Betty Ratcliffe, a servant with access to two worlds: domestic service and artisanal production
have not been prominent in design histories of country houses. This is because
domestic staff had more indirect influence on the interiors of properties, in
that they would usually be cleaning, rather than creating, objects to display.
Betty Ratcliffe engaged in domestic duties, however, Betty also played an
active role in design through an artisanal career, encouraged by her employers,
the Yorke family.
Betty’s work includes drawings, a painting, paper-work, and two ambitious architectural models. As the daughter of a local clockmaker, Betty was exposed to a multi-skilled occupation that gave her dexterity in using different materials and techniques. Betty’s extraordinary models, decorated with mother-of-pearl, associated her with the predominantly masculine fields of antiquarian study, and architecture. As a woman and a servant Betty’s work, therefore, does not fit into traditional categories of eighteenth-century craftsmanship.
Betty’s biography signifies the importance, and benefits, of education for the lower orders, during this period. Additional skills, artisanal in Betty’s case, allowed social mobility, and it is no coincidence that her objects remained in the hands of her employers. The Yorkes, in choosing the display of Betty’s work, highlighted the power dynamics of the master-servant relationship to those who saw her objects. The pieces reflected Betty’s loyalty as a servant, and also acted as representations of the wealth, taste, and benevolence of the Yorkes. Although, Betty’s objects also show the value of skill during the eighteenth-century, in that Betty progressed from drawing to then creating three-dimensional models later in her career.
School of Humanities
MA History of Design, 2016
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I did a BA in History at the University of Southampton with a focus on the long eighteenth century and wrote my dissertation on André Charles Boulle, a seventeenth and early eighteenth-century French cabinet-maker. During my MA I developed my knowledge of eighteenth-century furniture and early modern artisanal culture. My first essay explored a hybrid object in the Victoria and Albert collection – a Chinese lacquered cabinet on an eighteenth-century English stand. My second essay explored the contributions to English porcelain made by potter John Dwight in the latter 1600s. My dissertation topic combined a study of furniture and artisanal culture in the latter eighteenth century. I also have an ongoing interest in heritage and conservation.
- BA History, University of Southampton, 2014
- Researcher for ‘Applied Anachronism’ exhibition proposal, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2015; Events assistant for symposiums ‘On the Matter of Books and Records', and 'Gerbier', Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2015; Interpretation assistant, at National Trust property, Powis Castle, Welshpool, Mid Wales, 2011–2015
- ‘Manners of Building: Architectural Style in England, 1550-1750’, Blog entry for the Victoria and Albert Museum Research Department, 2015