Closing Up the Kitchen at Night
Servants who worked in the kitchen would put in very long days. This was especially true of the scullery maids (girls) and scullions (boys), whose job was to clean the kitchen. They would be the first servants in the kitchen in the morning- most of them would sleep above or near the kitchen. Their day would be spent prepping vegetables, keeping an eye on the food on the fire, and assisting the cooks with whatever they needed.
At the end of the day, the scullery maids and scullions would wash the dishes and tidy up the kitchen. Today, we might be able to get away with putting the leftovers in the refrigerator, running the dishwasher and wiping down the counters before calling it a night. In Agecroft’s kitchen, the servants would have had to wash all of the dishes used to cook and serve the food. No days of taking a break and using paper plates! Some dishes could be washed with hot water and soap. More delicate items like silver and glass would have required care when washing them. Pots and pans made of iron would have needed to be seasoned with oil and set before the fire so they could be used the next day.
Once everything was cleaned up, the servants would make sure that the fire was out. It might seem easiest to throw a bucket of water on the fire, but that would soak the coals and the floor of the fireplace. That would make it difficult to start the fire the next day. An easier way to safely put down the fire was to bank the coals. After preparing the midday meal, the cooks would be able to let the fire start to go out- often the major afternoon cooking activity was baking, which required less heat. the colas were spread out to allow them to cool. When it was time to close the kitchen, the scullery maid/ scullion would sweep the hot coals under an overturned large pot, leaving it slightly propped up. This would keep any sparks from escaping and causing a fire, but would allow for an airflow over the coals. That way the coals could be used in the morning to easily restart the fire.
After all of this, the scullery maids and scullions could head up to their sleeping space, which was likely in a loft above the kitchen. This would be a comfortable spot in the cold winter, but probably pretty hot in the summer! The next day their routine would start again.