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One house, two worlds at No. 29

So what are the chances I'd have been a scullery maid back in Georgian Dublin? Should I have been in domestic service and employed by Mrs Olivia Beatty at Number 29 Lower Fitzwilliam Street, the chances are I would have been around 12 and I would have been paid one penny a day for work which would have included fetching water from fountains around the city.

On the other hand, had I been a daughter of Mrs Olivia Beatty, who had seven children and who bought Number 29 in 1794, it's likely I would have been married off at around 15 and to a much older man of means chosen to buffer the family's fortunes.

A visit to Number 29, which is now a Georgian House Museum, is an insight into the lives of Dublin women in the late 18th and early 19th century. Your place in society determined which room in the house you spent your time in -- and being in these museum rooms makes it very easy to imagine what life would have been like for a young woman just over 200 years ago.

The Scullery: A scullery maid was poorly paid to wash clothes in a large Belfast sink. She would have been very grateful for being fed, however, as Dublin was full of starving children at the time. There was an allocation of four litres of beer a day for servants but it was very weak and no one ever got drunk.

A scullery maid would have been uneducated, and, unable to read or write, but she would have quickly learned to discern between the ringing bells below stairs to know whether service was required in the boudoir, drawing room or dining room.

A small tin bath in the basement of Number 29 was the only bath in the house, and its upper middle-class family members would have used it about twice a year and relied on perfumes to remain fairly sweet smelling.

A plank of wood suspended from the ceiling in the pantry had to be reached by standing on a stool and was where foodstuff was kept -- out of reach of the rats.

The Hallway: The fan window over the door is a giveaway of the Georgian origins. There is a large mirror at floor level which would have been used by women in the Beatty family to check their petticoats before stepping out. It was considered a 'social disgrace' for a married woman to show even a glimpse of white petticoat. However, a young woman considering marriage would signal her debut into the world of romance by allowing just about an inch of her white petticoat to flutter beneath her skirt.

The Drawing Room: The first-floor formal drawing room has very little antique furniture for the Georgian fashion of 'walking the room'. Family members and guests would walk in circles and in the glow of the sparkling Dublin crystal chandelier while passing very close to the room's large windows which never had their curtains closed. The sole reason for this was to flaunt their elegance to the hoi polloi walking past below.

The Boudoir: Mrs Olivia Beatty, a widow, bought Number 29 in 1794 for £360. She would have received women guests in her boudoir, a place where she spent hours doing needlework. She would have left the day-to-day supervision of her children to a governess. Her late husband was a wine merchant. A screen in front of the fire was placed to protect her face from the heat and to stop her wax-based make-up from melting off her face and running down on to her clothes.

The Nursery: Boys and girls slept in the nursery yet their lives diverged at the age of five -- up until this stage, little boys also wore frocks and had long hair. At five, boys went to boarding school and the sons of Mrs Beatty went to Trinity College where they had boarding rooms in spite of the family home being about eight minutes walk from the college. Girls stayed at home and were educated by a governess in reading, writing and needlework, before being married off to a man chosen by their family.

The Governess's Room: A governess was 'a woman of gentle breeding but slender means'. She came from an upper middle-class background yet her chances of marriage were mostly likely ruined by her father losing the family money.

Number 29 Lower Fitzwilliam Street is at the junction of Lower Fitzwilliam Street and Upper Mount Street. It is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, and Sunday, noon to 5pm. Tours cost €6 for adults and it's free for under 16s. There is a charming coffee shop for anyone who wants to make a good afternoon of it, and afterwards why not nip across to Merrion Square Park for a stroll? Log onto www.esb.ie/no29/


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