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Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Updated on August 5, 2013

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

The book Below Stairs by Margaret Powell is a delightful memoir. Be warned that as delightful as this book is, Mrs. Powell (yes, she reached her ultimate goal of getting married) worked hard her entire life.

The characters in the television shows Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey were inspired by Margaret Powell's book. Her inside peek into the life of the real servants brought this oft-neglected but important segment of the "big houses" to life.

Photo of Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" courtesy of Amazon. Click the link to sneak a peek Below Stairs.

Image of a kitchen maid, in the public domain at Wikimedia Commons. Click the image to visit the page.
Image of a kitchen maid, in the public domain at Wikimedia Commons. Click the image to visit the page.

Margaret Powell: Girl, Laundry Worker, Kitchen Maid, Cook

An Intimate Look at a Real Maid's Life Downstairs

Margaret Powell was born in Hove, England in 1907. She was the oldest girl in a family of seven children. Her family was poor and moved often to find cheaper places to rent.

Margaret attended school until she was 13, all the while helping her mother with the housework and the younger children. She went to work at age 13 when she had reached the highest level of education available to her.

She was at the top of her class and could have gone on to upper levels to learn to be a teacher but her family needed any income she could bring in.

After a couple of years of working as a housekeeper and in the local laundry, Margaret applied to be a kitchen maid because it was the only servant's job that didn't require needlework. Margaret was not good with a needle and thread.

From there, Margaret's story of working in several "big houses" until she worked her way up to the position of cook is detailed with humor and plain facts. This book is a delight to read.

Margaret Powell wrote her books in the 1960s and 1970s. She died in 1984.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell - The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey

Below Stairs: The Bestselling Memoirs of a 1920's Kitchen Maid
Below Stairs: The Bestselling Memoirs of a 1920's Kitchen Maid

This book tells it like it was. Margaret Powell worked as a kitchen maid and cook then in her later years, wrote of the hard work and life.

 

Margaret Powell wrote in Below Stairs:

"I used to wonder why... Mum kept having babies...

that was the only pleasure poor people could afford.

It cost nothing--at least at the time when

you were actually making the children.

The fact that it would cost you something later on,

well, the working-class people never looked

ahead in those days."

Source: Below Stairs

Kitchen at Audley End House

A kitchen in a "big house" in England. Click the photo to visit the Wikimedia Commons page.
A kitchen in a "big house" in England. Click the photo to visit the Wikimedia Commons page.

This photo shows the kitchen at Audley End House in England. The kitchen is situated at the north end of the house with a corridor that leads from the service area to the main house. Also in the complex is a dairy, a laundry, and the cook's and dairy maid's rooms.

In her book, Below Stairs, Margaret Powell wrote about having to polish the copper bottom pans like the ones shown in this photograph. She had to clean and polish them every day because they became black from use on the fires or stoves.

Photo Credit: Pam Fray at Wikimedia Commons

Copper Pans - and Copper Pan Cleaner, Which Margaret Powell Did Not Have

More Books by Margaret Powell - Servant's Hall, Climbing the Stairs, Cookery Book, My Mother and I

Excerpt from Below Stairs by Margaret Powell:

"To Gladys and me these chauffeurs looked simply wonderful, and to be actually able to speak

to these hundred-percent men in leggings

was something too glorious for words."

Source: Below Stairs

The Irish Bridget - Irish Immigrant Women in Domestic Service in America

Downton Abbey Season 3 - Meet Daisy, the Famous Kitchen Maid to Mrs. Patmore

Below Stairs Quote by Margaret Powell:

"The employers always claimed that the training

they gave you stood in good stead

when you left and married...

When I left domestic service I took with me

the knowledge of how to cook an elaborate seven-course dinner and an enormous inferiority complex; I can't say that I found those an asset to my married life."

Source: Below Stairs

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

Are You a Fan of the "Big House" Shows - Like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs?

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