Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"
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Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"

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3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  6,729 ratings  ·  979 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 212 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by St. Martin's Press (first published 1968)
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Madeline
Do you watch Downton Abbey?

If you answered yes, congratulations, we can continue being friends. I'm currently obsessed with that show, and so when I was in Barnes and Noble last week browsing through the biography/memoir section (like I do) this caught my eye, and I was about to put it back when I noticed that the title was blaring MEMOIR THAT INSPIRED "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" AND "DOWNTON ABBEY" and the next thing I knew I bought it. So kudos to the marketing team behind this book, because they k...more
Diane
What a delightful book! I admit I was drawn to it because of its claim to have inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey," but I think I would have loved it regardless.

The writer was born in 1907 in Hove, England, and even though she was bright and had won a scholarship, her family was poor and she couldn't afford to go to school, so she started working at age 13. Her first domestic service job was as a kitchen maid, and she eventually worked her way up to cook, which was a prestigious...more
Susan
I always enjoy these upstairs/downstairs-type of book. Maybe I was a maid in my previous life, I know I feel like one now! :)

The author has an easy, flowing narrative of her life growing up very poor, then working in service. It is told without any sort of resentment or entitlement. She and her family made do with what they had, did without or improvised. No whining here. It was a fascinating glimpse of those days gone by.

The maid and cook portion of the book was also interesting as the reader g...more
Rebecca
What a contrast to read this right after Julia Child's "My Life in France." With her acerbic wit and keen eye for social injustice -- not to mention the intellectual perseverance that led her to finally take and pass her O-levels after her children were grown -- Powell was clearly a force to be reckoned with, "in service" and out. Yet the function of the British class system at the time -- she was born in 1907 to a hardscrabble family -- was to continually "put her in her place," in other words...more
Dawn
My gran could have written this book. It certainly sounded like her voice coming down through time! A fascinating first hand account of what life was like at the early part of the 19th century for so many bright, capable women. Choices were few and life was outlined almost from birth if you were born into a working-class family of uncertain means. My great grandfather, who served galantly in the war, raised three children in Paddington on a carman's wages.

My gran went into service as a laundry...more
^
I was surprised to find no mention of a ghost writer; because the style of the writing is very much 'as told'. That directness really does work well, because the reader is firmly put at the same level as the servants; and, boy, don't a number of the employers seem to inhabit some rarefied and distant plane!

Yes, one is left wishing that employers would be more considerate of the quality of life of their servants. But one can well see in Margaret Powell the dilemma to many: wondering how to be a h...more
Susan Peterson
The cover of the book compares Below Stairs to "Downton Abbey" and "Upstairs, Downstairs." In fact, the image of Daisy, the kitchen maid in "Downton Abbey" kept floating through my mind as I read. But what this book has that the two series don't is a closely wrought picture of the life and heart of a kitchen maid. We see images of young Margaret, new to service, polishing the front door brass until her hands swell with chillblains, only to be dragged in front of the mistress of the house for a d...more
LikeTheDog
First published in 1968 in Britian; first U.S. edition 2012. Written as if Margaret Powell was conversing off the cuff, this gives a glimpse of life in the strictly class-drive society of early 20th Century England. It was all "us," the serant class, vs. "them," the upper-class employers -- not that all the employers consciously looked down on the help, but that many they didn't even think of them as people or notice their presence in the room. You'll like Margaret's keen sense of observation, a...more
Malapata
Margaret nació en 1905, siendo la segunda de siete hermanos de una familia humilde. Era aplicada y le gustaba aprender, así que al terminar el colegio le ofrecieron una beca para convertirse en maestra. Pero la mala situación económica de su familia le obligó a rechazarla y entrar en su lugar a servir en una casa como pinche de cocina, el escalafón más bajo dentro del servicio doméstico.

La suya es una mirada cáustica y a ratos amargada de las condiciones de vida del sevicion doméstico en la Ingl...more
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews
What a delightful book even though the subject of being a kitchen maid in a wealthy household was far from delightful. The author had a sense of humor that made the book fast paced, funny, and interesting.

This book was the memoir of a "real" kitchen maid. It definitely was not a pleasant life, but the author kept the book light and factual. The household staff would work from sunup to sunset with no conveniences that we have today in the kitchen or for cleaning to a shine.
The staff would have t...more
Stacey
Received this ARC as a First Reads winner. Before I read this, my knowledge of domestic service came mostly from reading Anne Perry's Thomas & Charlotte Pitt mysteries (I love their feisty maid Gracie!) as well as other period fiction. It was enlightening to read something from a domestic servant's point of view. I found Margaret Powell's varied experiences to be both funny and sad.

Before I read "Below Stairs:....", I read other reviews and many of them commented on the author's bitterness....more
Kirsti
This book inspired three TV series: Upstairs, Downstairs; Beryl's Lot; and Downton Abbey. I suspect that the Maisie Dobbs mystery series borrows from it too.

In a nutshell (with some spoilers): Thirteen-year-old girl wins scholarship, can't accept it because family needs her income, goes into domestic service, mostly hates it but soldiers on, leaves service to marry, and (decades later) becomes famous, beloved, and quite rich.

Words and expressions I learned:

pantechnicon: a furniture van

saxe blue...more
Stein
At the conclusion of the book, Margaret Powell says "So despite what it may sound like, I'm not embittered about having had to go into domestic service." Readers would like to believe that but most of the contents and tone of the book can easily be understood as being the memoirs of an embittered domestic.

Fans of Downton Abbey and Berkeley Square may expect to discover tantalizing details of below and above stairs goings-on in this book but will be rather disappointed to learn that the dreary sl...more
Melissa Prange
With the present success of the British television series Downton Abbey, St. Martin's Press has re-released the classic memoir, Below Stairs. In Below Stairs, Margaret Powell recounts her career in domestic service and vividly recreates the world in which she lived.

As a child, Margaret Powell hoped to become a teacher, but her family was poor and there was no public assistance to pay for her education. Instead, she entered the workforce at the age of thirteen. For two years, she worked a series...more
Joanne
1968 memoir from a former kitchen maid-turned-cook, which has renewed interest because apparently the director of Downton Abbey has used it for reference. It's mildly interesting, since Powell worked in a variety of situations, but she's also fairly grumpy about it. Lots of "things were different in my day," comments, kind of like listening to an oldtimer telling you how much harder life was for them. Undoubtedly true, but a whole book of grump gets tiresome. She talks a lot about wanting to get...more
Brian
May 20, 2012 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: nytimes book review
Shelves: on-nook
(3.0) I do see a lot of Downton Abbey here

Interesting topic: life of a kitchenmaid turned cook in early 20th century England. She's frank about her experiences, thoughts and perceptions as a domestic servant. She's also clearly intelligent and might've excelled in another profession if she'd been able to attend school. It was interesting to read, but would've been far more enjoyable if it were told as a narrative rather than reflections on memories from decades ago. More dialog, more in the mome...more
Melissa
Maybe I was expecting more scandal & more fraught interactions between the servants and the gentry, but this just fell flat. Even the poor under-parlourmaid who got knocked up by the nephew of the lady of the house wasn't too poignant. And when Margaret as Cook is serving & drops a potato down someone's décolletage, I expected everyone to erupt in a fiery wrath and for Margaret to be tragically out on the street within moments, but nothing too bad happens to her, other than getting calle...more
Chris Spiegel
It's hard to read a book that's hyped as being THE inspiration for Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs without expecting a lot! If one didn't have the opulent Downton Abbey sets in mind when reading Below Stairs, I think it would be a more enjoyable read. As is however, the book falls somewhat flat. As an earlier reviewer mentioned, I too had "Daisy" in mind when reading young Margaret's story. Margaret however, is not as likeable as Daisy and continually struggles with her "place" in society...more
Roberta
Fonte di ispirazione sia per l'apprezzatissima serie tv Downton Abbey, sia per la più datata (e introvabile) Upstairs, Downstairs, questo romanzo racconta come stavano veramente le cose almeno per una rappresentante delle servitù la cui vita viene tanto romanticamente descritta (almeno in Downton Abbey). Senza nulla togliere alla serie tv, che io _adoro_ bisogna ammettere che la situazione idilliaca che descrive è storicamente poco probabile.

La prima cosa che ho pensato, una volta superati i pri...more
Dylan
As a person who loves history and a huge fan of "Downton Abby", I was interested in reading this book. This memoir tells about England in the 20th century through the eyes of Margaret Powell. Mararet at the age of 15 goes into domestic service as a kitchen maid. Living below "them", as in her employers we here of Margaret's experiences. Bonding and making friends with other servants, dealing with "them", all of her ridicules jobs, and losing and switching jobs. As she progress to a cook from a...more
Dawn
Below Stairs is the book that inspired the epic British television classic "Upstairs Downstairs" and is currently enjoying a bit of a renaissance with the popularity of the Beeb's newest period drama "Downton Abbey".

Repackaged with a new jacket and a cover button with kudos by Dame Eileen Atkins, this memoir is still a worthy read, if a bit dry. It's written in the older style of such things, when you hinted at scandal rather than telling, and never named names or places... although telling pec...more
Lori
Feb 10, 2013 Lori rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
I am a big fan of Downton Abbey. when I read that the creator of this wonderful tv series. took this book Below stairs as a guide. I had to read this book.Margaret Powell was born in 1907 England. she came from a very poor family and had to seek employment at a young age.She wrote of starting out in a laundry at 14 and worked there until 15.it was then that she took her first job at a "great house" as a Kitchen maid. the lowliest of low positions.she writes of the very long hours starting a five...more
Emily
My Husband always seems to manage to surprise me at Christmas, with something I love and didn't know that I was missing or needed and this year wasn't an exception. In my pile of books from him this year was this one and a memories about the Lady that inspired Downton Abbey.

This book is written by Powell who grew up in a family that was always growing and parents who would barely make ends meet to survive. As early as she could Powell was sent to work and ended up going into service as a kitchen...more
Oracleofdoom
I'm going to do the best I can here, but I actually don't read much non-fiction. I just don't typically find it engaging. This was the selection for my book club for April, and the subject matter interested me. I'm just not sure how to review a memoir, because I feel I can't hold it to the standards to which I would hold a novel, can I?

At any rate, I found everything the author described fascinating. I typically get bored reading most non-fiction, so this says a great deal about her writing styl...more
Louise
STORY DESCRIPTION:

Pan MacMillan|March 29, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-330-53538-0

A compelling and colourful memoir that takes the reader inside the forgotten world of domestic service.

Arriving at the great houses of 1920’s London, fifteen-year-old Margaret’s life in service was about to begin…

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 even bootlaces to be ironed. Work...more
Julia
I picked this up in the library due to the subtitle mentioning "Upstairs Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey". In this sense, the publisher's marketing ploy worked. Since this book was originally published in 1968, it is possible that it was one of the inspirations for the original "Upstairs Downstairs" that was first aired in 1971. (The show was started by actresses Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins. One or both of them may have read this book.) However, "Below Stairs", a partial autobiography by Margare...more
Emelyn
Memorie di una cuoca

E' il 1920 e Margaret Langley ha solo tredici anni quando è costretta a lasciare la scuola per trovare un lavoro. Nata in una famiglia povera di Hove (Inghilterra), con molti fratelli e sorelle più giovani, sa che i suoi genitori non possono permettersi di continuare a mantenerla. Margaret decide di andare a servizio, come sua madre prima di lei; ma odia cucire, pur sapendo benissimo che il cucito rientra tra le principali attività di una domestica. La sua unica possibilità,...more
Donna
This memoir about working in domestic service was written in a conversational tone that, while occasionally rambling, made it a fast, easy read.

The author worked as a kitchen maid and cook, and tells frank stories about hard work, employers, and coworkers. Many of the anecdotes focus on the unfair ways that servants were treated or viewed. For example, she makes several mentions of how it bothered her that employers were always shocked to learn that she enjoyed reading (presumably because they a...more
Lori Twichell
Powell is brutally honest in this memoir that shares what her life was like. At moments when she’s talking about how they saved money just to be able to eat and the things her family had to do to make ends meet, you’d really like to feel terribly sorry for her. In fact most often as you’re reading, you do. You realized what a difficult life she had especially when compared to the life we live today. But the funny thing is that Margaret Powell won’t LET you feel badly about her life. She may have...more
Ariel
As a lover of Downton Abbey, I could not pass up the book that inspired it as well as Upstairs, Downstairs. Although this book was not quite as titillating as the series it was still an excellent read. Margaret Powell entered into service at a time when the servants were not treated much differently than slaves. Even though she endured a lot of indignities at the hands of her employers she used her wits to advance her station while not allowing her employers to take away her pride. Her pointed o...more
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Margaret Powell (1907 – 1984) was an English writer. Her book about her experiences in domestic service, Below Stairs, became a best-seller and she went on to write other books and became a television personality. Below Stairs was an impetus for Upstairs, Downstairs and the basis of Beryl's Lot, and is one of the inspirations of Downton Abbey. wikipedia
More about Margaret Powell...
Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance Climbing the Stairs Margaret Powell's Cookery Book: 500 Upstairs Recipes from Everyone's Favorite Downstairs Kitchen Maid and Cook The Treasure Upstairs Maids And Mistresses

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“I used to wonder why... Mum kept having babies... that was the only pleasure poor people could afford . It cost nothing--at least at the time when you were actually making the children. The fact that it would cost you something later on, well, the working-class people never looked ahead in those days.” 7 likes
“They knew that you breathed and you slept and you worked, but they didn’t know that you read. Such a thing was beyond comprehension. They thought that in your spare time you sat and gazed into space, or looked at Peg’s Paper or the Crimson Circle. You could almost see them reporting you to their friends. ‘Margaret’s a good cook, but unfortunately she reads. Books, you know.” 4 likes
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