Saturday, November 11, 2017

Land Stewards: Professional help in running an estate.

by Maria Grace

We often hear about gentlemen employing stewards to help manage their estates. Who were these men, though, and what did they do?
Small estates, like Longbourn of Pride and Prejudice, could be managed by the master of the estate with the assistance of a non-professional man, called a bailiff. Typically a bailiff would be one of the major tenants on the estate, hired to act as a go-between to collect tenants’ rents. (In the era, it would have been considered vulgar for a gentleman to collect the rents himself.) Larger estates, like Darcy’s Pemberley or Lady Catherine’s Rosings Park, were major economic endeavors that necessitated professional help in the form of a steward.

Qualifications

Where the bailiff simply collected rents for the master of the estate, the steward was responsible for actually running the business of the estate and thus was integral to its success. He had to be an educated man, often the son of clergy, a smaller landowner or a professional man. He needed a head for numbers, scrupulous record-keeping skills, an exceptional knowledge of all aspects of agriculture, and excellent people-skills--a pretty tall order, all told. Typically he would be university trained as a solicitor, necessary because of his dealings with contracts. A steward was not considered a servant, but rather a skilled professional with a higher status than the family lawyer.

For these reasons, a steward was addressed as ‘Mister’. Not long after the regency era, the term ‘steward’, with its servile connotations, was dropped in favor of the more professional term ‘land agent.’ 

Duties

Stewards were tied to the estate and did not travel with the master of the estate. They managed all the activities associated with making the estate profitable, including record and account keeping, managing contracts, and overseeing the agricultural aspects of the home farm. 

A good steward kept meticulous accounts and records of everything—seriously everything. In addition to the expected accounting that would go with such an enterprise, he kept logs of work done, including repairs to buildings, fences and roads, as well as records of the parkland, game animals, livestock and crops. He also maintained a rent roll of tenancies and records of the farm boundaries. Further, an estate employed a number of department heads, such as the head gardener, head gamekeeper, and the like. The steward kept records for all these departments and paid the wages of their workmen.

Beyond these duties, stewards also spent a lot of time touring the estate on horseback, dealing with the people of the estate face to face. He collected rents, found new tenants when necessary, leased land, supervised the tenantry, directed any work and improvements done on the land, settled squabbles that arose among the tenants or workers, purchased animals, seed and so on. (Shapard, 2003) 

Salaries

A steward’s salary related both to the size of the estate and his expertise. Typically, a steward’s salary would range from £100-300 annually. (As a point of reference, in the era a middle class family of four could live very comfortably on £250 a year.) In addition, he would have use of a private house on the estate. For reference, Austen’s Longbourn had an income of about £2000, which probably put hiring a steward out of their range. 

Risks

Although not nearly as hazardous as many professions of the era, working as a steward was not without risks. Although employers relied heavily upon their stewards for their efficient management of their estates, that did not prevent employers from doubting their honesty, especially as the large sums that many of them handled offered opportunities for speculation. Accusations of wrongdoing could ruin a man’s reputation and (wrongful) conviction for the same could result in prison time or worse, depending on the amount of money involved.

Since the steward was also in charge of collecting the rent from the tenants, he could be an unpopular figure. Historical records show assaults on stewards and in one case, the murder of one. So, in a very literal sense, his people-skills could be a life-saver.

References

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Anchor Books, 2003. 
Karsten, Susan. “The Steward: Guardian of the Noble Estate (Farm).” Vanessa Riley’s Regency Life. Accessed May 26, 2014. 
http://christianregency.com/blog/2013/09/09/the-steward-guardian-of-the-noble-estate-farm-by-susan-karsten/ 
Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.
LeFaye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Abrams, 2002.
Ray, Joan Klingel. Jane Austen for Dummies. Chichester: John Wiley, 2006.
Schmidt,  Wayne.  “Victorian Domestic Servant Hierarchy and Wage Scale.” This and That. Accessed May 26, 2014.  http://www.waynesthisandthat.com/servantwages.htm
Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007. 

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Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.



1 comment:

  1. Yes! Just the post I needed to understand the matter! Thank you very much for sharing the info.

    ReplyDelete