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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 (93 customer reviews)
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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

Frequently Bought Together

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
Price For All Three: £18.37

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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: 19.6 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 39,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'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
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
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
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
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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unputdownable memoir of a forgotten world 29 July 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Many people talk about the `good old days', well, if you were a servant in the 20's there were very few good days. This book offers a startling and quite shocking insight into the real lives of those unlucky enough to slave from dawn to dusk in subterranean conditions for a pittance. I don't blame Mrs Powell for sounding off about the unfairness of life then. All credit to her, she made her own way from being a kitchen maid to cook, then wife and mother and then turned what could have been everyday memories into a bestseller. Thoroughly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best but not the worst.......
After having purchased the DVD’s of the original 1970’s series of Upstairs, Downstairs I have become very interested in finding out more about life as a domestic servant. Read more
Published 12 hours ago by Books & Crafts
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
Bought for a friend and she really liked it. Loves Dountown Abbey that is why I bought it for her.
Published 13 days ago by Catherine
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret Powell - what a star
How we all chuckled over Margaret Powell's famously unstuffy reminiscences of "life in service" - she was a great character and much in demand for interviews - our... Read more
Published 14 days ago by Western Fan Gal
5.0 out of 5 stars A real story written lightly yet touches the reader's heart deeply
I found the book second hand in a stall in Brighten (with the original price of 25p) where the author, Margaret Powell is from. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Cyclist on the move
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
another interestingly written book by Margaret powell
Published 2 months ago by sue nicholls
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Margaret Powell success
Margaret Powell writes a good easy read story of life and times of days gone by.
Published 2 months ago by Jenny
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept Mum Gripped
Bought as a gift for my mum she loved it, read it over a few days
Published 2 months ago by sharkstooth321
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Unfortunately this short tale of life below stairs comes across as an embittered tale of woe that becomes tedious after a while. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Highland Bookworm
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting insight of life in the 1920s
Published 3 months ago by PM
4.0 out of 5 stars Below Stairs
Not as funny as I hoped but enjoyed it anyway.
Published 5 months ago by Mrs M P Francis
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