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Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times
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Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  778 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
The vividly told lives of British servants and the upper crust they served.

From the immense staff running a lavish Edwardian estate and the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house to the poor child doing chores in a slightly less poor household, servants were essential to the British way of life. They were hired not only for their skills but also to
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Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 18th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published March 1st 2013)
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Mel Campbell
Domesticity is such a fraught space. Women have long been told that they should build their identities around home-making, and so the people who can afford to outsource their domestic labour are demonised as lazy and uncaring, and the servants who actually make homes are robbed of the dignity and purpose that our culture associates with work because the credit for that work goes to their employers.

And while we like to think that these relationships and economies are quintessential to some contem
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Blue
Nov 09, 2013 Blue rated it really liked it
Thank you Goodreads First Reads for a copy of this book!

Well, watching Downton Abbey, I find myself thinking often that Fellows has used too much poetic license. I think, no way! Reading Servants, I realized just how much of DA is actually textbook stuff. This was really surprising. Things that seemed puzzling, like how Carson (the butler) was always huffing and puffing over the smallest details, and how he is often dressed to the teeth for dinner downstairs (in the kitchen, mind you!), and why
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Ruth
Really, really enjoyed this one. The author has pieced together, from a wide range of sources, an astonishingly coherent history of servants and life in service from both the perspective of the servants and their employers, from the mid-Victorian era to today.

It was a far more thought-provoking read than I expected. Viewed from today (when you might generally have child care help or a weekly cleaner, if you're one of the lucky ones), the days when everyone had help in the home seem like a differ
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Andrea Broomfield
Jan 07, 2014 Andrea Broomfield rated it it was amazing
Lucy Lethbridge’s Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times is the best comprehensive history I have seen on the topic of domestic labour in Great Britain. Using a methodology that resembles that of my favorite historian, David Kynaston (see Austerity Britain: 1944-1951 for example), Lethbridge did a copious amount of primary research, relying on diaries, correspondence, newspaper columns, and interviews with former servants and employers to tell the ...more
Andie
Jan 05, 2014 Andie rated it really liked it
The perfect antidote to those people who are living in the golden haze produced by too many hours watching Downton Abbey and other movie/TV shows that portray English servants in the early twentieth century as happy employees in harmony with their upper class employers, this well-researched book will put to rest any such fantasies. Instead it shows servants in the first half of the century to be over worked while being underpaid as well as under appreciated.

The author uses interviews, letters an
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Susan
Jul 08, 2014 Susan rated it it was ok
Well, it started out interesting, but then went on. And on. And on. I struggled to keep going, but confess to skimming the last half. It was, as another reviewer notes, strangely organized, and seemed to tread the same ground in chapter after chapter. Here's the CliffsNotes: being a servant in England pretty much sucked, and the middle and upper classes were jerks. The End. Now bring on the next season of "Downton Abbey."
Sklape
Feb 09, 2014 Sklape rated it it was amazing
I heard about this book on Fresh Air and since Downton Abbey is currently airing, I thought this book would be a compliment to the show. I thoroughly enjoyed this social history. Service for many was the last possible option among working class people. Referred to as "skivvies" by their working class counterparts, those in service were viewed as contributing to the problem of class stratification. The resistance on the part of the aristocracy to adopt labor saving devices was based on the belief ...more
Andrea Seaver
Truth in reviewing first...... I received this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
Servants is a non-fiction work detailing the lives and attitudes both of and towards domestic servants in the late nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century. Some references are to earlier periods, but as a whole this book begins with the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, and is sectioned into time periods based largely on world events. Pre-WWI and then the twenties, etc. The author has limite
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Paola
In this very interesting book Lucy Lethbridge traces the history of domestic service in Britain (well, England, mostly) concentrating mainly around the first half of the twentieth century, from its apogee of the Edwardian period to its essential extintion in the sixties.
In so doing she also sketches a social history of England, of the evolution of the attitudes to the class system and the role of women in the house and in the wider society.
Lethbridge draws from an impressive range of sources, fr
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Sara
Apr 03, 2016 Sara rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fic
More like 3 1/2

I've gotten used to narrative non-fiction, both through reading and podcasts, and this book is NOT in the narrative vein. It is more academic and expository. The author organizes the book by topics and themes, which sometimes correspond to a specific time period, and sometimes take a longer view. For example, a section titled "Bowing and Scraping" talks about the way servants often felt dehumanized in their roles, and the author provides examples and quotes from a variety of peopl
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Rae
Oct 08, 2014 Rae rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-non-fic
Quite frankly, I couldn't finish this book. I suspect many other readers will be attracted to this title for the same reason I was, interest in knowing more based on enjoyment of the show Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, poor organization and repetitive information drag a book that had the research and promise to be a truly interesting read into something that became unreadable for me.

My primary issue was a lack of organization. Each chapter seemed to rehash similar information, cover broad periods
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Shari Larsen
This book explores the culture of domestic service workers in Britain, from around the 1890s through the 1960s, and the families that employed them, and how the two world wars affected those occupations. The author details the work of cooks, parlor maids, footmen, scullery maids, butlers, etc, through interviews with former domestic workers, and through letters and diaries.


This was a very interesting read, and I really enjoyed it, though there were 2 or 3 chapters that to me, seemed a little too
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John Levon
Nov 21, 2013 John Levon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting read, relying heavily on interviews and recordings with servants of the time. It does a great job describing the changing patterns of domestic service across the 20th century, especially on how the two wars changed things so much.

The book is as much about the master as it is the servant, and some of the stories here are eye-opening - some people used to get their loose change washed by their servants - every night!

There's a very small bit of info about the Raj, would have li
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TheRealMelbelle
Jan 29, 2014 TheRealMelbelle rated it really liked it
I became interested in this book after hearing an intriguing Fresh Air interview on NPR. This is a very interesting book. It was well written and did a good job dealing with the subject of domestic servants in light of the changing culture and needs of Britain primarily from Edwardian times until the 1950s. There was such societal change and the role and employment of servants during that time was complex.

Lucy Lethbridge organized a lot of material in a very readable account of this fascinating
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Alison
Jan 13, 2014 Alison rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this a lot. There's a lot of interesting detail about the running of those houses in late Victorian/Edwardian England that I find fascinating (and horrifying.) When you watch Downton Abbey, think of the servants in the kitchen, washing dishes without gloves or even a dishcloth because fingers could get into the small places better. Or stirring a pot of boiling eggs so the yolks would be centered. There's nothing new here but it's presented well, including interviews with men and women ...more
Jennifer
Sep 09, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I recently became a "Downton Abbey" addict and thus wanted to explore in greater depth what being a servant really meant in 19th century Britain and beyond.

This non fiction is a broad sketch of servitude well organized into sections which show the shifting of perceptions of it throughout time. Having a servant or servants went from being a symbol of status for a family to something that marked them as being wasteful and unwilling to embrace new technologies. Throughout each section you'll hear
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peggy murphy mercado
Jan 11, 2014 peggy murphy mercado rated it really liked it
I just finished, 'Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth-Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge. As I stated previously, this was a book that I had won through Goodreads Giveaways. I am glad that I read this book; which was quite a detailed history about home in general and the way in which the English redefined how their homes looked and ran. I learned some things; that I hadn't known. For instance, I had no idea how ingrained the whole concept of service seemed to be ...more
Lesley
Apr 26, 2016 Lesley rated it really liked it
Shelves: staff-recomends
Upstairs Downstairs. Gosford Park. Remains of the Day. Downton Abbey. These fictional depictions of early 20th century British households have nurtured an obsessive fascination with butlers and ladies maids, 14 piece silver dinner sets, and the illusions of a simpler, more gracious time. Lucy Lethbridge slices through the sentimentality with the deadliness of a finely honed carving knife, revealing a history of domestic service that is far less rosy than what one sees onscreen. Along the way, sh ...more
Lois Clark-Johnston
Um wow this book has everything, detailed accounts of servants and those they served. Fascinating details on servants daily life, career track, as well as life both inside of service and outside of service. This equally covers the class system and distinctions both within society at large as well as society below stairs and behind green baize doors. Fascinating how the wars (WWI and WWII) change service. Service barely stabilizes, a very much smaller and less presumptuous affair than in ...more
Kate
Nov 24, 2013 Kate rated it liked it
I've read better books (from the 1970s, when Upstairs Downstairs was hot and Edwardian servants were still around to be interviewed) with more first-hand accounts of servant life, but this book, despite its overly ambitious subtitle, does something those books didn't: it details part-time service like the Useful Aunts, newly poor aristos making some cash in service, and talks about the second half of the twentieth century.
You can feel that Lethbridge did a lot of reading before she wrote this,
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Lori
Mar 18, 2016 Lori rated it liked it
I would give this book a 3.5. This is a book about servants who worked in England from the Edwardian time to about the 1970s. This is how the servants jobs have changed over the decades. in England in the late 1800s to the 1920s the Big houses had many servants who lived with them below stairs. some had dozens living and working for them each having different positions ranging from the young girls in the kitchen to butlers footmen cooks maids etc. over the decades this changed going through two ...more
Marya
Jan 22, 2014 Marya rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
A nice read that I could dip into every now and then and still find it enjoyable. Lethbridge of course covers the awkward relationship between upstairs and downstairs through the course of the 19th century through today, but this is really not the best part of the book. The servants themselves have their own miniature strict order and Lethbridge spends a good deal of time explaining how each type would live and work. The most interesting part for me was how technology was actually delayed ...more
Cheri
May 09, 2014 Cheri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a wonderfully researched book on the history of domestic service in Britain during the unique period between the Edwardian era and post world war two.
It covers both the varied types of relationships between employer and employee, class considerations and the changing social and political pressures on these relationships over the years.
More than just a nostalgic look back, Leatherbridge covers both the positive and negative aspects of the upstairs/downstairs dynamic and provides illumin
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Creda Wilson
Feb 21, 2016 Creda Wilson rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting book, I liked how it incorporated first hand accounts. There were lots of interesting/weird stories about the lives of the extreme wealthy back in the olden days. I also liked how it talked about more modern day servants too - I didn't realise having a servant was so common so late in the 20th century. I would have liked even more about what it was like to work as a present day servant.
Lexish
Feb 10, 2014 Lexish rated it really liked it
I thought this might be a silly book simply capitalizing on the Downton Abbey (and similar) craze, but this is actually an interesting portrayal of the structure of the employer/servant relationship in England and how times changed it. Anecdotes of real servants and employers successfully keep this book entertaining.
Millie
Feb 21, 2014 Millie rated it really liked it
This was an excellent look into the complex and changing relationship between servants and their employers in Britain from the late 1800's through the 1950's. If you are a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, this was definitely interest you.
Pat
Feb 10, 2014 Pat rated it really liked it
Wonderful detailed history of life in service- a bit wordy but certainly comprehensive-- life was not quite Dowtown Abby
Linda
Jul 31, 2013 Linda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, ebooks
If you are a fan of the series Upstairs Downstairs or Downton Abbey this will give a further perspective on the life of servants in Britain. An interesting read.
Rachel Jones
Feb 02, 2014 Rachel Jones rated it liked it
Shelves: readwomen2014
Interesting subject, slightly sloppy execution.
Rogue Reader
Nov 25, 2016 Rogue Reader rated it really liked it
Shelves: domestics
Social history of Britain's serving class from the Victorian period to today, a professional class with stories and experiences and observations. Changes in economics, politics, and values result in changes in lifestyle and the need for servants.
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Lucy Lethbridge has written numerous books, as well as writing articles for the Observer, the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent on Sunday, the Times Literary Supplement, Art News, and Art+Auction. She lives in London.
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“So much depends on the constant cooperation of well-trained servants. Without it, the best bred of hostesses is placed at a disadvantage.” 0 likes
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