web site hit counter Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"

Availability: Ready to download

Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance o Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. 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 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 housemaids curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, 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. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating downstairs portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.


Compare

Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance o Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell's classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. 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 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 housemaids curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, 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. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating downstairs portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.

30 review for Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"

  1. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    Do you watch Downton Abbey? If you answered yes, congratulations, we can continue being friends. I'm currently obsessed with that show, and so when I was in Barnes and Noble last week browsing through the biography/memoir section (like I do) this caught my eye, and I was about to put it back when I noticed that the title was blaring MEMOIR THAT INSPIRED "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" AND "DOWNTON ABBEY" and the next thing I knew I bought it. So kudos to the marketing team behind this book, because they k Do you watch Downton Abbey? If you answered yes, congratulations, we can continue being friends. I'm currently obsessed with that show, and so when I was in Barnes and Noble last week browsing through the biography/memoir section (like I do) this caught my eye, and I was about to put it back when I noticed that the title was blaring MEMOIR THAT INSPIRED "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" AND "DOWNTON ABBEY" and the next thing I knew I bought it. So kudos to the marketing team behind this book, because they know exactly what they're doing. If you don't know what Downton Abbey is or haven't watched it, I'd suggest you go do that immediately. The first season is on Netflix instant and has only eight episodes; it won't even take you that long. (I would also suggest you watch Gosford Park, which was also created by Julian Fellowes. I haven't seen Upstairs, Downstairs, but can only assume that it is also great) You can continue with this review if you like, but be forewarned that it will contain lots of references to Downton Abbey and probably Gosford Park too, and you will probably find yourself wondering why anyone would find the memoir of a maid in the 1930's so interesting. Guys. Guys. You don't even know. Margaret Powell's memoir begins, "I was born in 1907 in Hove, the second child of a family of seven. My earliest recollection is that other children seemed to be better off than we were." Powell spends a few chapters telling us about her childhood and what it was like to grow up dirt poor and hungry, so we can understand that going into service was really the only option available to her. She left school at thirteen and spent a while working in a hotel laundry, and then at fifteen got a job as a kitchen maid for an upper-class family. (those of you who immediately began imagining Powell as Daisy: we have a lot in common) In case anyone's curious, kitchen maids are the lowest of the low in the servant hierarchy. They are, essentially, the servant's servants. If you can't imagine how much that must have sucked, let Powell explain it to you: "Kitchen maid's duties - rise at five-thirty (six o'clock on Sundays), come downstairs, clean the flues, light the fire, blacklead the grate (incidentally, when you blackleaded the grate you didn't have nice tins of liquid polish, you had a hard old lump of blacklead, which before you went to bed at night you had to put in a saucer with water and leave soaking all night before it would assume any kind of a paste to do the grate with. I didn't know this; and nobody bothered to tell me. I tried to do it next morning with the lump; I thought you had to rub it on the stove. No one told me anything. Why people should assume I knew, I don't know), clean the steel fender and the fire-irons (that steel fender, without exaggerating, was all of four foot long, with a tremendous shovel, tongs, and poker all in steel, which all had to be done with emery paper), clean the brass on the front door, scrub the steps, clean the boots and shoes, and lay the servants' breakfast. And this all had to be done before eight o'clock." If nothing else, this book will relieve you of the illusion of happy servants, bustling around cheerfully and whistling while they work and all that. Powell is very clear about one thing: being a servant sucks. "It was the opinion of 'Them' upstairs that servants couldn't appreciate good living or comfort, therefore they must have plain fare, they must have dungeons to work in and to eat in, and must retire to cold spartan bedrooms to sleep. After all, what's the point of spending money making life easier and more comfortable for a lot of ungrateful people who couldn't care less what you did for them? They never tried, mind, to find out if we would have cared more by making our conditions good and our bedrooms nice places in which to rest. ...But if 'Them' upstairs could have heard the conversation the parlourmaids carried down from upstairs, they would have realized that our impassive expressions and respectful demeanours hid scorn, and derision." As you can probably see, there's a good deal of bitterness in Powell's narration. But there should be - she never wanted to go into service, but her situation in life gave her no other option. The bitterness and the anger annoyed some other reviewers, but I liked it, because it felt genuine. It didn't hurt that Powell is a great narrator - in addition to dishing out the gossip and letting us know in no uncertain terms that being a kitchen maid sucks eggs, she's always reminding us that things were a lot harder before we had all this newfangled technology. Every few sentences she's like, "This was before we had refrigerators" or "Nowadays you can just go to a supermarket and pick up so-and-so, but in my day..." She does everything except tel you she had to walk to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. I also appreciated the fact that Powell is secretly ballsy as hell. After working as a kitchen maid for two years, she decides that it's bullshit and she wants to work as a cook. So she lies about her age and basically bluffs her way into a job as a cook, where she then tells the mistress of the house that she certainly will not wear the little cap that comes with her uniform, thank you very much. And her anger is understandable, because Powell's life was really very sad. She did really well in school and wanted to continue after she was thirteen, but since continuing her education would mean living in her parents' house (and her parents having to provide for her) until she was eighteen, she had to leave school in order to get a job. And Powell was smart - she talks about how she loved reading and would often scare boys away at dances by asking them what they thought of Dickens. In one of her later jobs, when her employer chides her for not being careful enough around the knick-knacks, Powell replies, "To me they're just material things; I have an affinity with G.K. Chesterton who wrote about the malignity of inanimate objects, and I think they are malign because they take up so much of my time, dusting, polishing, and cleaning them." It's kind of sad when Powell reflects at the end of the memoir how different her life could have been if she had continued her schooling and become a teacher like she'd wanted. But it's not all sad. Did I mention the gossip? Because oh my, there is gossip. Those familiar with Julian Fellowes's various shows and movies will find themselves picking out his characters in this book. As I read, I found myself thinking, "Yep, that's Mrs. Patmore. Oh, that's totally Elsie. Aw, there's Ethel. Poor Ethel." (those who, unlike me, have not seen Season 2 of Downton Abbey because they're watching it on TV and didn't find episodes online a month ago, don't worry, no spoilers. But keep an eye on Ethel) I was thinking as I got into the book that it could only be better if it turned out that Powell knew a gay footman who spent all his time scheming and hitting on various male guests, but I knew that it was a slim chance. But then Powell gave me this delightful tidbit: "Once I heard Mrs. Mellroy say, 'Not her ladyship!' Ambrose Datchet said, 'I saw it with my own eyes.' So Mrs. Mellroy said, 'What, with her?' 'Her, and with him, too,' he said. 'He was a very handsome young man.' I gathered it was one of the footman having an affair with both the lady and the master of the house." Holy shit, guys, Thomas (or possibly Henry Denton) is real. That's all Powell says about the footman, so I can only assume that he had a malicious lady's maid as his partner in crime and they spent their time plotting and spying on everyone and it was awesome.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    What a delightful book! I admit I was drawn to it because of its claim to have inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey," but I think I would have loved it regardless. The writer was born in 1907 in Hove, England, and even though she was bright and had won a scholarship, her family was poor and she couldn't afford to go to school, so she started working at age 13. Her first domestic service job was as a kitchen maid, and she eventually worked her way up to cook, which was a prestigious What a delightful book! I admit I was drawn to it because of its claim to have inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey," but I think I would have loved it regardless. The writer was born in 1907 in Hove, England, and even though she was bright and had won a scholarship, her family was poor and she couldn't afford to go to school, so she started working at age 13. Her first domestic service job was as a kitchen maid, and she eventually worked her way up to cook, which was a prestigious position in a household. The stories of domestic service are not all charming, of course. Some of Margaret's employers were mean and the working conditions were awful, and the disparities between the rich and the lower class were keenly felt. But there is also spunk and gaiety in Margaret's stories, and she tells them so well that you feel as if you are sitting with her in the servants' hall, enjoying your afternoon tea and having a laugh about mean ol' Lady Gibbons. Update October 2013: My copy of this book has vanished and I am sad. I wanted to reread a few of Margaret's stories and the book is no longer on my shelf. I don't think I lent it to anyone, since I no longer lend books after one was returned with chocolate-stained pages. *shudder* One explanation is that a thief who loves stories about English servants broke into our house and swiped just this one book. And yet, my copy of "The Remains of the Day" is still there. Hmmm... In any case, I really liked this book and wish I could reread it. If only I could find it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    3.5 stars This is a brisk and efficient book full of interesting observations on interwar British society from a working class perspective. Powell grew up in a poor family in Hove, a seaside town on the UK south coast very close to Brighton. That the working poor lived in dreadful conditions during the period is no surprise, but what struck me was Powell's praise of Hove, where during her childhood all the lawns were public space and filled with children of all classes playing (though generally n 3.5 stars This is a brisk and efficient book full of interesting observations on interwar British society from a working class perspective. Powell grew up in a poor family in Hove, a seaside town on the UK south coast very close to Brighton. That the working poor lived in dreadful conditions during the period is no surprise, but what struck me was Powell's praise of Hove, where during her childhood all the lawns were public space and filled with children of all classes playing (though generally not together of course, strict nannies keeping watch on middle class kids to see that they kept their clothes clean and stayed away from the rabble). By the time she wrote her memoir in 1968 it was all 'laid out for people with money' and there was nowhere for hide-and-seek. Seaside shows charged for seats, but those without money could stand at the back and watch. Even more agreeable to penniless children was the easily accessible countryside full of small scale family farms where they were sure to be allowed to watch and play and were likely to be offered home made lemonade. Thus, the text bears witness to a vanished commons, which can come again if we make it. On the never again list however go most of the other experiences Powell describes. She won a scholarship at thirteen to continue her studies and wanted to become a teacher, but left school at the same age to start working in 'domestic service' because her family could not afford to support her. Powell notes that WWII completely changed the labour situation in the UK, allowing domestic workers to demand better conditions as the fighting took its toll on numbers of working age men, and women found more work available to them. Since service was renowned as appallingly paid, extremely hard work, and being a 'skivvy' was so disdainfully looked down on (in my view classism around work plagues British culture just as much today) that people were eager to find any other work, employers were forced to offer better pay and conditions as well as scale down their staffs as other sectors opened. However, during the years Powell worked as a kitchen maid, extremely long hours, humiliating treatment, minuscule wages and physically exhausting work were the norm. Her determination and intelligence helped her transition to the desirable post of cook (regarded as the best job in service), which gave her more time off, but pay was still poor and hours long. While many middle class people in the UK pay someone to come in and clean for them regularly, and the very wealthy employ nannies, cooks and housekeepers, it's the exception rather than the rule for these people to live in the house of the folks they provide services for. Thus, the worker has an external private life in which they are not defined by their job, something vitally important for dignity and self esteem in our individualistic culture, even more so with the influence of the mythology of meritocracy. What Powell rails against most strongly is the condescension of employers (thinking about Mr Collins' use of the word to describe and praise the insufferably arrogant Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice) who aren't capable of considering their employees equally human to themselves. She is enraged by the ugliness and carelessness with which 'servant quarters' are furnished and vigorously ridicules employers' concern for the 'moral welfare' (ie religious observance and abstinence from sex and alcohol) of their staff when they care little enough for their physical or psychological welfare to provide them with unheated garrets, straw mattresses and leftover food. Neither much of a feminist (she complains about the appalling fate of women who became pregnant while 'in service' yet asserts proudly that her husband got 'good value from [her]' in terms of cooking, child-bearing and housekeeping) nor an egalitarian ('I don't particularly envy rich people but I don't blame them. They try and hang onto their money, and if I had it I'd hang onto it too. Those people who say the rich should share what they've got are talking a lot of my eye and Betty Martin') Powell is at least a forceful opponent of the mockably elitist culture of classism. She speaks warmly of one family she worked for who genuinely respected their staff as people and provided excellent conditions and care. I'm sceptical that Powell's 'hang onto what you've got' philosophy is compatible with the cultural shifts needed to make that one good apple in the rotten barrel of employers the rule rather than the exception. It's obviously scandalous that an academically inclined young girl was prevented by the failure of the state and social fabric from continuing her education, and instead had to undertake work that, she reports, caused her long term psychological damage. I've got carried away discussing the social implications of Powell's spirited and amusing memoir, but it is also fascinating from a food history perspective. Powell compares pre-war food very favourably with more modern fare, pointing out that everything was fresh as there were no refrigerators, and that bread and cakes weren't made in cost-cutting factories. British post-war food culture has a dire reputation partly blamed on rationing (though the people of Powell's class finally got enough to eat thanks to the regulations) so it's no surprise to hear that the food of the twenties and thirties was more appealing than than of the sixties, but the interwar diet of the rich as cooked by Powell for her employers was heavy on meat and fatty dairy products like cream and butter, which most likely caused the gout and other diseases of excess to which the sickly rich were prone in middle and older years. Pretty much within my lifetime London has become a good place to eat, mainly thanks to immigration, but also increasing health-consciousness that has led to more and fresher veg and wholefoods on offer. If you want to know more about this topic, check out this fun documentary series'Back in Time for Dinner' which starts in the '50s = )

  4. 5 out of 5

    Whitney

    Overall: A memoir about the life of a kitchen maid turned cook in service at some of the great houses throughout London. Some interesting stories but the whole book had an overall negative tone 2/5 or 4/10 The Good: There was just enough good in this book to keep me going. I loved Downton Abbey and the positives in this book was learning more about the life of being in service in some of these great houses. Even in the show, Daisy (the kitchen maid) was one of my least favorite characters and com Overall: A memoir about the life of a kitchen maid turned cook in service at some of the great houses throughout London. Some interesting stories but the whole book had an overall negative tone 2/5 or 4/10 The Good: There was just enough good in this book to keep me going. I loved Downton Abbey and the positives in this book was learning more about the life of being in service in some of these great houses. Even in the show, Daisy (the kitchen maid) was one of my least favorite characters and compared to the narrator in this, I adored Daisy. There were some interesting stories and a few funny ones, though I only laughed out loud once in the entire book. The Bad: The writing was not great and she just seemed angry all the time. I never liked her so that made the whole story a bit less than ideal. The life she led and stories she told were bland and lacked depth and details. Good potential but fell short. If you liked Downton Abbey then you may get some enjoyment from this, but not much.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    When Powell was one of seven children, and pretty much starving, everything was better and had more flavor. Not like the rubbish you get nowadays (ie., 1968). She has a strong voice but lacks perspective on everything. She tells the reader that her parents could enjoy sexy times in privacy only when the kids were off at Sunday School (nine people in two or three rooms) but doesn't consider that information about birth control was suppressed by the church and the state at that time. She had to le When Powell was one of seven children, and pretty much starving, everything was better and had more flavor. Not like the rubbish you get nowadays (ie., 1968). She has a strong voice but lacks perspective on everything. She tells the reader that her parents could enjoy sexy times in privacy only when the kids were off at Sunday School (nine people in two or three rooms) but doesn't consider that information about birth control was suppressed by the church and the state at that time. She had to leave school at thirteen because her parents couldn't afford to feed her. On the other hand, when she describes the idiocy of being made to iron shoelaces, you can't help rooting for her. Library copy

  6. 5 out of 5

    ❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀

    Margaret Powell has a wonderful sense of humor and her experiences are a fascinating look at class prejudice and the poor treatment of servants in England prior to World War II.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    My gran could have written this book. It certainly sounded like her voice coming down through time! A fascinating first hand account of what life was like at the early part of the 19th century for so many bright, capable women. Choices were few and life was outlined almost from birth if you were born into a working-class family of uncertain means. My great grandfather, who served galantly in the war, raised three children in Paddington on a carman's wages. My gran went into service as a laundry My gran could have written this book. It certainly sounded like her voice coming down through time! A fascinating first hand account of what life was like at the early part of the 19th century for so many bright, capable women. Choices were few and life was outlined almost from birth if you were born into a working-class family of uncertain means. My great grandfather, who served galantly in the war, raised three children in Paddington on a carman's wages. My gran went into service as a laundry maid at 14. She was bright, gifted musically (played the piano by ear), had a sharp, penetrating sense of humor and a way with words. But undereducated, she had few opportunities to shine. Like Margaret, she decided to marry and be a mum, but unlike Margaret, she was pretty and outgoing and didn't have a problem finding a suitable (actually unsuitable was more the case) husband. Powell makes some astute observations and social commentary that were right in line with the sufferage movement that gave women the vote but it was probably WWI that opened up society and started the movement towards a more fair and equitable society where wages were earned for a fair day's work and the understanding that treating servants, or laborers or any working class trade, fairly and more humanely was a way to keep them in your service for a longer. Is was going to take much more time, another world war, the rise of socialism, massive immigration and the raise of feminism before bright, intelligent women like Powell go their day. One of the saddest comments in her book (for me) came in the last chapters when she described her self as aggressive and took great pains to assure the reader that she was not bitter. I believe her, but today, I think we would call her smart, funny, wary, astute, assertive and savvy. If only she had born 100 years later, who knows what this woman could have written or what she might have contributed to our understanding of society. A really great read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mela

    It is a very informative book, especially for someone who likes to read historical fiction which take place in UK amongst upper class. The look from the house servant point of view is priceless. This memories opened my eyes to many aspects. It is really hard to believe sometimes how people lived not such long ago. What they ate, how they made their dishes, how day cleaned a house and so on. (e.g.: there weren't fridges, nobody heard of something like a diet or healthy eating.) Then, you have here It is a very informative book, especially for someone who likes to read historical fiction which take place in UK amongst upper class. The look from the house servant point of view is priceless. This memories opened my eyes to many aspects. It is really hard to believe sometimes how people lived not such long ago. What they ate, how they made their dishes, how day cleaned a house and so on. (e.g.: there weren't fridges, nobody heard of something like a diet or healthy eating.) Then, you have here different examples of a upper-class representative. Like people in other classes, groups, there were good and mean people, wise and stupid. But most of all I like in this book two things. First, the first part (unfortunately short) about childhood of the author. Although it was so hard I felt it was also happy, because even in the worst circumstances children want to be happy. And I simply felt they spirit. Secondly, that Margaret Powell's experience as a house servant included times when that service went through a very big changes. So, you can find here descriptions of the old world and of the new one. What I find here lacking is some kind of editing. Stories, memories were very engaging. I wasn't bored at any time. But I couldn't fail to notice that she repeated herself a few times. Her narration wasn't bad but it could be definitely better. Nonetheless, I can understand, she wasn't a professional writer after all. And considering how she started her life, it is quite impressive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kim A

    Very easy and enjoyable read. Loved how Margaret Powell didn't romanticize the jobs and roles of servants like many other books I've read. Also appreciated hearing the opinions she had in regards to feminism and the injustices of the poor as well as the plight of those in the servant industry in England Wish it were a bit longer but am now waiting for her second book which is a sequel to this one. Very easy and enjoyable read. Loved how Margaret Powell didn't romanticize the jobs and roles of servants like many other books I've read. Also appreciated hearing the opinions she had in regards to feminism and the injustices of the poor as well as the plight of those in the servant industry in England Wish it were a bit longer but am now waiting for her second book which is a sequel to this one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sverre

    At the conclusion of the book, Margaret Powell says "So despite what it may sound like, I'm not embittered about having had to go into domestic service." Readers would like to believe that but most of the contents and tone of the book can easily be understood as being the memoirs of an embittered domestic. Fans of Downton Abbey and Berkeley Square may expect to discover tantalizing details of below and above stairs goings-on in this book but will be rather disappointed to learn that the dreary sl At the conclusion of the book, Margaret Powell says "So despite what it may sound like, I'm not embittered about having had to go into domestic service." Readers would like to believe that but most of the contents and tone of the book can easily be understood as being the memoirs of an embittered domestic. Fans of Downton Abbey and Berkeley Square may expect to discover tantalizing details of below and above stairs goings-on in this book but will be rather disappointed to learn that the dreary slavish monotony of domestic service in the 1920's and 30's was romantically uninspiring. Powell is bluntly honest and depressingly descriptive about her plight. Thankfully she occasionally does offer a humorous take on her experiences. And, trying hard not to be completely one-sided, towards the end she attempts to put into perspective the above stairs situations "they" had to contend with in a historically class-disruptive era. I do not know what her later books are like but in this her first memoir she provides the stark reality of below stairs drudgery and the often inhumane expectations of her superiors. Movies and TV series (for entertainment enhancement) tend to overlook the worst occupational hardships and social deprivations which so many domestics had to endure. Powell's book can provide a necessary corrective for those misrepresentations.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    What a contrast to read this right after Julia Child's "My Life in France." With her acerbic wit and keen eye for social injustice -- not to mention the intellectual perseverance that led her to finally take and pass her O-levels after her children were grown -- Powell was clearly a force to be reckoned with, "in service" and out. Yet the function of the British class system at the time -- she was born in 1907 to a hardscrabble family -- was to continually "put her in her place," in other words What a contrast to read this right after Julia Child's "My Life in France." With her acerbic wit and keen eye for social injustice -- not to mention the intellectual perseverance that led her to finally take and pass her O-levels after her children were grown -- Powell was clearly a force to be reckoned with, "in service" and out. Yet the function of the British class system at the time -- she was born in 1907 to a hardscrabble family -- was to continually "put her in her place," in other words to remind her how worthless she was. Powell took the bone-weary life of a kitchen maid, where she literally worked 16 hours a day nonstop, seven days a week, and made a career as a cook, which required all the ingenuity of Julia Child and more. Still, the forces of class were insidious and implacable. To take just one example: When the well-off American Julia Child, as a newlywed, cooked her husband an ambitious yet failed dinner, he encouraged her to enroll in the Cordon Bleu; when the young Powell (who took marriage as a way out of servitude) applied her professional success to her new domestic life, her husband told her to stick to fish and chips.

  12. 5 out of 5

    ^

    I was surprised to find no mention of a ghost writer; because the style of the writing is very much 'as told'. That directness really does work well, because the reader is firmly put at the same level as the servants; and, boy, don't a number of the employers seem to inhabit some rarefied and distant plane! Yes, one is left wishing that employers would be more considerate of the quality of life of their servants. But one can well see in Margaret Powell the dilemma to many: wondering how to be a h I was surprised to find no mention of a ghost writer; because the style of the writing is very much 'as told'. That directness really does work well, because the reader is firmly put at the same level as the servants; and, boy, don't a number of the employers seem to inhabit some rarefied and distant plane! Yes, one is left wishing that employers would be more considerate of the quality of life of their servants. But one can well see in Margaret Powell the dilemma to many: wondering how to be a humane employer, without encouraging advantage to be taken. That dilemma persists today. Plus ça change. A good read, and yes, very funny.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    While I did enjoy learning about Downstairs life, it was rather a slow read for me. Margaret Powell did have some interesting stories in the book but most of the book seemed negative. Negative on not just being a servant but life it self. I see that the author wrote more books, maybe give another one a try. Overall, not a bad book but not something that really held my attention.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    As soon as I saw the blurb “The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey” on the front cover of Below Stairs, I knew I had to read this book. I recently starting watching Downton Abbey and it is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Margaret Powell starts her domestic life at 14 as a kitchen maid and works her way up to cook. It’s impossible to read this and not think of Daisy from Downton Abbey. She isn’t whiney or feels like she had a hard life. She wo As soon as I saw the blurb “The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey” on the front cover of Below Stairs, I knew I had to read this book. I recently starting watching Downton Abbey and it is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Margaret Powell starts her domestic life at 14 as a kitchen maid and works her way up to cook. It’s impossible to read this and not think of Daisy from Downton Abbey. She isn’t whiney or feels like she had a hard life. She would have preferred to stay on at school, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her and it was a time when children did whatever their parents told them to do. She works in many different households – many of them stingy and cheap, but also some very kind employers. Here are some of her final words, which do an excellent job of summing up this book: “Domestic service does give an insight and perhaps an inspiration for a better kind of life. You do think about the way they lived and maybe unbeknown to yourself you try to emulate it. The social graces may not mean very much but they do help you to ease your way through life. So despite what it may sound like, I’m not embittered about having had to go into domestic service. I do often wonder what would have happened if I could have realized my ambition and been a teacher, but I’m happy now, and as my knowledge increases and my reading widens, I look forward to a happy future.”

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bree (AnotherLookBook)

    Interesting read and surprisingly compelling. The author’s voice reminded me strongly of the character Daisy from Downton Abbey. Some of the most fascinating parts were her reflections on growing up in poverty in a time before social services. Looking forward to reading the sequel at some point in the future.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Shiloah

    M. Powell has such a cheery way of writing. I love her spunky attitude. This is an enjoyable feel-good book. I have such a fascination about how all people lived throughout history. This is an interesting look at service in 1920s England.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Susan needs more books, not really

    I always enjoy these upstairs/downstairs-type of book. Maybe I was a maid in my previous life, I know I feel like one now! :) The author has an easy, flowing narrative of her life growing up very poor, then working in service. It is told without any sort of resentment or entitlement. She and her family made do with what they had, did without or improvised. No whining here. It was a fascinating glimpse of those days gone by. The maid and cook portion of the book was also interesting as the reader g I always enjoy these upstairs/downstairs-type of book. Maybe I was a maid in my previous life, I know I feel like one now! :) The author has an easy, flowing narrative of her life growing up very poor, then working in service. It is told without any sort of resentment or entitlement. She and her family made do with what they had, did without or improvised. No whining here. It was a fascinating glimpse of those days gone by. The maid and cook portion of the book was also interesting as the reader got to see just how an elegant - or pretentious - house was run through the eyes of the author. It was pretty amazing how some employers treated their help, while others took them into the family. And again, the author didn't hold resentment towards any, though her words were less flattering. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and think that, for a week, I would have liked to have experienced just what was involved in her job working in service. I'm sure it would have been quite the eye-opener and I'd be grateful for all I have and do now, even when things aren't so good.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lubinka Dimitrova

    3,5 stars actually - I'm feeling generous today. Nothing too extraordinary, but it does gives the reader a glimpse into the life of the servants and partly of their masters. The author's perseverance to read books, to educate herself and to aim high was quite admirable, and probably this gives the book its not too simplistic writing style and interesting narrative. I feel though that it was somewhat superficial, in the sense that although I read it with interest, I did not feel quite engaged wit 3,5 stars actually - I'm feeling generous today. Nothing too extraordinary, but it does gives the reader a glimpse into the life of the servants and partly of their masters. The author's perseverance to read books, to educate herself and to aim high was quite admirable, and probably this gives the book its not too simplistic writing style and interesting narrative. I feel though that it was somewhat superficial, in the sense that although I read it with interest, I did not feel quite engaged with the goings on or the characters. I can see how it became an inspiration for those serials, which were very nicely produced, so perhaps I should have watched them after reading the book that now seemed a bit plain.

  19. 4 out of 5

    LiMaB

    [...] she did give me quite a good reference, she didn't praise me up to the skies, but she said I was honest, hard working, and a good cook. What more could I expect? Margaret Powell worked in domestic service from the age of 15 until she married and quit her service life after that. Like this passage from the book tells us, she was hard working, and that's what you will definitely see in this book. The story of a woman who worked in service and had to rely on her employers to survive. I picked [...] she did give me quite a good reference, she didn't praise me up to the skies, but she said I was honest, hard working, and a good cook. What more could I expect? Margaret Powell worked in domestic service from the age of 15 until she married and quit her service life after that. Like this passage from the book tells us, she was hard working, and that's what you will definitely see in this book. The story of a woman who worked in service and had to rely on her employers to survive. I picked up the book, because it intrigued me by saying that, if you like Downton Abbey, you would surley like this story. And I can only agree. Margaret has a very nice writing voice. You do realise that she isn't an author and in my opinion, she never tries too hard to impress. Her words are clear and sometimes sobering. If you have watched TV shows like Downton Abbey you will know that being in domestic service meant to have a hard life. When Margaret travels from position to position, I really enjoyed seeing all her different employers and her commentary regarding their habits and life made the book really amusing from time to time. Her career started as a kitchen maid and she continued to be a cook. I never really knew anything about the hierarchy regarding service (only the stuff I knew from TV), but was glad to learn how everything worked and how people acted around others and how friendships were formed. Something I was really impressed by was Margarets thinking. She startetd quite early on to think about a better life for servants. You do see some employers in her life that treated their staff better, but they were nevertheless owned by them and had to rely on their wages to live. To read about how someone in that service, who didn't want this to be her whole life was really interesting. Since this is such a short book, roughly 200 pages, I cannot say much more about it. But if you like stories like this and love TV shows like Downton Abbey, you will thoroughly enjoy it. I did and it was a cozy read that transported me back to a time in which many young women (and men) worked in an environment many people today could not even think of.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephen the Librarian

    I don’t often read biographies or autobiographies, but the narrative flow of this book is so smooth and well-conceived, you’d almost swear that you were reading a novel rather than a candid memoir of a foregone world. As a fan of Downton Abbey, I found this book to be a terrific companion to the series; it illuminates readers on both the societal strata of society of that era and the life experiences of a domestic servant. On the one hand, Below Stairs serves as a counterpoint to Downton Abbey's I don’t often read biographies or autobiographies, but the narrative flow of this book is so smooth and well-conceived, you’d almost swear that you were reading a novel rather than a candid memoir of a foregone world. As a fan of Downton Abbey, I found this book to be a terrific companion to the series; it illuminates readers on both the societal strata of society of that era and the life experiences of a domestic servant. On the one hand, Below Stairs serves as a counterpoint to Downton Abbey's representation of sympathetic employers. Contrastingly, in young Margaret Langley’s experience, her employers are anything but thoughtful. As a kitchen maid, Margaret is treated with the least amount of respect or common decency. Powell’s story also differs from DA in that she toils within smaller London homes comprising only a handful of servants, as opposed to an aristocratic Yorkshire manor. At times, it was saddening to read of the outrageous backbreaking labor expected of Margaret—and not to mention the paltry wages, lack of praise, nonexistent vacations and weekends, and the deplorable living conditions she and the other servants endured, the very people who kept the houses functioning. Powell creates a vivid portrait of life as a working-class girl. Readers are given fascinating insight into lower-class England—you can’t misinterpret the servants’ disregard for the rigid upper crust, the way in which ‘They’ or ‘Them upstairs’ are vilified. The plainspoken narrative expounds on the differences between the classes as well as the distinctions between the sexes in this bygone era, all of which the author recounts with an eagle-eyed wit. Written history far too often centers on those possessing wealth and power, while the lives of the everyday person go unexplored. There's little to no literature on the hardships of British servants in the early twentieth century, let alone books written by those who actually lived the painstaking life. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of DA, Below Stairs is worth reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    George K. Ilsley

    A first person slice of social history; the story of a young girl who enters domestic service as a young teenager as a kitchen maid. Interesting observations on the changes in the lives and working conditions as a servant from the 1920s to the 1960s. Some readers find the author to be bitter; but to be a teenager who is underpaid with little freedom would be hard to endure. The author was mostly a cook until her marriage and the birth of her children so the memoir is largely scenes and situation A first person slice of social history; the story of a young girl who enters domestic service as a young teenager as a kitchen maid. Interesting observations on the changes in the lives and working conditions as a servant from the 1920s to the 1960s. Some readers find the author to be bitter; but to be a teenager who is underpaid with little freedom would be hard to endure. The author was mostly a cook until her marriage and the birth of her children so the memoir is largely scenes and situations from her early working life. A charming voice, straightforward and a combination of naive and worldly.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    While the book was enjoyable, I got the overall impression that Powell was somewhat bitter about her experiences as a domestic servant (kitchen maid and ultimately, a cook) even though she denies feeling that way. Powell admits that she had an inferiority complex and compensated by acting aggressively. I think that also meant she acted impulsively. There is unquestionably an 'us against them' attitude that comes across in her reminisces of downstairs life. Not that being a beckon-call domestic w While the book was enjoyable, I got the overall impression that Powell was somewhat bitter about her experiences as a domestic servant (kitchen maid and ultimately, a cook) even though she denies feeling that way. Powell admits that she had an inferiority complex and compensated by acting aggressively. I think that also meant she acted impulsively. There is unquestionably an 'us against them' attitude that comes across in her reminisces of downstairs life. Not that being a beckon-call domestic was an undemanding job - I have no doubt Powell worked her fingers to the bone, especially for some very ungrateful employers in her early teenage years when she first started off as a kitchen maid. To that end, however, I questioned whether Powell created her own bad luck finding suitable employment as potential employers probably surmised by her lengthy work history that she was somewhat flakey - she did not stay at any one position very long because of job dissatisfaction. Additionally, not long after Powell started in domestic service, she decided to relocate to London; because she was still a relatively unseasoned kitchen maid, less affluent (or more stingy) urban employers were more willing to take a chance on her and were not always the best masters. She ultimately bullies her way from kitchen maid to full cook at a different residence, even though she may not have been quite ready for such position. She complained a lot about every job she had. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I took Powell's underlying ascerbity with a grain of salt. I am unsure how bitter Powell was herself or, whether the ghost writer's bias is coming through. That being said, I don't generally read ghost written books. I didn't even realize the book was ghost written until I was over half way finished. Much of the book is pretty funny. I originally thought, 'wow, for someone with such inauspicious beginnings who was forced to leave school at age 14, she writes very well and is extremely witty.' Now, I'm not so sure to what extent Powell was being dry and witty, but that's quite alright as her experiences as both kitchen maid and cook seem authentic, even if spun to portray her as a sympathetic character. I have the feeling that Powell always remained rough around the edges throughout her life. While I may have embraced the book more had it been written by Powell herself, it is still worth the time for anyone interested in domestic service to read this book. I'm just not convinced she was a model servant but this is her own singular story to tell. If you want to read a more historical account of domestic life for all service positions and their duties (and what upstairs life was like, for that matter) I would recommend Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney; the book is not a memoir but it does contain quotes from former servants, should that appeal to one wishing to read first-hand accounts.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    This book inspired three TV series: Upstairs, Downstairs; Beryl's Lot; and Downton Abbey. I suspect that the Maisie Dobbs mystery series borrows from it too. In a nutshell (with some spoilers): Thirteen-year-old girl wins scholarship, can't accept it because family needs her income, goes into domestic service, mostly hates it but soldiers on, leaves service to marry, and (decades later) becomes famous, beloved, and quite rich. Words and expressions I learned: pantechnicon: a furniture van saxe blue This book inspired three TV series: Upstairs, Downstairs; Beryl's Lot; and Downton Abbey. I suspect that the Maisie Dobbs mystery series borrows from it too. In a nutshell (with some spoilers): Thirteen-year-old girl wins scholarship, can't accept it because family needs her income, goes into domestic service, mostly hates it but soldiers on, leaves service to marry, and (decades later) becomes famous, beloved, and quite rich. Words and expressions I learned: pantechnicon: a furniture van saxe blue: a light blue-gray color saddle of mutton: a cut of meat consisting of a sheep's backbone and both loins knife-powder: a fine grit that people used for cleaning knives before stainless steel was invented bun day: I can't find what this one means, but apparently it's a kind of holiday a face like the back of a bus: unattractive snaffle: to take something (such as food, a boyfriend, or a husband) quickly for yourself. A snaffle was originally a kind of bit for horses. knock the gilt off the gingerbread: to remove an item's most attractive qualities or spoil the best part of a story all my eye and Betty Martin: nonsense (I've also seen this term in Agatha Christie novels) This book focuses on Powell's time in domestic service. She is forthright and often rather bitter. I would be too, though; even the few kindhearted people she worked for were astonished that she enjoyed reading. "Men are very susceptible to flattery. Even a man with a face like the back of a bus, if you tell him he doesn't look too bad, believes you. You can stuff men up with any old yarn. They believe anything. You've only got to gaze into their eyes, and sound as though you mean what you say. I've tried it so I know it's true." "Now there's the unfairness of life, you couldn't set up a love nest for a man, and yet maybe you would like to. It's like those 'red light' districts, isn't it? Why should men have the advantages in their sexual life? When all's said and done women can have husbands who don't supply enough, and I think there should be places where they can go where all the men have been vetted and are ready to oblige for a small fee. We are the underprivileged sex, really and truly, in every way of life." "If a man doesn't spend much on you when you're not married to him, it's a sure thing he's not going to afterwards." "I didn't want to be better than everybody else, I just wanted not to have somebody continually carping all the time at me." "When I left domestic service I took with me the knowledge of how to cook an elaborate seven-course dinner and an enormous inferiority complex." "I know it's all dead and gone. Things like that don't happen now. But I think it's worth not forgetting that they did happen."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I've been on a recent Downton Abbey kick and discovered that this memoir was an inspiration for Jullian Fellowes, the screenwriter for the series and movie. I had expected a "Dear Diary" type of memoir, either meant to be educational or dramatically shocking. Instead, I was delighted to find this book saucy, intelligent, and even somewhat feminist. Rather than maudlin or Dickensian, it is humorous, self-aware, and matter-of-fact as Margaret describes what it was like to work in service for a var I've been on a recent Downton Abbey kick and discovered that this memoir was an inspiration for Jullian Fellowes, the screenwriter for the series and movie. I had expected a "Dear Diary" type of memoir, either meant to be educational or dramatically shocking. Instead, I was delighted to find this book saucy, intelligent, and even somewhat feminist. Rather than maudlin or Dickensian, it is humorous, self-aware, and matter-of-fact as Margaret describes what it was like to work in service for a variety of different households - and she's not afraid to tell us what she really thought of her employers. Throughout her stories, Margaret sprinkles commentary contrasting the difference between the way things were at the time compared to how they are at the time of writing years later, which highlights how quickly society and technology changed. I really admired Margaret's determination to improve herself and her living conditions. Even though she left school when she was 13, she was an avid reader in her (very limited) free time, and I loved her casually dropping a G.K. Chesterton reference, surprising her employer (and me)! I also cheered when Margaret decides she is fed up as a kitchen maid (the lowest position in domestic service) and wants better working conditions. She boldly applies for a position as a cook, even though she's not quite qualified for it, and negotiates her way to a higher salary and a full day off every month to boot. She just figures she'll teach herself what else she needs to know along the way - and she does, although with some humorous mishaps. (This exactly mirrors the advice that women are told today to stop undervaluing ourselves when applying and negotiating for jobs). Eventually, Margaret marries and leaves service, but later takes on gig work cooking large dinner parties and even returns to school - a classic example of pausing, re-entering the workforce, and managing family and career. Somehow, Margaret makes this era seem like it was both ages apart from ours, and yet not so far in the past after all. Apparently this book's revelations and irreverence caused a bit of a ruckus among upper class circles when it was published. I found it still amusing and informative today!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan Peterson

    The cover of the book compares Below Stairs to "Downton Abbey" and "Upstairs, Downstairs." In fact, the image of Daisy, the kitchen maid in "Downton Abbey" kept floating through my mind as I read. But what this book has that the two series don't is a closely wrought picture of the life and heart of a kitchen maid. We see images of young Margaret, new to service, polishing the front door brass until her hands swell with chillblains, only to be dragged in front of the mistress of the house for a d The cover of the book compares Below Stairs to "Downton Abbey" and "Upstairs, Downstairs." In fact, the image of Daisy, the kitchen maid in "Downton Abbey" kept floating through my mind as I read. But what this book has that the two series don't is a closely wrought picture of the life and heart of a kitchen maid. We see images of young Margaret, new to service, polishing the front door brass until her hands swell with chillblains, only to be dragged in front of the mistress of the house for a dressing down regarding the bits she missed. In Margaret Powell's stories, we see not only how tough the work was, but the toughness of mind and the emotional calluses that she needed to form to do that work. She tells the story in simple, straightforward, almost childlike prose, but the detailed pictures she painted drew me in and made me ask the question of whether I could have survived the work and the indignities as well as she did. Susan Lynn Peterson author of Clare: A Novel a story of Irish immigration in the early 20th century

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Maybe I was expecting more scandal & more fraught interactions between the servants and the gentry, but this just fell flat. Even the poor under-parlourmaid who got knocked up by the nephew of the lady of the house wasn't too poignant. And when Margaret as Cook is serving & drops a potato down someone's décolletage, I expected everyone to erupt in a fiery wrath and for Margaret to be tragically out on the street within moments, but nothing too bad happens to her, other than getting called a swin Maybe I was expecting more scandal & more fraught interactions between the servants and the gentry, but this just fell flat. Even the poor under-parlourmaid who got knocked up by the nephew of the lady of the house wasn't too poignant. And when Margaret as Cook is serving & drops a potato down someone's décolletage, I expected everyone to erupt in a fiery wrath and for Margaret to be tragically out on the street within moments, but nothing too bad happens to her, other than getting called a swine in French. Not that I wish she would've lost her job, mind you, but popular culture has led me to believe that this sort of thing was just Not Done without major repercussions. I think the time it took to read this would've been better spent watching Gosford Park again. Oh well.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amelia

    An interesting little read but for all the hyped up description and allusions to links with Downton Abbey, Below Stairs is really nothing stand out. That's not to say that it's not worth a look but if it was inspiration for Downton Abbey, then it was a very loose inspiration. A vague idea. The events listed in the description take up at most a paragraph each so don't expect a brilliantly detailed expose. It didn't tell me any more than The Maid's Tale and that is exactly the problem with the ove An interesting little read but for all the hyped up description and allusions to links with Downton Abbey, Below Stairs is really nothing stand out. That's not to say that it's not worth a look but if it was inspiration for Downton Abbey, then it was a very loose inspiration. A vague idea. The events listed in the description take up at most a paragraph each so don't expect a brilliantly detailed expose. It didn't tell me any more than The Maid's Tale and that is exactly the problem with the overblown descriptions - it is an enjoyable read, but it doesn't actually have anything much to justify it being highlighted over other books in the genre.

  28. 4 out of 5

    LikeTheDog

    First published in 1968 in Britian; first U.S. edition 2012. Written as if Margaret Powell was conversing off the cuff, this gives a glimpse of life in the strictly class-drive society of early 20th Century England. It was all "us," the serant class, vs. "them," the upper-class employers -- not that all the employers consciously looked down on the help, but that many they didn't even think of them as people or notice their presence in the room. You'll like Margaret's keen sense of observation, a First published in 1968 in Britian; first U.S. edition 2012. Written as if Margaret Powell was conversing off the cuff, this gives a glimpse of life in the strictly class-drive society of early 20th Century England. It was all "us," the serant class, vs. "them," the upper-class employers -- not that all the employers consciously looked down on the help, but that many they didn't even think of them as people or notice their presence in the room. You'll like Margaret's keen sense of observation, as well as her forthrightness and honesty.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aneesa

    This is like if Daisy wrote a diary but she were less naive and more entitled (as she should be). Thanks to David for the recommendation!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shirley Revill

    Really enjoy reading books from this era and I found this book very enjoyable. Recommended

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.