Book review: Life Below Stairs: true lives of Edwardian Servants
By Alison Maloney
Review by: Alexa Williamson
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
The title of the book describes the subject matter perfectly. Written in plain English, this book, although it borrows heavily from other books about Edwardian culture (and the author has to keep citing references), is an excellent account of what it was like for someone to be a servant in Britain during the Edwardian era.
Apparently, by the Edwardian era, the servant class was lessening as men were going off to World War I, women were getting jobs in shops and factories and taking men’s roles while they were at war and being a servant wasn’t a highly regarded role anymore. Edwardian families also didn’t have as much money as predecessors and things like National Insurance, and the taxation to support it, were also eating in to money to pay servants a wage that would attract them to the profession.
Besides giving a historical and factual account of what it was like to live and work in a house with servants (from both sides – the servants’ lifestyle and work responsibilities as well as what it was like to live as a middle or upperclass family that could afford servants), there are many well-written, simple and touching stories of what it was like to live in an Edwardian household, recipes for Edwardian dishes, meal plans, servants’ schedules of what was done both in a city house and country house as well as lists of salaries paid, the modern money equivalent and also lists of how much certain things cost.
Spanning 181 pages in hardback, with a bibliography as well, this is a delightful and fairly easy read with chapters such as Social Background, Household Structure, Pay and Conditions, A Day in the Life of a Country House and more. Well worth the time – and the hardback book is also very pretty and a good, small size so easy to fit in your bag and bring with you.
Life Below Stairs: True lives of Edwardian Servants (Amazon)