A Book for 'Downton Abbey' Fans
Published on Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 10:39am
I discovered Downton Abbey recently, and so was fascinated with Life Below Stairs. I just watched all three seasons, so I can vouch for there being something on almost every page that provides more details on matters touched on in the show, and all without a lot of tiresome references to the program. (I think the author only mentioned it twice, in fact.) If you have never seen the television series, you can still enjoy this snapshot of a bygone way of life.
The book is enlivened by illustrations that include facsimile ads for servants' beds (narrower than standard beds), excerpts from letters and diaries of servants and employers, unexpected facts such as the greater salaries for taller footmen, and all housekeepers being called "Mrs." There is also a list of salaries and the beer allowances (given even to the maids), as well as prices of many food items.
It's startling to realize how hard the servants worked, and for what long hours, and yet going into service was a sought-after option to escape the great poverty of the time. Even lower middle class families would have at least a maid, though much of the focus of the book is on larger establishments. As you read this, whatever your own job, it is likely to have you saying, "I'm glad I'm working today, and not then." Eye-opening.