A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain

Book - 2013
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Servants is the social history of the last century through the eyes of those who served. From the butler, the footman, the maid and the cook of 1900 to the au pairs, cleaners and childminders who took their place seventy years later, a previously unheard class offers a fresh perspective on a dramatic century. Here, the voices of servants and domestic staff, largely ignored by history, are at last brought to life- their daily household routines, attitudes towards their employers, and to each other, throw into sharp and intimate relief the period of feverish social change through which they lived.
Sweeping in its scope, extensively researched and brilliantly observed, Servants is an original and fascinating portrait of twentieth-century Britain; an authoritative history that will change and challenge the way we look at society.
Publisher: London : Bloomsbury, 2013
ISBN: 9780747590170
Branch Call Number: 305.50941 LET NVD
Characteristics: xi, 385 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 25 cm


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Jul 07, 2014

Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain --- by Lucy Lethbridge. Perhaps encouraged by the popularity of the recent BBC program “Downton Abbey” a keen interest has developed among many of its viewers about the lives not only of those who lived “upstairs” but also the lives and obligations of those who lived beneath the stairs to work “in service” downstairs. A tradition of the eighteenth century for some of the titled and wealthy that spread among the lesser nobility during the nineteenth century and then even to the professional classes before it met its ultimate (and inevitable) demise under the twin disasters of the first World War, and, finally, World War Two. In the great houses and on the great estates of nineteenth century England (and it was chiefly England) there laboured a virtual army of groomers and coachmen; cooks and chefs; butlers and maids; chauffeurs and footmen hard at work tending fireplaces, plucking pheasants, lighting candles, emptying chamber pots, and carrying virtual oceans of hot water up two and three flights of stairs for the lord’s bath. Lucy Lethbridge crafts an elegant work with considerable insight and considerable empathy for her book's subjects. By necessity, Lethbridge’s book must delve into diaries, of which there are few: most servants were illiterate and most masters ignored their help as a matter of principle, with some going so far as to instruct their servants to turn around and face the wall when they were met in the hall. It seems, that in many cases, servants were neither seen nor to be heard. Lethbridge must use the historical method: she delves into it with gusto. The extensive bibliography and extensive footnotes stand in testimony to the enthusiasm with which she dives into historical methodology. Rarely does one encounter such an enthralling work of social history that is as beguiling as this volume. Absorbing to read.

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