Finding servants in 19th century Jersey

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Servants in 19th
century Jersey


The area around St James' Church where Jane Le Boeuf lived and ran her business

Finding servants for affluent families in the town of St Helier during the 19th century was big business, and one agency, run by widow Mrs Jane Le Boeuf, appears to have commanded a large share of the market

Well-to-do Jersey families almost certainly had servants before the 19th century, but the unavailability of any census records means that it is difficult to identify them.

The Registry Office business started off in Francis Street in 1859, but soon moved nearby 11 St James's Street, where a home for female servants was also established

A big influx of English families, many of them headed by retired Army and Navy officers, or others on half pension, saw Jersey's population double from 28,000 to 57,000 in the three decades between 1821 and 1851. The great majority of these settled in the rapidly expanding town of St Helier and, while some undoubtedly brought servants with them, others had an immediate need to recruit domestic help soon after their arrival.

Jane Le Boeuf

The person many of them turned to was Jane Le Boeuf, a widow who established her Registry Office for Respectable Servants at 9 Francis Street, some time in the 1850s. An advertisement for the business in 1859, the year she started, shows her at this address, close to the letter 'B' on the map, but moved along the street to larger premises later in the year, although apparently continuing to live in Francis Street for some years.

Mrs Le Boeuf always described herself as 'of St James's Church' in her adverts. Whether she had any role at the church, or simply worshipped there, is unknown, but presumably she was using the connection to add respectability to her business.

The 1841 census shows Jane Le Boeuf living at Chapel Lane, alongside the church, close to the letter 'A' on the map in the box above. There is some confusion over the location of Chapel Lane over the years. On the 1834 map from which we have taken the section in the box, the road to the north of the church is named Chapel Street. Today Chapel Lane runs on the other side of the church, above Royal Crescent, and the original Chapel Street is known as Le Breton Lane.

Mrs Le Boeuf was probably too busy, but no doubt the girls staying at her servants' home, which was in the row on the left of this photograph, would have been in St James' Street on a Sunday morning to watch the parade after morning service at the garrison church. Many would have been hoping to catch the eye of a handsome young soldier, because marrying one was infinitely preferable to life as a single domestic servant

Quite how Chapel Lane got its name is unclear. It could not have been from the church, which was never a chapel by any standards. And it was not from the Wesleyan chapel which replaced the theatre in the centre of the crescent, because that was not built until 1863.

Life must have been difficult for Jane in the 1840s because she is shown aged 20, living with her five-year-old son Thomas. His father, also Thomas, was not in the household and may have already died. Jane was described as a laundress.

We have found no mention of Jane in the 1851 census, but in 1861 she was still at 9 Francis Street, listed as a registry office keeper, and living with a servant, 15-year-old Marie Mitchell, from France.

By 1866 she had moved her business to 11 St James Street (letter 'C' on the map) immediately opposite the church, and by 1875 she had moved a few doors down to No 19 (letter 'D').

Business growth

Her business clearly grew because whereas in 1859 her opening hours were three to seven in the afternoon, by 1866 she was opening from 11 am to 8 pm, and she kept those hours through until at least 1875. The 1881 census showed her still in business at 19 St James' Street.

What did not change were her fees. From the outset she charged those looking for servants 1s 6d to register, and for this sum they were sent details of one potential employee. If they paid an annual fee of 12 shillings they could recruit any number of servants through the agency in a year.

Those seeking work were charged a flat fee of one shilling. Although Mrs Le Boeuf did not 'hold herself responsible for the character of servants', none were sent for approval 'who do not appear in some respect suitable for the situation.

1866 advert for Mrs Le Boeuf's business

Country girls

Working as servants in town households presented a new opportunity for gainful employment for country girls. Until now they might have expected to remain at home and work for a pittance on the family farm. But although it was at most a few miles away, the town was a place they would have had little or no experience of. Young teenage girls may never have set foot outside their own parish.

How could they go to town looking for work if they knew nobody there and had nowhere to stay? Mrs Le Boeuf had the answer: Alongside her registry office she established a Female Servants Home, which was probably the reason the fledgling business moved to St James' Street.

The home was set up 'to provide a safe home for female servants when out of place'.

"The home is under the supervision of Mrs Le Boeuf and is under certain regulations as regards cleanliness, order and morality. Every convenience is provided for each person; namely a separate bed, fire, gas and linen. There is also the privilege of morning and evening prayer."

Girls were charged three shillings a week rent, but had to feed themselves. They were expected to be back in the home by 9pm and were not allowed to sleep out except with special permission.

Mrs Le Boeuf did not take anybody and everybody. Servants between jobs had to provide a reference from a former employer or 'from some other responsible person'. Girls from the country looking for their first job had to be recommended to Mrs Le Boeuf.
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