It was mere days after I had finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey when I found Below Stairs by Margaret Powell. The book is Powell’s candid memoirs of being a kitchen maid in the 1920’s – think Daisy from Downton.
Below Stairs is something of a legend. The producers of both Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey consulted it in order to get the details correct. But what really makes this an AMAZING read is Powell’s honesty and humour. She grew up dirt poor but she was happy. Being a kitchen maid meant never being hungry but cooks and employers were tough.
But Powell is no pushover. She’s as tough as nails and feisty as hell. Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:
“I remember when we hadn’t anything left to use for warmth and no money to get coal. I said to Mum, “Get all the wood down. Let’s have a fire with wood.” She took ever single shelf there was in the rooms and she even took the banister from the stairs. Things like this make you hard.”
“It was my job to make the mayonnaise sauce. And what a job it was too. I never thought I’d get it right.”
“I used to think how incongruous it was when the Reverend used to say morning prayers and just before they were over he’d say, “Now let us all count our blessings.” I thought, well it would take a lot longer to count yours than it would ours.”
“A lot of inane remarks from the men and a lot of giggles from us, a few kisses and further promises to be sure to meet them at the same time next week, but neither Gladys nor I had any intention of having permanent dates with such ill-paid escorts.”
Below Stairs is a sure hit for any fans of Downton Abbey and hardcore foodies! As a kitchen maid and cook in the 20’s, Powell makes everything from scratch. From mayonnaise to great stories.