I have a rather unusual book to share with you that I normally don't read but it fascinated me to understand what might go on in royal or at least rich people's homes and how the servants interacted with their employers so I decided to read The Housekeeper's Tale: The Women Who Really Ran the English Country House written by Tessa Boase.
Working as a housekeeper was one of the most prestigious jobs a nineteenth and early twentieth century woman could want â?? and also one of the toughest. A far cry from the Downton Abbey fiction, the real life Mrs Hughes was up against capricious mistresses, low pay, no job security and gruelling physical labour. Until now, her story has never been told. The Housekeeper's Tale reveals the personal sacrifices, bitter disputes and driving ambition that shaped these women's careers. Delving into secret diaries, unpublished letters and the neglected service archives of our stately homes, Tessa Boase tells the extraordinary stories of five working women who ran some of Britain's most prominent households.
There is Dorothy Doar, Regency housekeeper for the obscenely wealthy 1st Duke and Duchess of Sutherland at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. There is Sarah Wells, a deaf and elderly Victorian in charge of Uppark, West Sussex. Ellen Penketh is Edwardian cook-housekeeper at the sociable but impecunious Erddig Hall in the Welsh borders. Hannah Mackenzie runs Wrest Park in Bedfordshire â?? Britain's first country-house war hospital, bankrolled by playwright J. M. Barrie. And there is Grace Higgens, cook-housekeeper to the Bloomsbury set at Charleston farmhouse in East Sussex for half a century â?? an era defined by the Second World War.
Revelatory, gripping and unexpectedly poignant, The Housekeeper's Tale champions the invisible women who ran the English country house.My thoughts:
This actually turned out to be a very interesting book, especially the story about Sarah Wells. Some of the stories are very lively and there was one that I wasn't quite sure if the servant really took the money she was accused of taking or if the Lady of the house was really in dire straights and didn't want anyone to know it.
They had some very amazing pictures in the book also depicting the homes and the servants and some of the owners. You could tell these were very old pictures and I am surprised that they made it this far. I would imagine someone tried to take care of them as best as they could. They even showed some letters and some headlines from a newspaper about the story of the servant being accused of stealing.
They were all remarkable women and I don't think if it had been me, that I would have lasted one single day in their shoes! Or maybe I would have if I had no where else to go, but it sure would be hard. I can't imagine not even having your own time to sit and read or just to put your feet up until the very last person is in bed for the night!
I hope that if you get the chance to read this story that you will. It's an excellent story that is also part of history, even though most might not find a servant's life much exciting, but these are actual women who really lived and at the time, made a difference in the homes that they worked.
I wish I could have given this book as a giveaway but it's a very thick hard back book and not a paperback like I normally give away. If you can find a second hand copy or one on eBay or Amazon, I would definitely recommend getting it because it will give you a whole new perspective on what women in the 1800's went through while working for the wealthy in England.
About the Author:
Like most journalists with a degree in English Literature, I’ve always, always wanted to write a book – and have a few manuscripts stashed away in the bottom drawer. Then out of the blue, one lucky day I got the call. ‘Housekeepers’, said the man at Aurum Press. ‘Great country houses, Victorians, Edwardians, Downton Abbey, Mrs Hughes…’ Was I up for it?
I was – but was there enough material? These women were the souls of discretion, leaving very few records behind them. I wasn’t interested in caricature and fiction, but real life. Not the nuts and bolts of housekeeping, but human drama. Where would I begin? I approached it as I would any piece of investigative journalism: with a forensic eye for facts, and a nose for evocative detail. And so I began to dig, and dig…
When I started this project in 2010 my children were aged one and four. It has, at times, seemed a cruel irony to be writing about housekeepers without a housekeeper – but I do have a husband, the excellent TV arts journalist Nick Glass, who has picked up the slack.
We move between East Sussex and Lazio, Italy www.casapoggio.com – where a large olive grove makes me put down my writing tools and get pruning, picking and thinking.
Disclaimer: Mary Bearden personally reviewed these products. I did not receive any monetary compensation for my review, just a sample product. All opinions are mine and belong to me solely. My thoughts and opinions may differ from you.