Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney
|Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney
|Reviewer: Louise Jones
|Summary: A glimpse into the lives of Edwardian servants and their masters. We learn how much they were paid, what their duties were and how they fared when they could no longer work.
|Date: September 2015
|Publisher: Michael O'Mara
Life in Edwardian times is currently a popular subject, thanks in no small part to that period drama currently showing its final series on ITV. Life Below Stairs examines the subject in greater detail, looking at documents and memoirs from the time to discover what life was really like for those in service. We learn about the strict hierarchy in the household and the duties expected of each individual. We see how much each member of staff was paid and how workers were hired (and in many cases, fired) from their positions. Welcome to a slice of Edwardian life, served up with a delicious mix of period illustrations and newspaper clippings.
The first thing that struck me as a reader was the amount of detailed research that had gone into this book; it really is a treasure-trove of information. When starting out, I found the hierarchy chart a particularly useful reference aid, as it enabled me to see exactly who was at the top and the bottom of the ladder and which members of staff were responsible for the others. At the top of the list, we have the obsequious Butler, who oversaw all of the goings-on in the household. Beneath him were the valet and housekeeper. At the other end of the scale, we have the lowly maid-of-all-work, hallboy and scullery maid who were general skivvies assigned the most menial of household tasks.
Quotes from those who had worked in service, such as Margaret Powell, add an extra layer of depth to the story and help the reader to understand what life was really like for these hard-working and dedicated individuals. Margaret started out as a lowly kitchen maid at the age of fifteen. She was terrified of the mistress and unable to speak a word during her interview, letting her mother do all of the talking. By the age of eighteen, she had become a confident young woman and secured a job as a cook on her own terms; demanding a day off each month and a salary of forty pounds.
Staff sometimes became beloved members of the family and these 'old retainers' lived out their days in specially-built cottages on the estate and some even have the privilege of being buried in the family graveyard. Nannies, who had brought up generations of children within a household were particularly well-loved and the children of the family would often view them with more fondness than their own parents.
The illustrations, adverts and extracts from publications enhance the text beautifully and emphasise the huge divide between rich and poor. The opulent dishes, as illustrated in Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, were rich and decadent, with a typical evening meal costing £60. When we consider that the wage of a scullery maid was a mere £12 a year, we begin to understand the gulf between the classes.
Life Below Stairs was an absolute joy to read and will fascinate and delight anyone interested in this period of history. Many thanks to the publishers for my review copy.
Bookbag enjoyed Netherwood by Jane Sanderson, a fictional account of life above and below stairs that promises to be Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey. You might also enjoy Aprons and Silver Spoons by Mollie Moran. For fiction by Alison Maloney we can recommend Bright Young Things. You might also appreciate The Servants' Story: Managing a Great Country House by Pamela Sambrook.
Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney is in the Top Ten History Books 2015.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney at Amazon.com.
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