BEING MIDDLE-CLASS IN VICTORIAN DUBLIN.

April 08, 2017


Being a member of the middle class was never a matter only of income or occupation, though both of these were important. Values, beliefs, goals, ambition, tastes and life-style were also clearly involved.
In 1901 an English writer on social themes, Seebohm Rowntree, made the employment of a servant the distinguishing feature between the middle-class and the working-class, on the principle that a resident servant promoted a woman into a 'lady'.
In Ireland a minimum income of £150 a year was required to afford a servant, yet the middle-class could not be measured by this criterion alone. In Britain, where those with an income of £150-£200 were regarded as just 'scraping in', the difficulty posed by clerks earning only £60-£80 a year, dressing like gentlement, but scarcely able to live like gentlemen, arose. John Burnett, in A Social History of Housing, suggested membership of the middle class entailed some margin of income over necessary expenditure, a strong sense of respectability, polite manners, Christian observance, the ability to keep a wife who did not work outside the home, and a deeply rooted belief that the family and the home were the pillars both of a good society and of private happiness. Above all, the home, and the house which accommodated it, were of central interest and importance. To choose it, furnish and decorate it, repair and care for it provided satisfaction which was far more than material, a proper place in which to rear children, to entertain friends, to retreat from the cares of the world and take an honest pride in one's possessions and achievements.
Many of the residents of Clyde Road, Pembroke, and similar areas in the year 1901 enjoyed a comfortable style of living. All households employed servants, ninety per cent having two or more. The earning of the householders are impossible to gauge, but at least £1,000 a year was needed to keep four servants. Many would have earned much more; judges earned £3,500, senior civil servants got £2,000, senior fellows in Trinity College, £1,300-£1,600. A small number of the top barristers could earn as much as £5,000 a year.


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