Ser­vants’ Sto­ries: Life Below Stairs in their Own Words 1800-1950

Byb Michelle Higgs

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - THE GUIDE -

(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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