Below Stairs

  • by Margaret Powell
  • Narrated by Mary Wells
  • 5 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants' entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s. As a kitchen maid - the lowest of the low - she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5:30 am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Margaret Powell's true story of a life spent in service is a fascinating "downstairs" portrait of the glittering, long-gone worlds behind the closed doors of Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Less than I was expecting...

If you are a fan of Downton Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs, be warned: this memoir is nothing like them. Nor is it particularly well written. I almost couldn't get through the first seven chapters because of the constant reiteration of the phrases "back then" "back in those days" and "back in the old days." It's relentless, kind of verbal Chinese water torture. Eventually, it either lessened or I got used to it.

As to content, this isn't a novel or an expose of any kind. There isn't much that struck me as shocking as the author seemed to expect (for example, some servants liked to read) , but that may be because I am an American reading this in the twenty-first century. Or that "them upstairs" expected those below to be grateful to them. There was some interesting detail about the mechanics of housekeeping and how Margaret learned to cook. The news that fresh food made from scratch tastes way better than what we have today just didn't strike me as amazing news.

Since this was an impulse download done at a time I was trying to distract myself, the book really didn't suit my purposes. I wish I'd kept searching, but not terrible. Just terribly bland.
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- Margaret

Cooking and cleaning before the modern stoves etc

What attracted me to the book was the title saying it inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abby" . This is a story of a 14 year old off to work in service. Teenagers working was common in those years, the story took place just before WWI and after. Mary Wells did such a good job narrating and the book was written in a relaxed style I felt as if I was having a cup of tea with a friend, who was telling me about her first jobs. Up at 5:30 a.m. scrubbing and cleaning, light coal fires, and can you believe ironing bootlaces after shinning the shoes. From what she described I think houses must have been cleaner than today OR the coal heating made the constant cleaning a necessity. Having to cook everything from scratch, groceries delivered daily, (no refrigeration), making your own house cleaning solutions, no wonder they went to bed exhausted. Sure glad we have all our modern implements otherwise would never have time for anything but cleaning and cooking. The story is short, and written in a breezy manner that makes the ending come up way to fast. The book gives one a look into a way of life that is mostly gone after WWI.
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- Jean "I am an avid eclectic reader."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-13-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios