The House Steward
As part of the landed gentry, Master Dauntesey of Agecroft Hall had heavy responsibility. The work of a manor farm was to keep business profitable, and Master Dauntesey needed to care not only for his business and family, but for his servants, laborers, and neighboring villagers. In this work, he had the help of his house steward.
During the Elizabethan era, 1/4 of the population was made up of those in service, whether in homes, fields, or as itinerant workers (sheep shearers, for example). More than 1/3 of households had servants working for them. The house steward, always male, held the highest-ranking serving position at the manor. He was the servant closest to Master Dauntesy and to the processes of running the manor – both inside and outside.
The steward was one of the few servants who were literate on an Elizabethan manor. This meant he could not only read but write as well. He needed to be able to conduct written correspondence for the master and keep accounts and manor inventories.
As head servant, the steward oversaw all of the servants at the manor. He organized their work and saw that their responsibilities were met. The steward was also responsible for all of the domestic affairs of the servants and the keeping of order and peace within the household. To this end, he held regular staff meetings and had the authority to admonish the staff for trespass of house rules.
Other responsibilities of the steward included the ordering of provisions for the household including beef, wood, hops, spices and fruit; making sure that all indoor and outdoor repairs were made; collecting bills and expense receipts; inspecting the grounds; arranging for the sale of hides, wool and oxen for slaughter; managing the purchase of grain and cattle; and dispensing or disposing of tallow (rendered animal fat used in making candles and soap).
The steward was responsible for entering all monies received from the lord of the manor to pay household expenses. The bills of the manor were paid out four times a year, on quarter days, and the servants were also paid at these times (Lady Day, March 25; St. John’s Day, June 24; Michaelmas, September 29th; and Christmas Day, December 25).
The steward was tasked with keeping an inventory of the household linens, plate and silver. This included bed linens and tablecloths, silver plates and vessels, Venetian glass, saltcellars, finger bowls, spoons and serving pieces. In recording expensive pieces, he would make note of the weight, type, and goldsmith’s mark of each piece. The safe-keeping of these expensive items was imperative. These items were stored in cupboards and chests.