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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2013
This little book (218 pages) by Noel Streatfeild (no typo, that really is the spelling) is subtitled "A Children's Nanny at the Turn of the Century". It is non-fiction, but reads as easily and cosily as fiction.

Noel Streatfeild describes the life and times of Emily Huckwell, a Sussex girl born in the 1870s who went to work as a nursery maid when she was not yet twelve years old. Eventually, she was made head nanny to a wealthy family and looked after two generations of their children. One of those children became the father of Noel Streatfeild.
All "her" children loved her very much - which is hardly surprising, seeing how well she treated them and how much time she spent with them, in stark contrast to their own parents, who would see them for one hour between tea and bed time when they were little, and ship them off to boarding schools when they were older - and so Noel was of course introduced to her father's old nanny when she was a little girl.

In those days, people did not question that girls from poor families went into service until they married, and boys worked as farm hands. It was also not questioned that servants were available at all hours and every day; having a week off was all they had in a whole year, and sometimes they did not even take that, if they felt they could not be spared.

The work Emily does, the children and their parents and the other staff at the house are all well described, as are the big houses where she works.
The rhythm of daily life is occasionally interrupted by visits to or from other families, and punctuated by family prayers, meals, lessons and walks.

I was reminded of The Lady's Maid, a book I read almost two years ago, but there are differences: "The Lady's Maid" is an autobiography, written by a woman who did not have much formal education, which shows in her writing style. But it also goes much deeper where her feelings and thoughts are concerned, while "Tea by the Nursery Fire" necessarily has to remain on the outside of its main subject for most of the time, and the author was a professional writer.

Speaking of the author, my first surprise was to learn that Noel Streatfeild was a woman. Up until then, I thought that Noel was a male first name, Noelle being the female version. My second surprise was to read (on Wikipedia, where else!) that her books are well known and very popular; I had never heard of her before.

It really was a good read, giving a close-up portrait of "Victorian and Edwardian life above and below stairs", as the short summary on the back says. Children from around 10 years could, I guess, find this just as interesting as an adult reader.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2012
This is Noel Streatfeild's fictionalised biography of "GrandNannie" who appears in her fictionalised autobiographies (A Vicarage Family etc). I enjoyed it because it adds another piece of the jigsaw and helps explain the nanny figures that appear in the majority of her children's books. As with many of Streatfeild's books, the writing is a bit flakey in places, but nonetheless she tells a good story.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 4 December 2012
I love the stories of Noel Streatfeild, and this real life story of a Nanny who worked for her family in earlier times is a fascinating read of what life used to be like for servants.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2013
I loved this. I found it really illuminating about the way wealthy people lived and treated their children in the late Victorian era up to the first world war, in contrast with the poor people also described. Noel Streatfeild always tells her story in an interesting and direct way, and I found much of this very touching.

I'd recommend this to anyone who likes Noel Streatfeild's books. I would say it was aimed at adults, but could be enjoyed by children too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 April 2014
I don't think Emily can have been born in the 1870s as Noel's father was born in 1865 and Noel herself in 1895, so she would already have been up and running when Emily is a young woman at the time of the Boer War. I found an Emily Huckwell, born in 1844, on the 1911 census, so if this is the same person her brothers could hardly have been killed in World War One. Also, Noel's father William Streatfeild came from a clerical, not an aristocratic family. So I think that while Emily was certainly a real person this is actually a novel about how the aristocracy treated their servants, and what these servants could expect from life (not very much). And note, too, that Emily's fiance is killed because the Baronet makes him put up a flag for the King's coronation. How relieved I am that we're not living in those 'good old days'! I was fascinated by this book, and by the simple goodness of the central character, and it reminds me that Noel Streatfeild wrote excellent books for adults as well as children.
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on 3 February 2015
The book features Emily, who was born in the 19th century into an impoverished home with a large number of siblings. At the age of eleven, she begins in service as assistant to an upper class nursery. She gradually progresses to become a much loved ‘Nannie’ in her teens and through the rest of he life.

While loosely biographical, some of the chronology is incorrect, and many of the people have fictional names. The character of Emily is nicely done, with the majority of the book from her viewpoint. However I was a little disappointed that the writing doesn’t flow as Noel Streatfeild’s other books do; the sentence structure feels stilted in places, with some of the punctuation lacking entirely.

The latter sections of the book are a bit depressing, as Emily loses the opportunity of marriage, and then young men around her go off to the first World War and don’t return. The ending is then rather abrupt. However, I assume that the majority of the narrative is based on factual reminiscences so perhaps the chronological gaps are where little or nothing was recalled.

Still, overall the book paints a good picture of life in the late 19th century and is a useful read from the social history point of view. Certainly worth having for fans of Noel Streatfeild, or for anyone - adult or teen, perhaps even older children - who are interested in this era.

Three and a half stars would be fairer.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2013
As one interested in Noel Streatfeild's works, was pleased to discover 'Tea by the Nursery Fire.' Warm and cosy as her beloved 'Shoes' books are, this title, based on the reality of her father's nanny; is a fair portrayal of Victorian nursery life and just as interesting and un-put-downable as her 'kid's lit.'.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 March 2013
I have been a nanny a great deal of my working life so this was a wonderful glimpse into my career as it would have been in the past. Wonderful descriptions and lovely tale of past tricks of the trade. Rather sad end but showed what love nannies have for their 'changes'. Thank you.
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on 22 April 2013
'Tea by the Nursery Fire' tells the fictionalised, presumably, true story of legendary Streatfeild nanny Emily. I found it a little saccharine and without much conflict.

Emily's rosy nursery microcosm is one where the worst that can happen is a ripped dress and spoiled milk pudding. But, inevitably, times are changing. It is the start of the 20th century, the gentry are losing their power in local society, and the milieu of the domestic servant is beginning to vanish with them. And, of course, war is looming. Will Emily's world and that of the family she works for survive?

It isn't particularly well-written - lot of cliches. But excellent value for money if you are looking for pure escapism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2013
This would make a good film. Descriptive and very intuitive about characters. Details of the age of service very interesting.
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