If you’ve studied history or read historical novels, you probably have a good idea of a few of the differences between the rich and the poor. By the Regency, there was a growing middle class, but they were new and small. Many of these fairly well to do members were working class who had made money in trade of some kind such as factories, banks, or shipping. But the vast majority of England’s population still fit into either the rich or poor category. Of course, there were layers within those categories, but it came down to working class versus ladies and gentlemen of leisure. And nothing draws that distinct line more sharply than does the door through which one was admitted when entering a London townhouse.
Family and guests entered through the front door. But the working class, including servants and deliverymen, entered through the servants entrance.
When I was in London this summer, I was surprised to discover that these two doors were only a few linear feet apart, but yet they were worlds apart. The front door might be at the street level, or it might be raised by a few steps, depending on the contours of the land on which it was built. Many front doors of London townhouses have columns or pilasters which are flat pillars, a boot scraper where gentleman could scrape mud and other undesirables from their boots before entering, and ornate trim such as a fan light over the door, and perhaps even friezes. Most front doors boasted bright colors such as red or blue or rich green. On either side of the door one often saw potted plants, flowers or topiaries. On either side of this lovely entrance ran a wrought iron fence.
The servants entrance however, is accessed through a gate in the wrought iron fence. Today, these wrought iron fences are mostly black or gray, a tradition that started in the Victorian Era. However, during the Regency, these fences could be any color, shades of blues and greens seemed most popular. The gate in the fence which lead to the servants entrance below was locked at night. To get to the servants’ entrance one must go through the gate, down a step and sometimes winding flight of stairs, across a small area open to the sky, and then through the kitchen door which was often almost directly below the front door.
If a servant or deliveryman had the audacity to knock on the front door, the butler would instantly direct them to go to the servants entrance. Can you imagine carrying boxes or parcels down such a steep flight of steps? And yet, most people seemed to think nothing of the reminders of one’s social station, including separate entrances.
Today, many of these townhouses are broken up into separate apartments, or flats, but the reminders of by gone eras remain prevalent in London’s townhouses.
Fortunately, my heroes and heroines of my Regency romance novels are usually members of the upper classes and so enter through the front door.
Sources: Most of my knowledge comes from years of research, as well as my observations during my trip to London. However, another source for further reading is Gaelen Foley’s excellent blog about Regency Country House & Townhouse.