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Life and Duties of a Victorian Dairy Maid

Much of the popular notions have painted the Victorian dairy maid as a person sharing a romantic relationship with the farmer men. However, most of these misconceptions stand to be debated. There were several other housekeeping staff in a Victorian household.

Duties Performed By Dairy Maids In Victorian Dairy Farms
Duties Performed By Dairy Maids In Victorian Dairy Farms

In reality, the Victorian dairymaid played an integral role in carrying out a number of duties on Victorian dairy farms. This ranged from churning the butter, and cleaning the farmyard, to whipping up the most delectable creams.

Much before large-scale dairy farming took its hold on the region in the 20th century, the dairy maid’s role was crucial for a consistent supply of dairy products and other products churned out from milk by-products.

What was the Attire of the Victorian Dairy Maid?

The mention of a Victorian-era dairy maid instantly conjures in our minds an image of a woman in an apron and a pail of milk in each hand. Interestingly, this was very much the actual attire worn by a dairymaid at the time.

Victorian Dairy Maid
The Victorian Maids

A white blouse and long skirt mainly comprised the ensemble. Completing the look was a frilly white mob cap, generally worn to prevent stray hair from getting into dairy preparations. The apron was another signature element of the dairy maid’s wardrobe, to help prevent soiling clothes at work.

Duties at the Beginning of Every Day

The dairy maid can clearly be seen as a multi-tasker taking into perspective the multiple duties fulfilled by her. Although the title suggests ‘dairy maid’, the lady did more than simply prepare mouth-watering cheese and creamy curd. A dairymaid’s day would generally begin at the crack of dawn.

A Day in the Life of a Victorian Maid

This was particularly of the essence during summer, wherein she would be required to fulfil a large portion of the day’s commitments before it was time for breakfast. However, before getting onto the main task of churning the choicest dairy goods, she would elaborately prepare for the same by emphasizing largely hygiene and organization.

Victorian Dairy Maid’s Work Schedule

Was it simple? The answer would be negative. Perfectionism was a distinct quality seen in the Victorian dairy maid, wherein she would go on to scrub the shelves, walls, and windows impeccably, prior to commencing her main duties. Hygiene was kept at an optimum by cleaning both utensils and the interiors of the dairy shed.

The scullery maid painting from 17th c
The scullery maid painting from 17th c

Much care was taken to ensure that the brushes used for cleaning the walls, the flooring, or the windows were not the same ones used for cleaning up utensils. A good rinse with soothing cold water, wood ashes, or Fuller’s Earth was the routine cleansing regime for dairy utensils, followed religiously by the dairymaid.

She knew that any soap used while cleaning them would taint the cream. After airing the utensils, it was her duty to carry these to the shelves and neatly stack them in order, based on their frequency of usage.

The Milking Process

Obtaining rich creamy milk was essential to the preparation of a varied range of products. No one better than the dairymaid knew this. She would keep the cleanest utensils ready for when the herdsmen would begin milking the cattle.

The dairymaid would examine to ensure that even the last bit of milk is not left out as the creamiest texture can be sourced towards the end.

Preparing Cream

Once all the milk is collected, the dairymaid allows it to stay put for twenty-four hours, thus preparing it for skimming. Holding a skimmer in one hand and a basin comprising a spout in the other, she carefully immerses the skimmer and gathers as much cream, later transferring it into the basin.

Duties Of The Victorian Dairy Maid

She repeats the tedious process until the last bit of cream is removed. The cream in the basin is passed into the cream pot at regular intervals. The dairymaid drops a nut-sized dollop of saltpeter in this pot, the contents of which need to be stirred from time to time.

Victorian Housemaid Facts

She then uses the cream as is or transfers it into another pot, which is then whisked daily to churn it into a smooth butter. The skimmed milk that remains is used in puddings, bread, or other preparations.

While the milkmaid managed the daily duties, she was often assigned the task of distributing the produce to the housemaid or the cooks. Besides, she would take the onus of keeping an account of the quantities handed over and the remuneration received.

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