maids a milking

300px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_ProjectI always think of Tess of the D’Urbevilles  when it comes to the maids milking – but where am I going with this post? Well, I was actually wondering how wealthy the farmer might be if he required eight milkmaids.  The advert below  from Pamela Horn’s article about the Dorset dairy system suggests that one milk maid could milk sixteen cows.


“Wanted, A Man and his Wife, to manage a Dairy of Sixteen Cows; a good Character indis- pensable. Applyto Mr. Bascombe,Tatton Farm, Upway, Dorchester.”


Advertisement in DorsetCountyChronicle,
6 December 1860.


In the sixteenth century approximately 70% of the population in England were part of the agricultural labour force.  Women did work as day labourers but generally they would have been amongst the poorest in society.  The majority of women worked as servants, often in the households of extended family, or as housewives within their own homes.

Further reading reveals that a diary maid in the seventeenth century would have responsibility for up to twenty cows and would be helped in the milking by another servant. Therefore to require eight milkmaids a farmer would have owned a herd of one hundred and sixty or so cattle.  Dairy maid responsibility included butter and cheese making as well as the milking – unless of course it was the farmer’s wife who not only did the diary work but looked after the hens, baked and did all those other things required of a pre-industrial housewife.

Of course I could have gone with Marie Antoinette’s model farm at Versailles where she dressed up as a diary maid or even the milk maids who didn’t catch small pox on account of them having had cow pox. And of course, it gives me a chance to add the Milkmaid by Vehmeer into the equation!

Horn, Pamela, The Dorset Dairy System

Kussmaul, Ann. Servants in Husbandry in Early Modern England.