Servants’ Stories: Life Below Stairs in their Own Words 1800-1950
Byb Michelle Higgs
(Pen & Sword History, 192 pages, £12.99) This book gives a picture of domestic service between 1800 and 1950 as seen from the servants’ perspective.
It was a period when the upper and middle classes could not function without servants, but their world was undergoing immense changes.
Servants’ Stories includes oral histories, diaries, an array of newspaper reports and previously unpublished accounts by both male and female domestic servants, although most of them are female, employed by the middle and lower-middle classes. It also contains general chapters about domestic service.
The general chapters are extremely informative and feature snippets from books, newspapers, and servants’ accounts. Among other things, they cover the ‘servant problem’, conditions of service and the impact of the First World War.
The personal accounts are arranged chronologically and are often both intensely personal and very moving.
They vary in length but each contains a ‘potted biography’ and even include one by an undercover American journalist!
Reading this has given me a whole new understanding of the lives of my ancestors who worked as domestic servants, including Great Aunt Mary Ann; whose photograph, dressed in her maid’s outfit, features in the family album.
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