Up and down them stairs

The Book

Below Stairs


Margaret Powell


1968 (reprinted in 2013)

What it says on the back cover

A LARGE PRINT EDITION (Unfortunately my Public library did not have a standard print size copy available)


The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir that inspired Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey Margaret Powell

Below Stairs is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, while serving in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Margaret Powell arrived at the servants entrance in the 1920s as a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – and entered an entirely new world of stoves to be blacked, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye in this fascinating ‘downstairs’ portrait of life in Downton Abbey and 165 Eaton Place.

What made me pick up the book?

As I am about to embark on a Research Project next year for one of two of my final papers for my degree in Social Science, I have begun research on what I would like to do my Research paper on by having brainwaves, popping them into an exercise book and jotting done ideas. One of my ideas I have considered is “Why are television programmes such as Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs so popular to watch?”. This question is something that I have considered writing about and as a fan of both shows and of the very first Upstairs Downstairs series as I grew up (It was made before I was born) I thought this book could be a worthwhile read to help me to understand why this particular book had grabbed the attention of Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins from Upstairs Downstairs fame and Julian Fellows of Downton Abbey the writers who created both shows.

About the book

This book is a rather insightful engaging book filled with many tales to enjoy of a real life domestic who served under some of England’s well to do. Never one to horse around, Powell shares her stories as if they were only yesterday and some show her feisty side in making sure that she was adequately paid and how she managed to find out the true identity to a man who called himself Monsieur Leon from Leon’s Grand School of Continental Cookery who was really not a Frenchman at all and was better known as Percy Taylor, an everyday English man who learnt how to cook some of the French dishes while working in a cookhouse in France during the war not some Frenchman making a living out of teaching the English how to make food Escoffier style. Suffice to say Margaret did not suffer fools too easily and often moved around in search of better pay and living conditions not stopping for too long but making sure that she would always get a good reference.

Is this book worth buying?

This book is one that would be worth considering if you are interested in the lives of servants, class and all things that pertain to life in Victorian England. It is interesting to note that the way the author writes this book, its as if she is talking to you which makes me think that she may have spoken to a tape recorder in the way she presents this book. Anyone who feels sorry for characters from Downton or Up Down in the form of  Daisy or Ruby will appreciate this book and anyone who wants to hear what really went on downstairs and have a great chance to discover it all here in this book.

Powell died in 1984 and prior to her death she wrote many other books which made this book a success. An interesting read and rather amusing too as Powell often injects humour and a touch of sarcasm here and there. Here is a wee snippet of Powell appearing on a television series back in the 1970’s and for the original Upstairs Downstairs fans of the late Angela Baddeley (Mrs Bridges) the cook in both these videos from YouTube    

  which shows the type of personality that made Powell such a household name.

“Looking back on my years in domestic service I’ve often wondered why the status of our work was so low. Why we were all derogatively labelled ‘skivvy’. Perhaps it was the intimate nature of our work, I often used to think that was it, the waiting hand and foot on, and almost spoon feeding people who were quite capable of looking after themselves” (Powell, 1968, p 245).

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