Yesterday I asked you for some advice on books set in, or written by authors from, Iceland. In a few hours I will be whizzing off there and may just have some of your recommendations in my luggage with me. I say I may as this is one of five or six posts that will be going live while I am there, so you won’t even know I am gone. Anyway today I want your recommendations for another sort of reading material that I am hankering after… reading about servants.
This might sound a little bit random, but recently servants and their history have really taken a hold of me. This probably started off a good while back when Downton Abbey, though I have to say that I have started both series two and series three, after adoring series one, and alas have given up with them both – its lost a certain something, even Maggie’s lines aren’t as good as they once were. What has really made me fascinated, and sparked this interest, is the wonderful BBC series ‘Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs’ presented by Dr Pamela Cox.
Starting from the Victorian era and on to the not too distant past over three episodes, Dr Cox looks at how the life of domestic servants has changed, their conditions and the struggle of power and rites. Imagine a younger Mary Beard talking enthusiastically about the Victorians, instead of Romans, and you can almost get the gist and I am sure you will understand why we have been gripped.
It has also been making me think about my house, which is late Georgian/early Victorian, and the history of its predecessors and servants. How do I know we have servants? Well we often have our lovely 78 year old neighbour come round for dinner who lives in the attic of our building and outside her door are the servant’s bells. Well, it gets better… I was musing about this on Twitter when a lovely man named Matthew contacted me as he is a genealogist and looks into families and the history of houses, he has been doing my house for free very kindly and look what he found out, not only did we (well I say we, but really its they) have a nurse maid and three servants in the house, one of them came all the way from Switzerland – click on the image below and you’ll see.
Slowly but surely I am finding more and more out. We have had a few deaths in the house and also some births, sadly one birth was also one of the deaths a few months later, we have even seen an advert for the cook who would have lived here. Fascinating!
What I want now though is to be able to read even more about the lives these servants might have had, what they did and the atmosphere they did it in and I wondered if you had any recommendations. Alas Dr Pamela Cox hasn’t written one but I know Judith Flanders has a book called ‘The Victorian House’ which I have ordered from the library, but I would love to know of more, especially any diaries of domestic staff from the time. Can you help?