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Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times 1st Edition
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However, I was frustrated by the fact that, although the Kindle version includes an "Index," the index references have no page numbers, nor can the reader use footnote numbers or asterisks to find the relevant endnotes. You can use the pad to highlight a word or phrase in the Index & find the relevant pages, but you have to be really careful how you go about it. If I had to do this again, I'd order the hard copy.
The book is well organized and flows smoothly, but it is a labored reading; meaning that the density of the material precludes reading through it in one or two sittings, unless of course one was a member of the leisure “upstairs” class without anything else to attend to.
Lethbridge covers about a century of English society, from the late 19th century through the 1960’s. It is a composite of anecdotes, vignettes and tales culled from the letters and diaries of mostly the servant population, contrasted with a few from their employers. The author deftly weaves the stories into a tapestry of an anachronistic life-style, oddly pined for today by some in Britain.
In early 20th century Britain, over one million women worked as servants, in vast country estates, city mansions, coach houses and townhomes. Having servants was a status symbol, even when the employer could not afford it.
Examples of the aristocracy’s dependence on servants to maintain their pompous lifestyle and the “symbolic pantomime” of the domestics, are described throughout in sometimes in humorous but mostly in realistic wretched images.
The Duke of Portland employed 90 in-house servants, at Welbeck, to satisfy his caprices, such as his demand that “a chicken be turning on a spit 24 hours a day, in case he felt peckish.” The ten upper servants who supervised the entire staff had their own under-servants.
The Duke of Bedford expected all his parlourmaids to be 5’10” or taller.
At Belvoir, the Duke of Rutland’s palace, one man was employed to just bang the mealtime gong.Read more ›
In each era, the book explores the range of domestic jobs available. While the grand houses did in fact provide a huge number of arcane and specific jobs, most servants worked as "dog's bodies" in small homes in which each servant had a huge amount of work to complete. The individual anecdotes bring the writing to life. And to round this work off, Lethbridge has included society attitudes, government regulation, and newspaper ads and columns as sources. I found this to be a well rounded treatment of the often romanticized, and seldom missed by the servant, age of servants.
Along with debunking the common notions of downstairs help, it also relates the history and attitude of labor saving house hold devices. Don't want to give the maids a chance for idleness and sloth and keeping everything the same as it has always been. This includes central heating, electricity, or those new-fangled gas lights. Views and attitudes by the elite and those upstarts, the middle class, are fascinating. Also goes into the slow emancipation of women, rights for workers, and many other areas of this era as seen by the working class and the high mucky-mucks.
As other readers have observed it is very hard to refer to the abundant footnotes in the Kindle addition. I can't demote it to a lower rating because the subject matter and writing are excellent.
I also appreciate the many unfamiliar words that are used. I love vocabulary building reads. In that area the built in dictionary is wonderful.
If you are interested in a great book about how it REALLY was this is a great read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
e book is an interesting study of the "servant" class in Britain over the past century. I bought the book because of memories of "Upstairs Downstairs" on... Read morePublished 4 months ago by johnn
This was a thoroughly fascinating book, especially the pre WWII chapters. It's a sombre read when you realize just how hard those invisible servants worked and how hard their lives... Read morePublished 5 months ago by MBHK
After wading through the entire Poldark series by Winston Garham and watching the pre-season Downton Abbey shows, I decided it was time to learn a little more about British history... Read morePublished 6 months ago by James B. Moon
If you're a fan of DOWNTON ABBEY or English manor house mysteries or even go back to UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS (which, this book reveals, was supposed to be chiefly about the latter),... Read morePublished 6 months ago by L. M Young
This story was different than what I expected; but totally enjoyed it.Published 11 months ago by Judith R. Nigh
I think it is interesting. Not being form Britain I think there is an inside knowledge that I don't possess that would help me understand it better. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Kasey Wadding
Another reviewer likened this book to a term paper and, indeed, it's written in a very dry, academic manner. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Avid Reader
Because I am a big fan of British television shows, I was interested in learning the facts concerning those whose livelihood depended on serving others. Read morePublished 15 months ago by MJN Go
This is a history book, not meant to be read as a novel. And it sparkles in all of its historical details about servants lives in the UK from the 19th century to modern times. Read morePublished 16 months ago by mhb