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A Carlisle Hiring Fair, Victorian

  • Carlisle hiring fair

This powerful photograph captures a moment during a Hiring Fair in Carlisle during the Victorian era. A young girl is ‘hired’ as a domestic servant by a middle class woman in Carlisle’s Greenmarket. A coin has been pressed into the girl’s hand to confirm her employment. The girl would be employed as a scullery maid to assist clean, heat and light the house. This was very demanding hard physical work but also provided free accommodation and a regular wage.  Carlisle held four hiring fairs a year and hundreds of domestic servants would meet prospective employers with the hope of finding work.  

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The Georgian era had seen the growth of large country estates which employed many domestic servants housed in distinct servant quarters.  The Georgian gentry also employed servants in their town houses. Local examples of the town houses where servants would have been employed can be seen on Castle, Fisher and Abbey Streets. 

During the eighteenth century many industrialists and merchants became very wealthy and aimed to replicate the lifestyles of the landed gentry. By the nineteenth century the middle classes were wealthy enough to employ domestic servants to show their status. Many middle class households could not  afford many servants but employed perhaps two servants and a maid of all works. These servants had to perform many different jobs in the home and the work was physically demanding from early morning to late at night.

Many of the streets of larger terraced houses in Carlisle were the homes of the middle classes. Such households would have domestic servants. Houses on Portland Square, Victoria Place, Howard Place, Warwick Road, Chiswick Street, Brunswick Street, Marlborough Gardens, Cavendish Crescent, Cromwell Crescent and Hartington Place all employed domestic servants in their time. 

Key facts: 
  • Hiring fairs allowed wealthier men and women to choose servants and labourers. This also allowed anybody seeking employment to present themselves
  • It was common for young boys and girls to be sent into service or work as soon as they were old enough. This was often physically demanding work, but they earnt a wage and were provided with accommodation and meals

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