Below Stairs

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

Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Below Stairs
This work is a kitchen-maid's through-the-key hole memoir of life in the great houses of England. At fifteen, she arrived at the servants' entrance to begin her life as a kitchen maid in 1920s England. The lowest of the low, her world was one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and even bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5:30 am and went on until after dark. In this memoir, the author tells her tales of service with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye. From the gentleman with a penchant for stroking housemaids' curlers, to raucous tea dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress's nephew, this book evokes the long vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. This is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman, who, though her position was lowly, never stopped aiming high.

Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, [2012?]
Edition: 1st U.S. ed
ISBN: 1250005442
Branch Call Number: B Powell P
Characteristics: 212 p. ; 22 cm.


From Library Staff

For all of us wanting the real scoop on living "below stairs" this is the book! Apparently, it was also the inspiration for the Robert Altman film "Gosford Park".

From the critics

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Aug 22, 2014

A patron review from the Adult Summer Game: "This is a true recounting of Margaret Powell's unemotional memories of her time in service as a kitchen maid and cook for the British upper class. This is the book that inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey"."

May 27, 2013
  • MissEavis rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Good book, a simple but entertaining accout of a much different and simple life ;-)

Mar 18, 2013
  • andrea_gregus rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Really easy and quick read. Interesting to to read about the life of this woman. Really enjoyed it for a quick read.

Dec 17, 2012
  • AuntJane rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

This is an easy read book of Margaret Langley's life. Coming from a poverty stricken home in Hove, England, she took the only type of job she could get having completed school to the 8th grade and hating sewing. Her descriptions as scullery maid, and on-the-job learning and insights make for interesting reading. The historical how-tos are interesting too (sand and soap to scrub the floor, etc).

Oct 09, 2012
  • ownedbydoxies rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

This is a straight-talking, hard-working woman who reminisces about her life in service to a wide variety of families in Britain before WWII. I laughed aloud several times at her descriptions of employers and herself. She was a smart woman, whose upbringing meant her opportunities in life were very limited, but she obviously made the best of things and worked her way into an extremely rewarding career in her later years, as a writer and television show consultant.

Aug 02, 2012
  • BucketsOfCool rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Easy to read and super interesting!

May 31, 2012
  • cmwallsm rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

Witty telling of life in service in 1920s Britain. As fascinating as it is unimaginable. A great read for those who love Downton Abbey.

Apr 27, 2012
  • gracindaisy rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Memoir that inspired Downton Abbey & Upstairs, Downstairs - a woman enters domestic service at 14 as a kitchen maid, later a cook.

Apr 26, 2012
  • ErnieK rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

A life "in service" told in her own voice, it's a great read. Very frank and forthright, a great contribution to the writings of women about work and its value in society.

Apr 03, 2012
  • gloryb rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

A very readable memoir. I was struck with the contrast of life between teens today and Powell's teen years. Although as kitchen help she had to toe the line and claims she suffered from an inferiority complex, Powell's demand for more wages, time off, and frequent job changes as she matured shows us that she maintained a sense of self-worth. She is very proud of reaching her 0 levels late in life which was probably unique for someone with her background. I liked the glimpses into the life of her employers and how they each treated their servants differently from Christmas gift giving to decorating the servants hall and bedrooms.

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