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From Skivvy to Cook - real life upstairs downstairs
Below Stairs - Margaret Powell
Member Name: katyj10
Below Stairs - Margaret Powell
Advantages: Interesting - such different times
Disadvantages: Very dated now
This is a review of the 1970 (reprinted 2011) book 'Below Stairs' by Margaret Powell. The book is a true account of her fascinating career of a 1920s kitchen maid. I liked the sound of the quote on the front cover which promised any fans of Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs a good read.
Margaret's background career started at the age of 14 when she became a kitchen maid in Hove, eventually progressing to the position of cook before she married a milkman.
The book reads as virtually a transcript, bearing in mind that Margaret was knocking on a bit when she wrote this book. She recounts a lot of her experiences as wonderful or marvellous but still begrudges the position of 'servant' when some have nothing and others have too much.
I enjoyed reading this book. The author is very self depreciating, describing herself as quite plain and having to try pretty hard to find a boyfriend for a date on her afternoon off!
The work of a kitchen maid is hard graft and never ending, with an early start and late finish. Her life as a cook improved her hours and work but she still tried hard and tried to work well with her employers which sometimes proved difficult.
My favourite bit of the book is when she describes her lodgings in each of the many grand houses she worked in. Sometimes it was rough and sometimes nice but never luxurious.
I felt like Margaret had a lot of respect for her work and determination to do well but often came a cropper with a clash between employers or even the other longstanding staff. Whilst she was kind to people she did not suffer fools and as such would have been a good person to work for or with.
The language in the book is simple and paints a great picture of what it must have been like in the 1920s. Some employers were very generous, some were mean and some just misunderstood what the servants felt like and forgot they have feelings too.
It's hard to imagine in these days having a staff of 10+ people but these were the environments Margaret worked in and this is within the last 100 years of our world. Times have changed so much even in terms of cooking, Margaret describes working with the best (and worst) ingredients and abhorred cooking with margarine - it had to be butter! I did not learn to make any new food after reading this book but can see how things have changed.
This book was reprinted but very much has a feeling when reading that it was written more than 40 years ago. It was also featured on the TV as a documentary so if it sounds familiar you probably saw that one too.
Life 'below the stairs' was very difficult in those days and many of these houses are put to different use these days. The discipline of the staff was immense and they got very limited time off work or away from the house, nor did they get much spending money alongside lodgings and board so there were not many notable nights out for them but they did what they could on what they had.
This book is a very innocent account and Margaret doesn't get mixed up in any nonsense with boys or men although she witnesses others doing so. I would recommend this book as a nice read to you but it only took me a couple of hours to get through it so don't expect to be overly entertained by this!
Summary: An interesting read
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