Culture Magazine

Servants' Bells

By Carolineld @carolineld
Having servants may have been a luxury, but part of the cost was loss of privacy. Until well into the eighteenth century, there was no easy way to summon them from another part of a large house. A servant would therefore stay in the room with their employers, or just outside the door, so that they could be quickly called when needed. Only in 1744 was a bell system invented, enabling servants to be in other parts of the house until rung for.
Servants' bellsBy the nineteenth century, such systems had become standard in larger households. They were familiar enough to Victorian readers for a bell-pull to play a key role in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Speckled Band.
The board of labelled bells pictured here is in Tyntesfield, a Victorian mansion in North Somerset. As electrical systems progressed, more modern systems would have smaller boards indicating which bell had been rung and a discreet button instead of a bell pull.
While such a system may seem the height of luxury to us, the New York Times of 1894 disagreed. In an article on Englishmen's dining rooms, it observed:
Such a convenience as a table bell is an unknown article of furnishing. Should the servant by any chance be wanted when out of the room, even at dinner, the mistress will rise from her chair and cross to the mantel, by the side of which is an electric button or bell pull communicating with the kitchen.

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