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4.2 out of 5 stars
Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2013
I am, old enough to rember large louses with servants but had no idea of the conditions experienceds by sonme of thes people
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on 16 July 2015
Quick service - Good read
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2013
I enjoyed the, slightly, more modern view of the life of a servants in Britain than that illustrated on the television . This book covers non-living-in "helps" rather than the people illustrated by Hudson, Mrs Bridges and their support staff. This coverage is achieved, quoting the views of "employers", rather than doers. It thus appears to lack depth and reality. Never-the-less the book is interesting and would contribute useful material to those involved in recent social history or interested in how the "other half" lived.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2013
A very well researched book that gives an enlightening first-hand account of people's experiences of life downstairs and debunks the myths of Edwardian dramas. Some truly astonishing stories of treatment both good and bad of people at the lower end of the social scale. Thank goodness for progress but incredible to think it took a world war to push for change. Recommended to anyone interested in social history.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The public have a fascination with the 'downstairs, life of the gentry. Numerous accounts are available. Unfortunately, very few spell out just how horrible life was for the majority of domestic servants up to the 1930's. Even fewer discuss the lot of the domestic servant in the wider context of Victorian and Edwardian society. Television dramas like Downton may be entertaining, attracting large audiences, but they are very poor history for the simple reason that no one would be allowed to show the truth about domestic service. For example,the incidence of sexual assault committed by the 'Master' on female servants is only available in dusty archives.

Oral history, autobiographies, diaries and letters provide useful personal experience but should be read with caution. One person's experience may be unique or not representative of others. Also most of the official reports on women published around the 1900's do not cover the domestic and personal side of their lives.
Lucy Lethbridge's latest book covering the history of servants in the 20th century is an interesting and well written book. However it, like many others,relies heavily on memoirs and oral testimonies that are notoriously difficult to substantiate.
None of her stories about the work that servants had to endure, the hours they had to labour or the miserly pay will surprise those readers who have read other accounts. Gloves were forbidden to clean and scrub pans,technolgical aids that were available from the USA were not bought because as Virginia Woolf's father said:'why should he install a hot water system when he could employ two or three girls to carry the bath water up and down five flights of stairs?' It has been estimated that a maid carried three tonnes of hot water up and down stairs every week.
Servants were, in many mansions, required to turn and face the wall when master walked by. The whole system was riddled with class. One writer has described it as 'the theatre of the absurd'.
The system relied and existed upon a balance between employer and servant and anything that threatened to destroy or upset this balance was attacked, for example in 1911 when there was a proposal to introduce compulsory insurance and unemployment benefits for domestics.
It is only a slight exaggeration to describe the system as domestic slavery. Lords and Ladies thought it perfctly normal and natural to, for example, employ up to 50 staff to minister their needs even if there were only two of them to be looked after.
Some were apparently unable to dress themselves despit being physically fit, Churchill was one of them according to his valet. This could explain his odd choice of dress. One Dowager said she could not possibly organise a party for 35 guests with less than 145 staff. The same person employed 55 gardners. There are endless similar examples.
Lethbridge describes the shameful way that German Jewish refugees were treated after 1933 when they had to seek domestic worh in Britain-many had been well educated women. The prejudice was dreadful.
It was the Great War of 1914-18 that began the emancipation of servants and women in particular although it was a very slow process. In the war thousands of women replaced men on the land, in factories and in munitions (900,000). They became bus drivers, ticket collectors postwomen, policewomen and nurses thereby releasing men for the war zones. They received much hostility from men who feared their jobs would be lost after the war. Many feared their wages would be cut. Many of these women left domestic service to work in war-related industries. In July 1914 there were 1,658,000 in domestic service. In July 1918 this had dropped to 1,258,000, a fall of 24%. Women had proved they were capable of doing work other than domestic work. Many said they had 'tasted freedom for the first time'.
Read this book to be reminded of what the drudgery of domestic work was like in the Grand houses but please remember it was much, much worse for the majority of women-some as young as 10 years-than Lucy Lethbridge's book describes.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2013
This was a fascinating read. Much I knew already but It was nice to hear of individual servants and their masters.
I wish there had been more photos included.
A servants life was very far removed from Downton Abbey, a lot of hard work and little time off.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed the bits about the actual duties of the servants,found the bits about the influence of politics rather heavy going
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on 30 December 2014
Good book
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2014
I love books on this particular subject. However, this one reads like a string of anecdotes collected together in a rather poor writing style. The sentence construction is really distracting.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2013
A very readable history of upstairs downstairs life that was easy to identify with through anecdotes of family members who had been in service especially in the 20th centuary
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