Saturday, September 22, 2012




Pan MacMillan|March 29, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-330-53538 - 0 

A compelling and colourful memoir that takes the reader inside the forgotten world of domestic service. 

Arriving at the great houses of 1920’s London, fifteen-year-old Margaret’s life in service was about to begin... 

As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and even bootlaces to be ironed.  Work started at 5:30am and went on until after dark.  It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. 

Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaid’s curler’s, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlour maid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation.  Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Below Stairs is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman, who, though her position was lowly, never stopped aiming high. 

My Review: 

Below Stairs is the true story of Margaret Powell who worked as a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – in 1920’s England.  Margaret had lived with her parents and siblings where laughter was abundant but money and food were not.  At the age of fifteen she was forced to go to work so her parents would have one less mouth to feed. 

Working as a ‘domestic’ was not easy – the hours were long, the pay cheap, and the work hard.  We have to remember that this took place in 1920’s England when there were no modern conveniences.  Old stoves had to be blackened by hand, sterling silver polished daily or weekly depending upon the mistress you worked for, rugs had to be beaten and the domestics lived and slept in the cold, dark, damp basement. 

When Margaret began working as a kitchen maid or helper to the cook, she didn’t have a clue how to set up a table properly or how to put a meal together.  Luckily for her, she was a quick study in most things and eventually become a pro with vegetables, desserts, and soufflés but couldn’t cook a piece of meat to save her life. 

After spending many years as a kitchen maid she did eventually become a cook herself which pleased her to no end. 

I appreciated the book for its honesty, directness, and the informative way in which it was written.  I also appreciated the integrity with which Margaret wrote – she wasn’t backward at coming forward about expressing the anger and contempt she felt for some of those she worked for. 

Overall I found Below Stairs to be a funny, honest, and charming read. 

Margaret was born in 1907 in Hove and died in 1984 at the age of 77.

No comments:

Post a Comment