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

A quick rundown… Looks at the changing role of house servants through the centuries. Non-fiction.

Strengths: I found the later chapters on the 1800s and 1900s quite interesting.

Weaknesses: Can be dreary at times.

Why I read it: I thought it might be like Downton Abbey in a non-fiction way.

Pages: 384

Published: 2010

Publisher: John Murray

Rating: 6 out of 10


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!


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