Licence for a male servant

Licence for a male servant

Printed slip with green writing issued by Inland Revenue. The details about the servant kept and the place are filled in in black ink.
Licence for a male servant, XIV.1873

This small slip of paper licenses the Dean and Canons of Windsor to employ one male servant in the year 1873. Richard Cope, then the Chapter Clerk, had paid 15 shillings on their behalf for this privilege – effectively a tax on employing certain male staff.

Several of these licences survive in St George’s Chapel Archives, dating between 1870 and 1889. They are each dated to January of their respective year and remain valid until the following 31 December. A notice at the bottom of the licence warns the bearer that, if they continue to employ a male servant, a fresh declaration must be completed after 31 December so that a new licence can be issued before the end of the next January. The annual fee of 15 shillings was equivalent to about two days’ wages for a skilled labourer in the late nineteenth century.

The census results for 1871, 1881 and 1891 show a great many servants living in the College of St George, as each of the members of Chapter employed their own household staff. Their households varied dramatically in size. It was quite common to have one cook and one maid, perhaps with the addition of a nurse if there was a young child in the house. On the other hand, in the 1871 census it is recorded that Canon Frederick Anson maintained a staff of fourteen people in No. 4 The Cloisters, where he lived with his wife and their seven children. Their household comprised a butler, housekeeper, footman, lady’s maid, house maid, under house maid, school room maid, nurse, nursery maid, under nursery maid, cook, kitchen maid, coachman and groom! In spite of this, the two young nieces staying with them on the night of 2 April 1871 had each brought their own lady’s maid with them.

However all arrangements, such as appointment, salary and licences, for personal household staff would have been taken care of by the dean, canons and minor canons privately. The fact that Mr Cope was registering this particular licence in the name of the Dean and Canons suggests that the servant in question was an employee of the College of St George, not of an individual.

But why was a licence required for an employee?

The answer to this lies one century earlier. In 1777 a new “servant tax” was introduced in England and Wales. This tax was intended to raise funds for the Government to support the war against rebels in the American colonies. It was deliberately limited to high status servants who performed non-essential work and were thus likely to be found in the wealthiest houses. All of these were male servants – butlers, footmen, grooms, game keepers and so on. Labourers and general domestic staff were not included. From 1785-1792 the “servant tax” was extended to female servants. However, female servants were considered lower-status and generally employed in essential domestic chores. The effect of this was that middle-income families struggled and opportunities for employment for women became even more limited, so the tax was repealed after only a few years.

In the nineteenth century, with the tax limited to male servants only and the costs of the Napoleonic Wars rising, the list of service-types eligible for taxation was expanded. After 1812, it included all male domestic and estate servants, those who worked in taverns and shops, farm labourers, factory workers and even office workers, such as Mr Cope. The single male servant licenced by the Dean and Canons each year is never named, nor is his work described, but it is possible that it was Mr Cope himself, a clerical servant to the College of St George.

You can read more about the origins of the “servant tax” at this link.

Kate McQuillian, Archivist and Chapter Librarian

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.