Labours lost : domestic service and the making of modern England

N. Goose

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewpeer-review


Labours Lost is about waged domestic workers, working ‘upstairs’ or ‘downstairs’, both indoors and outside the house. The period covered is 1760–1830, chosen to ‘fill a gap’ (p. 31) in the existing literature, but also a period dominated by war, commercial expansion and a new colonialism, punctuated by harvest failure, hunger and state repression in the 1790s and concluding with the introduction of the New Poor Law in 1834. Steedman's concern is to rescue domestic service from the historical sidelines to which it was consigned by Smith, Marx and most subsequent historians of English social structure, including E. P. Thompson. While the language of family was frequently adopted by those wishing to avoid the servants' tax introduced in 1777, Steedman argues, servants were in no real sense part of family structures, but were contracted employees who frequently sought legal redress or were themselves pursued in the courts. They therefore trod contested ground, developed their own resentments regarding their treatment and place in the social structure and were in turn resented – and frequently lampooned – by their masters. As the most widely and consistently experienced extra-familial relationship in society, and as the largest group of male and female (but especially female) workers outside of the agricultural sector, domestic servants demand reinstatement within historical interpretations of the evolution of English social structure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-213
Issue number322
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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