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Below Stairs: The Bestselling Memoirs of a 1920s Kitchen Maid [Unabridged] [Paperback]

Margaret Powell
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
RRP: 6.99
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Book Description

4 Mar 2011

Arriving at the great houses of 1920s 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 housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, 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.

'Enormous gusto, salty humour, wisdom' Evening Standard

'Shrewd, unabashed, wickedly funny, a unique front-line report of her life's experiences' Jack De Manio, BBC


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Below Stairs: The Bestselling Memoirs of a 1920s Kitchen Maid + Climbing the Stairs: From kitchen maid to cook; the heartwarming memoir of a life in service + The Lady's Maid: My Life in Service
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Product details

  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Unabridged edition (4 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330535382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330535380
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 12.8 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 83,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'Anyone who enjoyed Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs will relish this feisty memoir' --Dame Eileen Atkins

'A nurse worked hard, but a skivvy worked harder - brought to life in this wonderful book' --Jennifer Worth, author of the Call the Midwife trilogy

'Despite Powell's cheerful voice, her depiction of life as a kitchen maid shows that it was far from rosy...her memoirs are spirited and heart-warming because of her, not because of her subject.' --Daily Express' Christopher Silvester

'Witty, wise and wonderfully cynical, Margaret's story is in a class of its own.' --Lancashire Evening Post

About the Author

Margaret Powell was born in 1907 in Hove. Aged fifteen, she went into service as a kitchen maid, eventually progressing to the position of cook. In 1968 the first volume of her memoirs, Below Stairs, was published to instant success. She died in 1984.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting 16 Mar 2011
By M. Dowden HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This first part of Margaret Powell's memoirs was originally published in 1968. With the interest that has been shown in such things as Downton Abbey, and the Christmas special of Upstairs, Downstairs it was about time that this book was back in circulation.

Margaret Powell was born in 1907 and this book tells of her life growing up in Hove in a working class family, the need she had to leave school as early as possible to bring in money thus preventing her from higher education. After a few jobs at 15, Margaret went into the world of domestic service. If like me you come from a working class family then it is likely that you have had now deceased relatives that also were in the same position, and have probably heard stories such as Margaret's of growing up and going to work.

From starting off in the lowest maids position Margaret eventually did become a cook, a highly important position. In this memoir we are shown how life really was, with no thrills added, what things had to be put up with, and the sheer drudgery of life. As the book progresses we do see a change in the way that the domestic staff are treated, which I know some may not think is much, but it was definitely a massive improvement. If you want some idea of what being in service meant, and not some glamourised tv drama version, then this book should interest you immensely.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy Read 11 April 2011
By Moy15
Format:Paperback
I saw an article in my daily paper about the author and a small preview of the book and decided to buy it. It was an easy read and enjoyable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The review title pretty much sums it up. This is a real account, written by a real person who lived the life of a domestic servant in the early twentieth century. I do feel that other reviewers who criticise the lack of 'scandal' or complain that Ms Powell didn't push herself to have a better life are completely missing the point.

It is not a novel, designed to draw the reader into an intricate plot with twists and adventure. It is not the tale of 'rags to riches' or a romantic novel about the poor little servant girl who meets her Prince Charming and strolls off into the happy ever after. It is just one person's story about a world which no longer exists and which I believe, is a great little nugget of history which anyone can access. Seriously, if you or I were to write an honest account of our daily lives, how much of it would you consider to be of real interest except as a documentation of working life in the early 21st century?

Almost 100 years on, we have grown used to a society where boys and girls alike are educated to believe that they can reach the best of their potential in a career that provides both a healthy wage and job satisfaction (whether or not that is the reality in adulthood) Life for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers simply wasn't like that! You left school to start pulling your financial weight in the family home and most jobs were offered to those who asked provided the employer had the space, money and need for them - with employment law in its adolescence, CVs and references were rarely required. Margaret Powell's life was what it was; she would not have been encouraged to 'go for it' and even if she had the moral support from her family, she certainly wouldn't have had the financial backing to do so.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I always enjoy these real life stories of people who lived (not always easy lives) in the early part of the twentieth century. I recently read Four Meals for Fourpence which was about growing up in London in poor and bitter circumstances. This book tells of Margaret, born in 1907, who leaves home at 13 to go into service. Her struggles to work her way up the ladder of those `downstairs' is fascinating reading - her indomitable spirit shows through the entire story. Never one to take her circumstances lying down, Margaret strives to better herself and pragmatically to make a life for herself outside of service. Margaret writes with wry humour and never fails to call a spade a spade - she sounds like a remarkable woman whom it would have been a privilege to meet. Highly recommended.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book. 26 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
This book is quite wonderful. A superb accound of Margaret Powells life when she was a servant in days gone by. Funny, witty beautifully written - a unique look at below stairs life. I recomment this book to anyone! I promise you, you will really enjoy it. Lovely to see (after the come back of upstairs downstairs and the success of downton) a renewed interest in the wonderful Margaret Powell and the re-issue of her much loved book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book! 15 Jun 2011
By 78tuck
Format:Paperback
I couldn't put it down, have just finished reading this book and it was definitely an eye opening read into life in domestic service and how different they were treated from 'them upstairs'. Very interesting to read and was very well written. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes to read true stories.....
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars well worth reading again 27 May 2011
By Teach
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I first read this book just after it was published. Margaret Powell was a guest on many chat shows and was very funny. Although, many people have said that the book was "hilarious" I don't actually think it was. It is an excellent comment about life between the wars, and quite a sad story of a plain girl's journey into womanhood. There are the occasional parts that made me smile, but there was nothing to make me laugh out loud. Having said all this, I loved the book, I read it many times when I had the paperback years ago, and have read it twice since buying it for the Kindle. I sincerely hope all of her other books will soon appear on the Kindle list so I can buy them again too.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting insight of life in the 1920s
Published 11 days ago by PM
4.0 out of 5 stars Below Stairs
Not as funny as I hoped but enjoyed it anyway.
Published 2 months ago by Mrs M P Francis
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good book
Margaret Powell is a good writer who makes you feel you are living the part. If you like to read biographies then this is for you. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Penor
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
Loved this, its the second time I have read it and it is still a lovely tale full of laughter and tears.
Published 2 months ago by susan j marsh
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it!
Loved this book. You get a real sense of the old days. Written very well, with great discriptions and likeable characters. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mrs. L. M. Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Mums present
Bought this for my Mother who is 97. She remembers how it used to be. She thoroughly enjoyed it.
Great nostalgic reading!
Published 4 months ago by susan tanner
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever Margaret Powell
How someone who worked downstairs got herself educated as well as working full time as a domestic .A real achievement.and as good read
Published 4 months ago by Mrs. J. K. Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars lovely book
Gives an insight into life in the early 1900,s. I will certainly buy the follow up book. A good and easy read
Published 5 months ago by Susan
5.0 out of 5 stars eye-opening look into the past
very interesting and entertaining book written in Margaret Powell's down-to earth style. would recommend to anyone with an interest in social history.
Published 5 months ago by sheila kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars A GREATER UNDERSTANDING
LOVED THIS BOOK AND LEARNT ALOT MORE OF LIFE DOWNSTAIRS. FOUND THE STORY MOVING AND WAS SYMPATHETIC TO THOSE WHO WERE IN SERVICE
Published 5 months ago by LINDA DAVIDSON
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