.