Looking at the inventory of furniture at Chatsworth for 1764, one item appears out of place. Listed in a cupboard in the housekeeper’s room was ‘five pound of chocolate’. What was this chocolate doing here? Was it for the use of the housekeeper or the Duke and Duchess? In today’s money this chocolate would probably have cost around £300, which in 1764 would be the equivalent to almost a whole year’s wage for the housemaid. A further look at this inventory can help solve the mystery of why the housekeeper had this chocolate and reveal more about the life and duties of the eighteenth-century housekeeper.



The 1764 inventory for Chatsworth showing the furniture in the housekeeper’s room

We know the housekeeper must have used this room to conduct business, as a small bureau and an armchair are listed in the inventory. Being the highest paid female servant at Chatsworth on £15 a year, the housekeeper had both an office and a bedroom of her own. In charge of organising the day to day running of the household, from here she might have paid food bills or written letters. Did she enjoy a piece of chocolate while writing letters or at the end of a long day organising the maids?
Perhaps she was not alone when she tucked into the chocolate. The housekeeper’s room was well set up for entertaining. As well as her own armchair, the housekeeper’s room also had seven other chairs, forty teacups and four teapots. These tea cups were probably a mixture of spares for the family and those for her own use. The role of the housekeeper did involve entertaining. Before dinner upper servants such as the housekeeper, butler and lady's maid would congregate in the housekeeper’s room before taking their meal in the steward’s room, separate to the rest of the servants who ate in the servants’ hall. The housekeeper was also allowed to entertain her own visitors in her rooms, although as we have already seen from the case of Miss Bickell, if servants pushed these privileges then there could be consequences. Was the chocolate brought out and shared when the housekeeper had guests?
(1) The Housekeeper’s room and the closet adjoining it (2) The Steward’s Room
(3) The Servants’ Hall. From ‘Vitruvius Britannicus, 1717.
It is unlikely that the housekeeper gave this chocolate to her guests, or if she did she was certainly not meant to. The reason why the chocolate was kept in the housekeeper’s room is revealed if we look at the room adjoining the housekeeper’s. In this cupboard was ‘a canister of coffee, four small loves of fine sugar’, ‘a parcel of chocolate unopened’, 12 pounds of ‘common green tea’ and ‘macaroons’. These are the only items of food listed in the whole inventory and were recorded because they were expensive luxuries. Kept under lock and key in a room only accessible by the housekeeper, she was the one who was trusted to look after these extravagant goods.
So if the housekeeper did not nibble on the chocolate while writing letters or share it with her guests, what was the chocolate used for? This luxury item was for the Duke and Duchess’ use only. Bitter and still full of cocoa butter, the chocolate was unsuitable to eat and instead would have been made into drinking chocolate, mixed with water and flavoured with wine, spices and vanilla. Although a costly indulgence for many, it was something the Duke and Duchess were no strangers to as the inventory reveals Chatsworth had three chocolate pots and ‘16 cups for chocolate or coffee’.
A pair of Russian chocolate cups dating from 1800 - 1850
Even though she was not paid as much as male servants like the confectioner or cook, who would work with the ingredients kept in her room, it was the housekeeper who was trusted to look after them. Central to the running of the house, honesty and trustworthiness were important characteristics to look for in a housekeeper and her authority was rewarded with her own set of rooms.


Lauren Butler, Fiona Clapperton and Hannah Wallace
Chatsworth and The University of Sheffield ‘From Servants to Staff’ project

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