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Servants: The True Story Of Life Below Stairs: 2/3 – Class War

04/09/2019

My great aunts were in domestic service from the 1890s thought to the 1940s and 1950s, they were according to my memories well treated by their employers. I cannot recall any of them ever speaking ill of their employers. However, they were employed by the nobility and not the middle class, did that make a difference?

Fascinating series whatever your views

BBC website

Dr Pamela Cox explores what happened when servants directly challenged their masters and mistresses, causing havoc in the golden age of Edwardian society.

It is the story of wayward laundry maids, butlers selling their stories to the press, and even suffragette maids. Above all, it is the story of how the Victorian ‘ideal’ of service came to be questioned – not by employers, but by the servants themselves.

The middle classes had an insatiable need for servants in their heavily furnished townhouses, but at the same time the number of people in the so-called ‘servant class’ dropped, as young workers were lured into shops and factories. To plug the gap, a new source of servants was found – shockingly, among the urban poor – mopping up orphans, waifs and strays from slums, workhouses and reforms schools and training them for careers in domestic service. As the clouds of war gathered, the whole notion of service was in crisis.

Michael Pilgrim had a 2012  review at The Telegraph which started thusly:

The prodigious 19th-century letter writer Jane Carlyle had a frightful time with her servants. She went through 34 in 32 years. Hardly surprising since they were that breed of hired help known as the maid of all work, the sole domestic in a middle-class household.

One such, Mary, had the misfortune to give birth in a back room of Jane’s Chelsea house. Feet away, Jane’s husband Thomas Carlyle was busy taking after-dinner tea, the great essayist seemingly unperturbed.

This was not good. As Servants: the True Story of Life Below Stairs (BBC Two) explained, Mrs Carlyle was seen to have failed to keep her employee on the path to righteousness. There was no choice. Mary had to go.

Servants was presented by the academic Dr Pamela Cox. Given that Cox’s grandmothers were in service and that she teaches at Essex – a university not renowned for its right-leaning views – one might have expected a rant. Certainly, the picture painted was far from the gentle Farrow & Ball ambience of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey, but it was not without affection. MORE AT LINK

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