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Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant

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Country houses were reliant on an intricate hierarchy of servants, each of whom provided an essential skill. Up and Down Stairs brings to life this hierarchy, showing how large numbers of people lived together under strict segregation and how sometimes this segregation was broken, as with the famous marriage of a squire to his dairymaid at Uppark. Jeremy Musson captures th Country houses were reliant on an intricate hierarchy of servants, each of whom provided an essential skill. Up and Down Stairs brings to life this hierarchy, showing how large numbers of people lived together under strict segregation and how sometimes this segregation was broken, as with the famous marriage of a squire to his dairymaid at Uppark. Jeremy Musson captures the voices of the servants who ran these vast houses and made them work. From unpublished memoirs to letters, wages, and newspaper articles, he pieces together their daily lives from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The story of domestic servants is inseparable from the story of the country house as an icon of power, civilization, and luxury. This is particularly true with the great estates such as Chatsworth, Hatfield, Burghley and Wilton. Jeremy Musson looks at how these grand houses were, for centuries, admired and imitated around the world.


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Country houses were reliant on an intricate hierarchy of servants, each of whom provided an essential skill. Up and Down Stairs brings to life this hierarchy, showing how large numbers of people lived together under strict segregation and how sometimes this segregation was broken, as with the famous marriage of a squire to his dairymaid at Uppark. Jeremy Musson captures th Country houses were reliant on an intricate hierarchy of servants, each of whom provided an essential skill. Up and Down Stairs brings to life this hierarchy, showing how large numbers of people lived together under strict segregation and how sometimes this segregation was broken, as with the famous marriage of a squire to his dairymaid at Uppark. Jeremy Musson captures the voices of the servants who ran these vast houses and made them work. From unpublished memoirs to letters, wages, and newspaper articles, he pieces together their daily lives from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The story of domestic servants is inseparable from the story of the country house as an icon of power, civilization, and luxury. This is particularly true with the great estates such as Chatsworth, Hatfield, Burghley and Wilton. Jeremy Musson looks at how these grand houses were, for centuries, admired and imitated around the world.

30 review for Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Huston

    This one I can cheerfully recommend to anyone interested in learning about the servant classes who worked on the great English estates. It's informative, smartly written, and full of little things that I had not known before. If you liked the films Manor House, Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, you'll probably want to find this book. Very much recommended and a keeper for me. For the longer review (which also has links to reviews of the films), please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Jeremy.. This one I can cheerfully recommend to anyone interested in learning about the servant classes who worked on the great English estates. It's informative, smartly written, and full of little things that I had not known before. If you liked the films Manor House, Gosford Park or Downton Abbey, you'll probably want to find this book. Very much recommended and a keeper for me. For the longer review (which also has links to reviews of the films), please go here: http://www.epinions.com/review/Jeremy...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    If you've ever wandered just exactly what all those servants in novels do, or what they actually would have done in reality, then this is the book for you. What did all those different maids do? What were their lives like? How well did they really get on with their employers? Was it drudgery or did they enjoy it? How were they really treated? Well, this book answered all those questions, whilst giving a history of the servants of English country houses from medieval centuries through to present d If you've ever wandered just exactly what all those servants in novels do, or what they actually would have done in reality, then this is the book for you. What did all those different maids do? What were their lives like? How well did they really get on with their employers? Was it drudgery or did they enjoy it? How were they really treated? Well, this book answered all those questions, whilst giving a history of the servants of English country houses from medieval centuries through to present day. The book is based upon real contemporary accounts as much as possible, and includes many direct quotes from the diaries and books of servants themselves. Some of the anecdotes are wonderful. However, what I really appreciated was the way the book moved through time, noting the changes in expectations and how changes in society itself made irreversible changes to the lives of these estates. For example, before approximately 1600 servants were made to be seen. They were a sign of wealth and power, and a lot of "servants" waiting on nobility were actually nobility themselves. They learnt how to behave as nobles, by observing and waiting on nobles themselves. A visitor to a grand house would actually have to walk through the great hall, which was where servants would have eaten themselves. But then, over time, servants became more invisible, to such an extent that in the High VIctorian Country House (think late Victorian era with entertaining on a massive scale), servants were only seen serving at mealtimes. There is a great story of one visitor to a house, who didn't actually see any maids until Sunday morning at church. They were mysteriously absent from view. There are some facts here which I had no clue about, and positions which I never knew existed and were actually extremely important. A groom of the chamber was in charge of making sure that the rooms that guests and visitors to the house were in perfect order. Considering that this was what most guests would actually see, the position was very important, and he would have been senior in the hierarchy of the staff. For me, one of the most fascinating parts was the end, describing how and why things changed in the 20th century. Taxes, falling land rents, war which had opened the horizons of many to possibilities outside service and, not least, and something I had never considered, the families who owned these great houses wanted more privacy for themselves, and less formality. I read this through from start to finish, and, although I guess you could use it for reference, I got a lot out of understanding the changes with time, so I wouldn't recommend picking and choosing chapters. There are some portions which become a little dry, but considering the amount of history and fact it packs in, it is incredibly readable. So, if you loved the movie, Gosford Park, and want to know more about the lives of the servants in it, this book is perfect for you.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    Somewhat slow and dry start. This is a very detailed and thoroughly researched book. I'm obsessed with this period in British history and how it functioned. Fascinating and very complete Somewhat slow and dry start. This is a very detailed and thoroughly researched book. I'm obsessed with this period in British history and how it functioned. Fascinating and very complete

  4. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    You can blame Downton Abbey for this one. In this country we seem obsessed with the age of the grand country houses, the world of Upstairs and Downstairs, the golden age before the War - nd I'll confess, I'm no exception. There's something so evocative about the era, a kind of idealised image of England that probably never truly existed to begin with - and perhaps it says something about us that we hark back to it so much. What I liked most about this book is how it managed to evoke that bygone a You can blame Downton Abbey for this one. In this country we seem obsessed with the age of the grand country houses, the world of Upstairs and Downstairs, the golden age before the War - nd I'll confess, I'm no exception. There's something so evocative about the era, a kind of idealised image of England that probably never truly existed to begin with - and perhaps it says something about us that we hark back to it so much. What I liked most about this book is how it managed to evoke that bygone age without surrendering to the gilt and the gloss. It pulls no punches in describing how hard the servants lives were, how often it was lonely and exhausting and miserable, and how frequently the hierachy within the ranks of the servants was as hide-bound and sharply delineated as the divide between Upstairs and Downstairs. Of course, this book explores more than just the golden age of the Edwardian era - it traces the evolution of servants and staff right the way from the medieval household of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, right up to the present day, with the majority of country homes now owned by trusts or English Heritage. It's certainly interesting to note how servants went from being part of the 'family', not hidden away or invisible, to being very much someone who should be neither seen nor heard.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    This is a very comprehensive and academic style work on the history of the country house servant from the early middle ages through the present. It includes writings from servants and employers spanning the various time periods, as well as writings from periodicals and government offices about issues relating to servants and the maintenance of large country estates. Some of the writings from the earliest periods were a bit of a challenge to interpret. For instance, "put to office and woerke of tr This is a very comprehensive and academic style work on the history of the country house servant from the early middle ages through the present. It includes writings from servants and employers spanning the various time periods, as well as writings from periodicals and government offices about issues relating to servants and the maintenance of large country estates. Some of the writings from the earliest periods were a bit of a challenge to interpret. For instance, "put to office and woerke of traveylle, toylinge, and slubberynge", is still a bit unclear to me. In such instances it would have helped if, rather than quoting, Musson would have said "maids of the time were expected to do ...(this, this, and this)", because I can't even begin to guess what slubberynge might be. The first chapter of the book, as a result, was a struggle to get through. While a bit of a dry read at times, and occasionally repetitive, it was all interesting. The chapter I most enjoyed was the final chapter which looked at the state of the country house and its residents and employees in the post-WWII period.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ali

    I have spent rather a lot of hours over the years going around country house which are now in the hands of bodies such as the National Trust. I was often as fascinated (if not more so) by the glimpses of what life may have been like for the servants, as I was by that of the family. This book is a must for anyone who has enjoyed such tours and wondered about how those households really operated. Jeremy Musson takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of the English country house, and t I have spent rather a lot of hours over the years going around country house which are now in the hands of bodies such as the National Trust. I was often as fascinated (if not more so) by the glimpses of what life may have been like for the servants, as I was by that of the family. This book is a must for anyone who has enjoyed such tours and wondered about how those households really operated. Jeremy Musson takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of the English country house, and the English country house servant from around 1300 to the present day. His research has obviously been detailed and exacting, and with many journal and letter extracts, as well as reference to household accounts the voices of people who would otherwise remain unknown to us are heard. Many amusing anecdotes and apocryphal tales, help to acquaint the reader with a world that is gone forever, and yet we think we know lot about and which seems vaguely familiar, so rich are many of the traditions.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Camilla Tilly

    Always enjoying "Upstairs, Downstairs" on TV and later "Gosford Park" and "Downton Abbey" I was really looking for a book that told more about servant life. While this book is well researched it is also one of the driest, most boring books I have ever read. It goes through every century from the 1300s up till our own but every page is like a sleeping pill. Laundry lists of what house in England had what kind of servants, what their tasks were and what they earned (but not comparing to today's cu Always enjoying "Upstairs, Downstairs" on TV and later "Gosford Park" and "Downton Abbey" I was really looking for a book that told more about servant life. While this book is well researched it is also one of the driest, most boring books I have ever read. It goes through every century from the 1300s up till our own but every page is like a sleeping pill. Laundry lists of what house in England had what kind of servants, what their tasks were and what they earned (but not comparing to today's currency so one does not get a feel for how much they really earned). The social history I was looking for was totally missing. This author has no skills in gripping his audience! The book could not even be used for a University course!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Libbeth

    I waited ages for this from the library and when I finally got my turn I just didn't have time to read it cover to cover. I dipped and read chunks here and there. Now that it's out in paperback I might buy it sometime and read it properly. So for now it's on my abandoned shelf but only temporarily. I waited ages for this from the library and when I finally got my turn I just didn't have time to read it cover to cover. I dipped and read chunks here and there. Now that it's out in paperback I might buy it sometime and read it properly. So for now it's on my abandoned shelf but only temporarily.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Luke Devenish

    Alright, I admit it, I picked this up because Downton Abbey has been my favourite show all year and now I've gone all servanty. Wanted to know more. And this excellent little book let me! Fascinating. Alright, I admit it, I picked this up because Downton Abbey has been my favourite show all year and now I've gone all servanty. Wanted to know more. And this excellent little book let me! Fascinating.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Well, this was right up my alley! I enjoyed learning the specifics of how England's large country estates have been run for the past 600 years. The book took a while to read because it was so packed with details to the point of being overwhelming at times. But that's ok! I wanted the details. This is obviously not a book for the casual reader to pick up but rather one for a reader looking to further their knowledge in a subject they already know to a certain degree. Musson does a brilliant job c Well, this was right up my alley! I enjoyed learning the specifics of how England's large country estates have been run for the past 600 years. The book took a while to read because it was so packed with details to the point of being overwhelming at times. But that's ok! I wanted the details. This is obviously not a book for the casual reader to pick up but rather one for a reader looking to further their knowledge in a subject they already know to a certain degree. Musson does a brilliant job compiling the back matter of the book. His notes are extensive, his index thorough and his list of sources/bibliography is amazing! He separates the bibliography according to chapters so if your focus is the 17th century , it is easy to see all the sources for that particular period. It's great! I added a lot of books to my to-read list. While most of the time I felt Musson piled the details and facts upon the reader, sometimes I felt his explanations were lacking, mainly when he was discussing certain people or locations. I guess he assumed the reader would already know who he was referring to, or where he was referring to, but I didn't always know. Luckily I had Professor Google to the rescue. I did enjoy it when he would refer to characters in novels since one of the reasons I wanted to read this book was to help me better understand older British novels that I read. I do have a better grasp now on the intricacies of social positions of various servants and how they related to the gentry they served. I think this will help in future readings of nineteenth century novels. Reading about the amount of work some of the servants did - especially the scullery maids, laundry maids and the under housemaids - made me truly appreciate the modern inventions that ease our lives today. Thank you dishwasher! Thank you washing machine & dryer! Thank you rubber gloves! Seriously, I can't even imagine how horrific the hands of the laundry and scullery maids must have been. What nightmare jobs those would have been. Definitely some servants had it a lot easier than other. Butlers had it pretty dang easy in comparison to a poor scullery maid. Basically all the women's jobs were much more backbreaking than the men's jobs. The valet and lady's maid were very similar but other than that, no, the guys had it easier. The strict hierarchy of the servants on large estates was fascinating. I had known from various movies and tv shows that this was the case, but I didn't realize how structured the rankings and accompanying behaviors were. Servants for the top servants. Separate dining rooms for the "Upper Ten" servants and for the "Lower Five"(i.e. everyone else & always a lot more than 5). It seemed crazy that no one was allowed to help anyone else - you were never to break rank and do any work "beneath" you. My favorite story was when some crumbs were on a table and pointed out to the butler(the table was his province) by the house librarian. "Am I to understand that crumbs on the library table are the preserve of the butler?" To which the butler replied "Yes" and then he swept the crumbs to the floor with his hand and added "And now they are the preserve of the housemaid." Haha. It wasn't until after WWII that this strict observation of roles was dismantled and people started doing more varied work. There are lots of little stories like the one above that put a personal face upon the history. I really took delight in reading those. This book is well worth the read if you want to further your understanding of that period of time in Britain. It would be a boring slog to those not already keen on the subject matter.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Louise Culmer

    Very interesting history of domestic service in the great country houses from medieval times up until the present. It is fascinating to read about how some things changed while others remained much the same. Until the 17th century for instance, servants were likely to mix much more closely with their employers than in later times, and many servants came from upper class backgrounds. Another thing that changed a lot was the increase in female servants, in medieval and tudor times the servants in Very interesting history of domestic service in the great country houses from medieval times up until the present. It is fascinating to read about how some things changed while others remained much the same. Until the 17th century for instance, servants were likely to mix much more closely with their employers than in later times, and many servants came from upper class backgrounds. Another thing that changed a lot was the increase in female servants, in medieval and tudor times the servants in great houses were overwhelmingly male, wheras far more women were employed in later centuries. There are many personal accounts of what it was like to be in service, up until the present, with great houses still requiring staff, albeit on a much smaller scale. One of the most striking aspects is the rigid hierarchy that existed 'below stairs' something modern fictional depictions of domestic service in past times inevitably fail to convey - think of Downton Abbey for example, with its cosy familiarity among the staff - not something you found much of in real life. This is a book packed with interesting information, invaluable for anyone who wants to know what life in domestic service was really like.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leta Bishop

    So dry and boring I barely made it through this one. It's the perfect book if you have insomnia! I would've much preferred a book on the actual duties and lives of these servants rather than meticulous lists of how much every servant in a house was paid and the increases of such pay through the years. Sadly, this was just a waste of my "wages" and will be quickly donated or used as a doorstop. So dry and boring I barely made it through this one. It's the perfect book if you have insomnia! I would've much preferred a book on the actual duties and lives of these servants rather than meticulous lists of how much every servant in a house was paid and the increases of such pay through the years. Sadly, this was just a waste of my "wages" and will be quickly donated or used as a doorstop.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    A very interesting and detailed account of the history of service through the ages. About 20% of the book is devoted to the bibliography for further study.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bloss ♡

    This book gets an A+ for meticulous and thorough research but a C for readability. It didn’t flow the way other books on the same subject or textbooks do. The overall story got lost in the details.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ann Longfellow

    3.5 - it was good but very dense and not as entertaining as it could have been.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steven Haythorne

    A bit repetitive but had some interesting first hand accounts and memoirs of what life was like serving the upper clarses. (Sic).

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Up and Down Stairs is the history of English and Irish manor houses and how they were run from the 1600s through today. Over the years, many houses went from large serving staffs of over 100 to down to three. In many others only one person came in "to do" during the week. Gardening and upkeep were hired out to private business. In the 20's and 30's the people in many of the homes were like huge families with the owners giving parties for staff and, in many cases, treating them with respect and Up and Down Stairs is the history of English and Irish manor houses and how they were run from the 1600s through today. Over the years, many houses went from large serving staffs of over 100 to down to three. In many others only one person came in "to do" during the week. Gardening and upkeep were hired out to private business. In the 20's and 30's the people in many of the homes were like huge families with the owners giving parties for staff and, in many cases, treating them with respect and bringing in their own doctors when the need arose. World War I made a huge impact as economics changed making it more difficult for manor houses to afford staff as they had in prior years. Working classes found more opportunity in business. For all those Downton Abbey fans out there, here is a non-fiction look at how the manor houses worked, their place in the economy of an area and what caused them to decline. Quotes: "Being so valued by the rich and so associated in the public imagination with ostentatiousness, footmen were probably the prime target in the tax raised on male servants in 1777, effectively as a luxury, to help raise funds for the war against the American colonists. Even the hair powder they used was subject to an additional tax." "John Moore wrote disparagingly of the Bertie Woosters of his day in 1780 that: many of our acquaintances seem absolutely incapable of motion, till they have been wound up by their valets. They have no more use of their hands for any office about their own persons, than if they were paralytic. At night they must wait for their servants, before they can undress themselves, and go to bed. In the morning, if the valet happens to be out of the way, the master must remain helpless and sprawling in bed, like a turtle on its back upon the kitchen table of an alderman." "He (a member of staff)certainly felt that the deep social gulf between the classes could not be sustained indefinitely and recalled with irritation how servants were treated like chattels and loaned between employers for big events, 'in the same way the poor borrow a frying pan, or a rub of soap.'" "In the end, one factor has remained the same through the centuries: that whatever the work involved, there must also, crucially, be some degree of human companionship, involving loyalty and trust."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Allard

    If you’re a Downton Abbey fan curious about the real lives of the downstairs folks, or if you’re interested in servants’ lives simply because it’s a fascinating subject in its own right, Up and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson is a good place to start. Musson begins his detailed description of the life of servants in the later Middle Ages to the end of the sixteenth century, working his way through the centuries to the post World War II years. He brings to light the beginning of those features of se If you’re a Downton Abbey fan curious about the real lives of the downstairs folks, or if you’re interested in servants’ lives simply because it’s a fascinating subject in its own right, Up and Down Stairs by Jeremy Musson is a good place to start. Musson begins his detailed description of the life of servants in the later Middle Ages to the end of the sixteenth century, working his way through the centuries to the post World War II years. He brings to light the beginning of those features of servant life Downton fans know most about—the back stairs, the Servant’s Hall, and the green baize door. Musson starts with Doctor Johnson’s definition of servant: “One who attends another, and acts at his command—the correlative of master.” Musson then points out that we don’t use the word servant any more, true enough since the word has taken on a negative connotation. As Musson takes us through the centuries, we can see how the servants’ role evolved. Musson draws on primary sources such as letters from both servants and masters, newspaper articles, and how-to manuals written during the period, and his book is a wealth of information. In Up and Down Stairs Musson doesn’t form conclusions about what it all meant for the servants, for their masters, or for anyone else. He’s not trying to convince us of anything. He’s simply stating the facts, and if you’re interested in the facts—of how the word “family” evolved from meaning everyone who lived and worked under the same roof to our current meaning of kin, of how in earlier days the servants lived close by their masters, sometimes sleeping in the hall outside their masters’ doors, to the desire for more privacy which created the separate living quarters upstairs and downstairs—then you will find reading Up and Down Stairs time well spent. Sometimes the information became repetitive, as if one servant’s letter was too similar to the previous servant’s letter, but otherwise I found Up and Down Stairs to be enlightening about a subject I knew little about. I’m already looking for my next Downton-inspired read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sam Still Reading

    I found this book in one of my favourite bookstores, Reader’s Feast, in Melbourne. Their non-fiction section always has a great range of books to suit all your favourite interests as well as igniting a few interests you never knew you had! Being a big fan of the television series Downton Abbey, I decided to give this book a go. It chronicles the life of the servants in English country mansions over the centuries. I knew it was non-fiction, and wouldn’t contain as much drama as Downton, but still I found this book in one of my favourite bookstores, Reader’s Feast, in Melbourne. Their non-fiction section always has a great range of books to suit all your favourite interests as well as igniting a few interests you never knew you had! Being a big fan of the television series Downton Abbey, I decided to give this book a go. It chronicles the life of the servants in English country mansions over the centuries. I knew it was non-fiction, and wouldn’t contain as much drama as Downton, but still…I thought it would be interesting. It is an interesting book, in a factual, history type way. The book does get bogged down at times in details and facts and I found myself skimming over sections. I would have liked to know a bit more about the typical day-to-day role of a housemaid or scullery maid rather than facts on how many servants and what their job title was. Musson must be praised however on the amount of painstaking research that has been done to produce such a detailed book. There is a chapter for each century of servant life up until the 1800s and 1900s, where there are two chapters for each. There are a lot of houses covered – I would have liked to have seen fewer houses, more detail if it was possible. However, the bibliography is incredibly impressive if I wanted to pursue this further... While I did learn quite a bit about the types of roles that were needed to run a big house and estate, I also discovered that my interest in this subject is more about the people rather than the logistics. I think I should read a biography of one of these servants to try to gain more understanding about life was like for the individual. Any suggestions? Oh, and a bit of drama and intrigue wouldn’t go astray! http://samstillreading.wordpress.com

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    Summary: Up and Down Stairs is a history of the country house servant. All servants working in the great houses of England are explored and described. From the butler and housemaid, to the cooks in the kitchen, to those who worked in the gardens and the coachmen. The time period for the book begins with medieval history. The majority of the servants explored are from the late 1800s to the early 20th century. Personal stories are included. My Thoughts: I am making great progress in my TBR pile of bo Summary: Up and Down Stairs is a history of the country house servant. All servants working in the great houses of England are explored and described. From the butler and housemaid, to the cooks in the kitchen, to those who worked in the gardens and the coachmen. The time period for the book begins with medieval history. The majority of the servants explored are from the late 1800s to the early 20th century. Personal stories are included. My Thoughts: I am making great progress in my TBR pile of books. I've had Up and Down Stairs for a few years waiting on me to read it. Several elements led me to enjoy this book. The book begins with known facts about servants from medieval times, Tudor history, and progressing to the Victorian time and 20th century. Detailed job descriptions for each servant. Construction of the country houses. The beloved nanny. Short memoirs of those who worked as servants. This aspect gave a strong personal feel to a book that would have otherwise been academic. In medieval English the term 'servant' was apparently used to describe someone employed to provide labour for a family and given lodging within the household; thus it was their accommodation within the (often peripatetic) household that defined their role. Page 17.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    I am giving this book only three stars based mostly on the fact that, though it was well written and the author is clearly knowledgeable about the subject matter, the first 75% was incredibly dry. It seemed that all I read were endless lists of servants titles and instructions for good servants to follow. While that was interesting, there was so very many lists that I had trouble retaining what I read. I did, however, love reading the first hand accounts of servants, past and present. I think I I am giving this book only three stars based mostly on the fact that, though it was well written and the author is clearly knowledgeable about the subject matter, the first 75% was incredibly dry. It seemed that all I read were endless lists of servants titles and instructions for good servants to follow. While that was interesting, there was so very many lists that I had trouble retaining what I read. I did, however, love reading the first hand accounts of servants, past and present. I think I should have gone with my instinct and read books written by the house servants themselves since I clearly liked the more personal bits. If you want more detail into the life of a servant, and are not concerned with the sheer number of servants in over a dozen country houses, I wouldn't bother with this book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Jeremy Musson has provided a fascinating glimpse into the social history of England's country houses. Starting with the late medieval castles and continuing all the way to present-day estates in the hands of the National Trust or institutional hands, he traces the evolution of the relationships between the owners of the establishment and the people who actually run it. It's a commentary on how social relationships have changed over the centuries, in response to the political and cultural changes Jeremy Musson has provided a fascinating glimpse into the social history of England's country houses. Starting with the late medieval castles and continuing all the way to present-day estates in the hands of the National Trust or institutional hands, he traces the evolution of the relationships between the owners of the establishment and the people who actually run it. It's a commentary on how social relationships have changed over the centuries, in response to the political and cultural changes outside the homes. He has thoroughly researched his topic, and he provides a plethora of first-hand descriptions and comments. At times I found the book to be a bit plodding - lots of minutia-- but overall, I enjoyed this.

  23. 4 out of 5

    James

    This was an interesting and well-researched book. While there was a great deal of information regarding the social interaction (or lack, thereof) between the upstairs residents and the downstairs servants of great country estate houses in Britain through the ages, there wasn't much detail about the day-to-day work carried out by the downstairs staff. That being said, if you're hoping to find out what the duties of a chamber maid vs. the duties of a parlor maid might have been, you won't find tha This was an interesting and well-researched book. While there was a great deal of information regarding the social interaction (or lack, thereof) between the upstairs residents and the downstairs servants of great country estate houses in Britain through the ages, there wasn't much detail about the day-to-day work carried out by the downstairs staff. That being said, if you're hoping to find out what the duties of a chamber maid vs. the duties of a parlor maid might have been, you won't find that sort of information discussed here in any depth. Nor will you find much explanation of what was involved to perform such routine tasks as grate blacking, emptying chamber pots, brushing garments, etc. For that sort of information, you'll need to seek out a different book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lexington

    This is the right book for the right person and the wrong book for the wrong person, so you need to think about why you are buying this before you do. If you're doing research on various aspects of the history of domestic servants and great houses, it's great. There are a lot of details, diary entries, etc. However, the content is not well organized. It's easy to forget what you're reading about and the context is confusing at times. If you know nothing about those who entered the "life of service This is the right book for the right person and the wrong book for the wrong person, so you need to think about why you are buying this before you do. If you're doing research on various aspects of the history of domestic servants and great houses, it's great. There are a lot of details, diary entries, etc. However, the content is not well organized. It's easy to forget what you're reading about and the context is confusing at times. If you know nothing about those who entered the "life of service" in the 18th and 19th centuries, it might be even more difficult to follow. I would not refer to it as an entertaining read. I put it down after I got 3/4 of the way through and probably won't pick it back up because I got what I needed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alethea

    This book was more history than memoir; each chapter covered a different century or era of service in England, from the medieval to the Edwardian. As such, it was a bit drier than others I have read, those which HAVE been memoirs, which would necessarily contain more personal feeling than cold fact. However, despite being a bit taken off guard by the format and content, Musson has done a fantastic job of crafting a true history of the English house servant, as well as displaying how the traditio This book was more history than memoir; each chapter covered a different century or era of service in England, from the medieval to the Edwardian. As such, it was a bit drier than others I have read, those which HAVE been memoirs, which would necessarily contain more personal feeling than cold fact. However, despite being a bit taken off guard by the format and content, Musson has done a fantastic job of crafting a true history of the English house servant, as well as displaying how the tradition for service came to be, and how it went from being the height of achievement for a lower class to being an entirely undesirable profession by the end of WWI. Modern-day English country houses run on skeleton crews, if they run privately at all.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    Well-researched and easy to read, this book at once satiated my desire to know more about the history of the country house servant and left me wanting more. The author did a very good job showing not only the tasks and lives of the servants, but also how and why that lifestyle evolved, as well as how that, in turn, affected architectural design. Plenty of quotes from both servants and masters were included, providing a fully fleshed-out view of the situation, yet the writing remained light and i Well-researched and easy to read, this book at once satiated my desire to know more about the history of the country house servant and left me wanting more. The author did a very good job showing not only the tasks and lives of the servants, but also how and why that lifestyle evolved, as well as how that, in turn, affected architectural design. Plenty of quotes from both servants and masters were included, providing a fully fleshed-out view of the situation, yet the writing remained light and interesting.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Brockmole

    Though sometimes dense in places, this is a fascinating look at the changing role of the British country house servant from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, drawing not only on historical books of household management and records of household accounts, but also on memoirs, diaries, and letters from both those who served and those whom they served. By era, the book looks at the various positions within a large country house, the duties of each, the layout of both living and working space Though sometimes dense in places, this is a fascinating look at the changing role of the British country house servant from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, drawing not only on historical books of household management and records of household accounts, but also on memoirs, diaries, and letters from both those who served and those whom they served. By era, the book looks at the various positions within a large country house, the duties of each, the layout of both living and working spaces within the house, and the strict social hierarchy often found downstairs.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Let's be honest. I didn't finish the book--and I don't put many down. I've read textbooks more interesting than this, so decided not to waste my time plowing through the tiny print, stilted language, redundancies, etc., etc. I was very interested in the topic, but the book was TOO detailed; it read like a reference book for a scholarly topic. So, for those researching this topic, it would be great; for casual readers, NOT. Let's be honest. I didn't finish the book--and I don't put many down. I've read textbooks more interesting than this, so decided not to waste my time plowing through the tiny print, stilted language, redundancies, etc., etc. I was very interested in the topic, but the book was TOO detailed; it read like a reference book for a scholarly topic. So, for those researching this topic, it would be great; for casual readers, NOT.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Musson clearly has a passion for his subject, and this book was exhaustively researched. But I found it overly detailed and, for the most part, extremely dry. I enjoyed the sections on interwar and postwar country house life the most, but perhaps that's just because it's the period I'm interested in at the moment. I would prefer to read the primary sources he cited instead. Musson clearly has a passion for his subject, and this book was exhaustively researched. But I found it overly detailed and, for the most part, extremely dry. I enjoyed the sections on interwar and postwar country house life the most, but perhaps that's just because it's the period I'm interested in at the moment. I would prefer to read the primary sources he cited instead.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I really enjoy any book that can give you insight into a certain era of time. If it can make you feel like you are there and part of it and show you how things REALLY worked and went on during a certain time frame, it's worth the time to read it. I enjoy all these kinds of books, which is why I loved Downton Abbey. I really enjoy any book that can give you insight into a certain era of time. If it can make you feel like you are there and part of it and show you how things REALLY worked and went on during a certain time frame, it's worth the time to read it. I enjoy all these kinds of books, which is why I loved Downton Abbey.

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