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The real Downton Abbey

(23 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 21-Mar-13 08:02:22

Our first guest blog post this week comes from Mollie Moran, who paints a picture of what life was really like for her as a domestic servant in the 1930s.

We are also delighted to have five copies of her memoir - Aprons and Silver Spoons - to give away to people who comment on the thread. We'll do the draw straight after the Easter bank holidays.

Gorki Thu 21-Mar-13 11:49:47

An interesting perspective on life below stairs.I would love to know more.My youngest aunt was in a similar position in the early forties and she held the same opinions about "those upstairs".There was never any envy and sometimes even pity for them.She used to tell the tale that her Christmas present from the employers was next year's uniform !

supernanauna Thu 21-Mar-13 12:38:34

My mother worked in the same sort of situation - but she was lucky, in a way, in that the mistress of the house genuinely took an interest in those below stairs.

My mother was often given food to bring home (and not just leftovers) and eggs from the family hens, plus bedclothes and clothing - which her mother was always very pleased to receive.

She worked there until shortly before I was born and even after that would go to visit the family maybe once a year - both upstairs and down. I remember visiting with my mother and the lady of the house actually brought me outside to help collect the eggs.

I don't think my mother's experience was exactly the norm, though.

Gally Thu 21-Mar-13 13:17:27

I've just read The Tea Planter's Daughter - fiction but it gives some insight into life Upstairs/Downstairs from the turn of the last century. It would be most interesting to read Mollie's first hand account of life 'Downstairs'. My maternal Grandmother worked in the Big House as a skivvy before WW1 but she died when I was 3 so no opportunity to ask her about it.

Mishap Thu 21-Mar-13 13:42:19

I used to have long conversations with my gran about when she worked below stairs. My most vivid memory is her telling me that they were allowed to send their linen off to the laundry each week, but were restricted to how much they could send. On the week when she had her period, she could not send any clothes as her whole quota was taken up with her towels. That really struck home to me when I was a teenager - I just thought it was totally gross!

LullyDully Thu 21-Mar-13 16:10:10

My dear old granny was a house maid at 14. I felt very sad when researching the family. She was on the 1881 and 1891 census at home but by the next one was living in a big house as a servant. At 13 she left home to fill baths with hot water at some ungodly hour of the morning. At that age I was enjoying my free education at a secondary school. with a career ahead of me.

She always called her Christmas present a Christmas box. She used to get black material for her present to make a new dress and white for a cap and pinny, on Boxing Day.

She used to laugh when she told me tales of service and had no resentment , just like Mollie.I wish I could have her back, at my age I have so many questions for her I never dreamed of when I was a young woman. How I loved her.
Mollie's blog brought her back thanks.

Enviousamerican Thu 21-Mar-13 16:30:39

I would love to read Mollie Moran's book Aprons and silver spoons.I have read other books about life down stairs and find them full of info and each one had different experiences told.Hope it's a best seller!

inishowen Fri 22-Mar-13 11:30:25

I had a great aunt who was a cook for the aristocracy in a big house in Wales. The family was called the Abercrombies. I've always wanted to find out more. I have a few recipes that were passed down from my aunt. I love reading about life in service.

wallers5 Fri 22-Mar-13 11:42:23

What a lovely title. There is huge interest in 'below stairs' since Downton Abbey & I am sure it will be a success. I would love to read it.

JS06 Fri 22-Mar-13 11:49:10

I was always drawn to the Upstairs Downstairs series when I was younger but know that even the downstairs life was romanticised. It's hard to imagine now that the punishing lives lived by servants and domestic staff were endured for so long.

audnay Fri 22-Mar-13 14:07:17

I have always been interested in the years gone by when nearly everyone had servants. So Downton Abbey, Upstairs Downstairs. It reminds me when we in a childrens home and we did all the work. it wasnt nice at all, we got no fancy clothes. I really really would like to read this book, so have my fingers and toes crossed.
Over the years I have met the odd one or two who have talked about been In Service and it sounds fantastic, I bet they could teach us a thing or two on how to clean without all the cleaning stuff we buy today.


pjo77 Fri 22-Mar-13 16:50:08

I was told that my great grandmother was a servant before she married. I assumed she worked in a grand mansion and I romanticised about how her employers would have valued her. This was reinforced by a visit to Errdig ( where there are galleries of portraits of the owners' staff. I had forgotten, however, that many people were servants in less prosperous houses.Census investigations have revealed that Great Grandmother Martha was a servant on a farm and I think her work was tougher and certainly more lonely than if she had been employed at the hall. I wish I had had the opportunity to ask her about it.

nanaid Fri 22-Mar-13 19:33:34

I would love to read Mollie Morans' book about her life in service. My grandmother would have found her story about life then very interesting and she was from an earlier generation, she taught me all the old music hall songs, which i still remember now, as well as teaching me to tell the time and how to knit.

york46 Fri 22-Mar-13 22:53:33

I think the fortitude and sheer grit of those girls who worked so hard and uncomplainingly from a very young age, but with enormous loyalty to the families they worked for should be recorded for posterity. Mollie Moran's book will be a most interesting read and will certainly give us all something to reflect on.

grabba Fri 22-Mar-13 23:29:15

Love the title. Admiration abounds for the ones who take the time to pass on their experiences. A joy for us all.

bev62 Sat 23-Mar-13 07:32:30

'Aprons and Silver Spoons' sounds very interesting. I would love to read it as I am very interested in what the upstairs/downstairs life was like. I loved 'Downton Abbey'.

NannyBarbara Sat 23-Mar-13 14:41:52

I have read a number of autobiographical books of "life below and upstairs" and enjoyed every one. I have always been a fan of TV programmes such as Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey would love to read this new book by Mollie Moran - love the title!

grannyactivist Sat 23-Mar-13 14:48:41

My nana worked for a very wealthy family as a scullery maid from the age of fourteen. When she retired she (literally) bumped into one of the daughters of the house and subsequently went to work for her as a cleaner. She used to complain unendingly about the work she was expected to do, but I think had just slipped back into her subservient fourteen year old self. I always remember that the woman had a son named Winston in his early twenties who my nana used to complain lived like a pig in squalor in his mother's home.

Galen Sat 23-Mar-13 16:31:36

I've just been listening to you on the radio. I'm looking forward to reding your book. It sounds fascinating.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 02-Apr-13 16:08:08

And the winners from the hat (LaraGransnet's again - not sure what we will do when the weather gets warmer) are:


Congratulations all - watch out for an email from us heading your way.

Galen Tue 02-Apr-13 16:25:09

Thank you. I look forward to that.

LullyDully Tue 02-Apr-13 17:12:51

Great, many thanks..I never win anything usually.

snowbird Fri 19-Apr-13 12:32:52

I have just retired from service as a cook / housekeeper and have worked in many big houses. Its very different now and can be a good, well paid life . If you get a good family ( the aristocrats are the best )
you can live in beautifull places. My first lady told me lots about the old days when she didnt even have to put her own stockings on untill she was eighteen! She never married owing to two world wars taking most of the eligable men."Well you couldnt just marry enyone ,dear" she explained.