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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs. Part 3 of 3 - No Going Back

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At the start of the 20th century,

1.5 million of us worked as servants.

Astonishingly, that's more than worked in industries or on the land.

My great-grandmothers were servants, and coming from this background,

I want to find out about the reality of their lives.

Country houses like these simply wouldn't have been able to function

without a whole army of staff working away, above and below stairs.

When I come to places like this, my first instinct

isn't to go through the grand formal entrance,

but to find the servants' door and go in that way.

The story of service means a lot to me,

not just because it's about MY family.

It's actually the story of all our families.

In this series, I want to dispel the nostalgia we have around domestic service,

to reveal a darker, more complicated world.

Who's this? Me.

I weren't bad looking, were I?

No, you were very good looking.

We were underdogs. We weren't on the same level as them. Mm.

But we had to know our place.

Centuries of service have left behind a messy, emotional legacy,

an obsession with class, with its complex mix

of deference and resentment that's been passed down the generations,

an obsession that makes us, for better and worse, who we are.

We've ignored it for so long, but the history of service

is at the heart of what it means to be British.

In the first two episodes,

we've seen that the ideal servant was a Victorian invention,

a way of ordering society into its proper place.

And, ironically, at the very high point of service,

a new generation of forthright servants

directly attacked this ideal.

In this film, we witness the complete collapse of the old order,

leaving the master/servant relationship in turmoil,

and the very notion of service itself in crisis.

And our servants' hall is now a tearoom seating 100 people for tea.

And there's nowhere really for the chauffeur to sit.

It's the story of how, the moment they have a choice,

servants leave service, never to return.

It was from these large townhouses, bustling with servants,

that one of the most original and authentic servant voices emerged,

who told us straight and fearlessly what the world of service really meant.

One of the first lessons I learned in Brighton

is that there really are, as Disraeli said, two societies - rich and poor.

In 1922, a 15-year-old girl named Margaret Powell

came here to Hove in Sussex to work as a kitchen maid.

It was her first experience of live-in domestic service.

Years later, that experience would become the basis for her best-selling memoir "Below Stairs".

Read by millions, Margaret's memoir told us a raw,

uncensored story of domestic service.

Well, when that great door crashed on me in 1923,

I felt as though I'd gone into prison.

I felt as though I was there for life and would never see the light of day again.

And then I went into that dungeon of a kitchen and that enormous great kitchen range,

and was shown the list of kitchen maid's duties.

Anybody would think that it was for a week.

And when I discovered that one was expected to do all that work in a day, I nearly died.

Rise at 5.30, six on Sundays.

Light the range, clean the flues, polish the range,

polish the steel fender and all the firearms.

Rush up and do all the brass on the doors, clean all those great stone steps,

do all the boots and shoes, lay the servants' breakfast, wait on them.

Take your own out in the kitchen, not allowed to eat with the servants when you're a kitchen maid.

And so on and so on.

I felt as though the Dark Ages had returned, and I couldn't stand it.

And this was that dreary little basement,

and over here was that kitchen.

And all that I ever saw of life

was people's legs as they walked by there.

And then at night, when the day's work was done, and mighty late it was sometimes,

I would drag myself up all those 132 stairs

to that garret on the top.

The thing that stands out for me when reading her book

is not just the grim description of her daily duties,

but her fervent, deeply felt reaction to that vast gulf

that separated her from her employers,

a seemingly unbridgeable gulf of status and class.

"We always called them 'them'.

"Them was the enemy, them overworked us and them underpaid us.

"And to them servants were a race apart, a necessary evil."

What lay behind Margaret's no-holds-barred tale

was the great secret...

..That most servants had had enough of the appalling conditions,

bad treatment and low pay.

The injustices of the world of service simply made no sense any more in the 20th century.

So the moment they could leave, they did.

And the first hammer blow to the old order was, of course,

the First World War.

At the outbreak of war, the aristocracy and landed gentry,

including the Thellusson's of Brodsworth Hall,

owned four-fifths of the land in Britain and still controlled much of political life.

Brodsworth was used as a status symbol and a playground

by Charles and Constance Thellusson,

who led a privileged life, indulging their passions for lavish dinner parties and balls,

summer yacht tours around Scotland

and, importantly for Charles, shooting.

This social world was all made possible

through the work of 15 indoor servants and 89 estate workers.

This concealed door separates the world of the Thellussons from the world of their servants.

Both worlds were about to change.

At the start of the war, all eligible men were encouraged to enlist.

Country Life magazine called on its rich readers

to do their patriotic duty and release their men servants.

'Have you a butler, groom, chauffeur, gardener or gamekeeper serving you,

'who at this moment should be serving your King and country?

'Have you a man digging your garden who should be digging trenches?

'Have you a man preserving your game, who should be helping preserve your country?

'Would you sacrifice your personal convenience for your country's need?

'Ask your men to enlist today.'

And, of course, Charles Thellusson,

too old to enlist himself, allowed his men to go.

This is the butler's pantry. This is Mr Marshall's pantry.

One day at the beginning of the war a young servant called James Hunt

would have come in here to hand in his notice as he was going off to the trenches.

There's a photo of who we think is James here.

He was a footman. And here's Mr Marshall in the centre.

Over the next three years, all the healthy men left for the war, including Mr Marshall.

Thellusson may have lost most of his men servants

but he was not about to forego service.

Other solutions had to be found.

This picture is just one of a whole collection of photos

taken by one of the few men servants deemed not fit to serve -

valet and amateur photographer Alf Edwards.

It was during the war that Alf started courting his future wife, Caroline, then Brodsworth's cook.

He was the valet. She was the new cook. Yes.

But their paths wouldn't necessarily cross. No.

So how did they get together?

We're standing in the room where some of it happened, in the kitchen.

Alf had an established routine of bringing his prints

into this kitchen and hanging them up.

So they'd all be hanging along here? Presumably, on some sort of washing line or whatever they had, to dry.

But, of course, with Caroline being in the kitchen and him wandering in and out, they got talking.

Where was this taken?

We're not sure. We think it was taken somewhere on the estate

on a Sunday afternoon when they were courting.

We presume the dress, that beautiful red colour, was the real colour.

During their courtship here,

they spent a lot of time photographing each other.

And look at the tint on that, fantastic.

He didn't go and fight in the First World War. No.

Alf had consumption - we now called it tuberculosis -

and he was exempted from war service because of this.

The big impact on Alf was the huge number of jobs he had to do during the war

when he was in progressively worse and worse health.

Alf had been hired as a valet, but like for so many servants during the war,

his duties multiplied.

He now chauffeured and ran the gun-room.

Alf was good with guns. He's seen here loading for Thellusson.

Charles Thellusson was determined to maintain service standards at home,

on his estate and in his gamekeeping.

Maintaining the large team of beaters and keepers needed for shooting

was extremely difficult during the war,

as revealed in the game book, preserved in Brodsworth's archives.

Gamekeeping's a pretty highly skilled activity.

It was both highly skilled and very prestigious.

The gamekeepers were always amongst some of the highest paid

of the estate workforce, actually.

And, in fact, in the estate accounts we always see there's always a whole separate page.

It's almost like a separate department. I'll just show you.

And what does the war do to that expertise, would you say?

Well, firstly, as we know, several of the gamekeepers go off to war

and, in fact, two of them are recommended, of course,

as being stout, hearty fellows and good shots.

So here comes the artillery. I suppose they would be good shots!

Yes! And this battered looking book

is their record of all the game they shot.

It's the game book, which they kept detailed records of right from the 1860s.

Here, for example, in 1913.

This is a sort of typical year for them.

They're shooting... The tally here is 4,999 pheasants.

So that's 5,000 pheasants in the season running from September to January.

That's right.

When they include other things, such as the partridges and the hares and so on,

it's just under 8,000 items of game.

Although they carry on shooting into the First World War,

in 1916, half the number of pheasants,

and then there, half the total game.

And what happens in the following years?

In 1918? 824. Yeah.

So by Brodsworth's standards that's very little. Yes!

Older men and young boys filled gamekeeper roles

but, above all, female servants in country houses across Britain took on extra duties

as explained by Thellusson himself.

A wonderful article.

The Livestock Journal in 1916,

which eludes to how the war was hitting his entire estate workforce.

"Like all other estate owners the labour problem through the war

"has presented itself in acute form at Brodsworth.

"His agent is an officer in the army, his head gardener is just called up,

"three estate clerks have gone, the man in charge of the poultry is about to be superseded by a woman

"because the military claim him.

"And the Squire told us he has not a chauffeur left."

So the poultry farm is being managed by a woman.

This is just a photograph of the lady

who then had to take on her husband's role looking after the poultry.

And you can see that it was pretty extensive. Oh, yes!

It wasn't just any old poultry.

They were show poultry. I mean, this is just the most wonderful prize-winning cockerel.

So it was a serious business. Again, she would have been handling money

and dealing with commercial orders and all that kind of thing.

Not just feeding the chickens then? Not just feeding the chickens. No, it's a serious business.

Do we know her name?

Yes, she was Mrs Foot. Mrs Foot.

Then after the war she stepped back? Yeah, so it was a temporary...

..Opportunity. I think the genie was out the bottle there. Once...

Many women were happy to go back to doing what they had done before.

And, you know, back, back... The return to normalcy, the return to normal after the war.

But a lot of them weren't. You could no longer argue that they couldn't do it.

Mrs Foot's experience of stepping into a man's role

was replicated all over Britain,

as the government actively encouraged women to "do your bit",

"replace a man for the front".

Technical, mechanical and even hard labour jobs

were suddenly opened up to women.

And the most dangerous one of all was munitions.

This is the Woolwich Arsenal.

At its height during the First World War, it was Britain's biggest munitions factory.

It's a vast complex.

Over 30,000 women would walk through those gates every day

to start a 12-hour shift. It was dirty and dangerous work.

A third of these women were recruited from domestic service.

They were often given the most difficult jobs of bomb-making and chemical processing,

because they were considered clean, efficient and, most importantly, trustworthy.

These ex-servants were attracted to the dangerous work through higher pay and a sense of camaraderie.

War work offered women in a vast range of professions

regulated working hours and conditions, and access to subsidised childcare.

They joined unions in their thousands.

Female union membership during the war rose by 160%.

After the Armistice, heroic men servants returning from the trenches

were promised jobs in a land fit for heroes.

Women, on the other hand, were expected to step back to their traditional roles,

above all, into domestic service.

Julia Varley, an ardent political activist based in Birmingham,

had spent the war successfully unionising women in factories and workshops.

Now that women were being encouraged to go back into service,

she set out to empower and galvanise servants, too.

Loveday Street, close to the city centre, was the place to start.

This is where Number One, Loveday Street would have stood.

And it's important because it's a place where

a charismatic suffragette and Labour activist called Julia Varley

started to organise the city maids in Birmingham.

One of her challenges was that there was just so few places for working women to meet.

So she had a great idea, she set up a club for servants right here.

Some newspapers called it the Servants' Paradise.

It became really a headquarters for a servants' union.

Julia Varley conceived of her club

as the welcoming meeting place for servants of all ranks,

from lowly scullery maids to cook, complete with chintz curtains and a grand piano.

Pre-war attempts at organising a servants' union had come to nothing,

but now things looked more hopeful.

So in 1918,

women have come together from all over the country.

They've moved into munition centres. They've left their home towns.

They've perhaps lived in hostels together.

And they've sort of, you know, formed bonds and friendships.

So Julia Varley, along with other women trade unionists,

are aware that, if they don't do something,

women are going to disappear back into this hidden world of employment,

and that includes domestic service.

If women are going to go back into that job...

And I think it's important that she's not saying, "Don't go back into that job."

She's certainly saying if you do it,

then we need to raise the profile, we need to raise the status,

and we need to look at the terms and conditions

for maids, for domestic servants.

Julia Varley ensured the servants set out their own terms in her Servants' Charter,

laying out their hours and the most basic work conditions,

such as the need for proper food.

The very fact that that has to be stated,

when we might all think that employers

are bound to look after their staff.

That this is in the months after the First World War.

That this is put down in writing to try to ensure

that servants got good, plain food,

you know, it says an awful lot.

It's still not too much to ask, is it, really? Exactly.

It's not exactly the height of radicalism. Name.

"By arrangement with the mistresses girls are allowed to choose the name by which they wish to be called.

"Comfortable kitchen with an easy chair or other provision for rest."

Yes. And it also goes on to say,

"A comfortable bedroom with separate bed, where separate bedroom is not possible."

In other words, they shouldn't be sharing a bed with another servant.

Here it says, "Sheets to be changed at least every three weeks.

"Pillowcase and bath towel to be changed at least every fortnight.

"Clean face towel every week."

And, most importantly, it says, "Use of bathroom once a week."

Hardly revolutionary demands. Indeed.

It seems to be this is about these women just wanting to be treated with dignity.

Yes. With respect.

What happens in the end? Does she succeed?

In the long run, no.

Erm, Julia Varley herself says after a couple of years it petered out.

And the reason that she herself cites for that is snobbery.

She said, "You wouldn't believe the class distinctions there were among servants."

The cook wouldn't mix with the housemaid and all that sort of thing.

So she's blaming the servants?

She's blaming the servants for the dynamic of her club not working,

but perhaps it was easier for her to blame the servants

than to accept that this project,

that she'd invested time and union resources into,

erm, wasn't working.

Julia Varley may have blamed the servants' snobbery,

but her timing could not have been worse.

At the start of 1921, unemployment doubled from one to nearly two million

in the face of a disastrous economic slump, following the First World War.

What many female servants did share, however,

was outrage at the situation with unemployment insurance.

Unemployment benefit had been introduced but, shockingly, servants weren't entitled to it,

because it was assumed that they could always find work.

In practice, that meant that women who'd had a range of jobs during the war

now found themselves forced into service.

One newspaper reported it like this, the Southampton Thames,

"Women still have not brought themselves to realise that factory work,

"with the money paid for it during the war, will not be possible again.

"Women who left domestic service to enter the factory

"are now required to return to the pots and pans."

The war's effect on the service economy was clear.

There were now 200,000 fewer servants.

When women refused service jobs and attempted to claim the dole,

the outraged middle classes called on their politicians

to fight their cause for them.

Oh, isn't this place amazing? That's incredible.

Some wallpaper!

Let's look here at the Hansard.

It's even quite surprising to me that servants make it into Parliamentary debate.

Well, they were very big in people's lives and the lack of servants was very big in people's lives.

And here we have Captain Terrell.

Who's Captain Terrell? Captain Terrell is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Henley.

And Henley was very much as Henley is today. What's Captain Terrell up to?

Captain Terrell is obviously bothered because his constituents can't get domestic servants,

or can't get domestic servants for the wages that they're prepared to pay.

He asked the Minister of Labour, "Whether he will institute an inquiry

"into the abuse of the unemployment pay by women and girls,

"who, accustomed to domestic service, now refuse to re-enter it."

So very cleverly, what Captain Terrell is doing,

he's not saying, "My constituents can't get domestic servants," which is what he means.

He's saying that women are abusing the dole by going on to the dole

and taking money from the state rather than going out into gainful employment,

in brackets - working for my constituents as domestic servants.

So really, it's blaming the dole for the servant shortage. Exactly so.

You have the breaking up of the simplicities of the class system,

the ending of the days when there was a servant class,

and women of a certain class would become servants,

and women of another class would HAVE servants.

And the classes were supposed to know what they were there for,

and not suppose that they could carry on working in munitions factories, for instance,

as they had been during the First World War. With higher pay! With higher pay.

It's the breaking up of the certainties

of people's social status and position.

At this point, the Labour Party begin to get involved

and they begin to chime in on the other side of the argument.

Mr W. Thorn, a Labour MP, is doing what MPs and journalists love to do,

he's bringing a real-life case to the House of Commons,

a heart-wrenching case to the House of Commons.

"Miss L. Moore," he says, "is the eldest of 10 children,

"having nine brothers and one sister all living at home,

"five being under 14 years of age and still going to school.

"The youngest not being two years old.

"She was one the chief supporters of the household when working at the rubber works."

That's probably after or during the First World War.

"And in consequence, Miss Moore states that she was not used to domestic service,

"and as she was one of the chief supporters of the household

"she could not see her way clear to accept the position of a domestic servant."

And they're going to take the dole away from her and her whole family rely on her.

And this is one of those lovely human stories

that can be so much more effective in politics than dry argument. Yes.

And a girl like this, who's 17, it says there... Yes.

..Is expected to take a domestic service job. That's right.

Regardless of the fact she hasn't been trained to do it and of what it's paid.

Yes. And to suit the convenience of her mistress rather than looking after all her brothers and sisters.

With issues around servants and the dole so publicly raised in Parliament,

certain newspapers waded in on behalf of the employers.

The Daily Mail picks up the story.

They run a campaign over two or more weeks called "Scandals of the Dole - Paying Women to be Idle".

"Girls who ought to be in service".

They employ a special correspondent to investigate the problem.

"The most flagrant scandal connected with the dole is that of the thousands upon thousands of women

"who are drawing it when they ought to be in domestic service.

"This is a scandal which is capable of no kind of valid excuse."

He calls upon the government to do one perfectly obvious thing -

"make it illegal for women to draw the dole when they are capable of domestic service."

So it goes on.

Well, the campaign's gathering pace, and a week later there are lots of letters from correspondents.

Here's one. "To the editor of the Daily Mail.

"Sir, for four months I have been trying in vain to get a servant.

"I applied to the Labour Bureau. They told me they had no servants of any sort or kind.

"There were ten women forming a queue in the office passage up the stairs and in the street,

"obviously of the domestic servant class.

"I asked the clerk what they were doing, thinking they had come to try and get employment,

"but was told they were women waiting to receive the dole."

That's N. Swinton from Barnes.

All this public debate resulted in a committee of inquiry,

staffed with women from all sides of the political spectrum, including Julia Varley.

But no actual servants.

The committee came up with some quite thoughtful recommendations -

better training, better conditions, improving status,

but in the end its report was shelved.

As with so many problems a government doesn't want to deal with,

the inquirer's report was kicked into the long grass.

For no-one in Parliament seemed to have the answer to the underlying question -

what to do when thousands of young women refused to go into service?

Now the battleground shifted to an unlikely issue, the maid's hair, cap and uniform.

Nothing typified more the indignity of service than old-fashioned uniforms,

and the cap itself became a hated symbol of deference.

The mistresses now took it on themselves to persuade young women back

through a fashion charm offensive.

This is one of the new women's magazines from the 1930s.

It's the Needlewoman, "a magazine of exclusive fashions in dress and in the home".

It's the kind of thing that would have been read by a lot of mistresses,

and it's got some great hints for the mistress as to how keep your maid happy.

And one way they should do it is by improving on that uniform and the cap.

"Mistresses who have difficulty in persuading their maids

"to wear the stiffly starched cap and apron

"should try the effect of a dainty apron and cap, similar to the one in the picture."

The caption underneath says, "Doesn't this apron look smart?"

You can just almost hear the anxiety in the voice there.

She doesn't look desperately happy about it.

Here's a great one. I love this. "To make your maid look her best.

"Maids' uniforms are very different nowadays

"from the stiff, cumbersome designs worn before the war.

"The wise mistress finds it pays to make her maid take a pride in her dress.

"Many smart mistresses in Mayfair

"find that the maid who resents 'uniform' will be quite happy

"when wearing a picturesque outfit in colour."

And you go back to a picture of a maid and a caption,

"Any maid would feel happy with a dainty apron like the one above."

I think if you read between the lines here,

there's a real sense of anxiety, insecurity on the part of the mistresses.

They're not sure how to deal with this new breed of maid -

more flighty, more, you know...

Who've got their own ideas about how they want to look and how they want to live their lives.

But they're making an effort. They're going for it. They're trying to say, you know,

"If we meet them halfway, nicer uniforms, they'll be happy."

But it's a bit of a vain hope, I think.

But there was one mistress who came up with a truly radical idea,

which offered servants much more than simply a prettier apron.

Society hostess, Lady Malcolm, organised an annual servants' ball,

where servants and employers could meet on equal terms.

She called it her Cinderella Dance,

and in 1928 the ball took place in the Wharncliff rooms

of what used to be called the Grand Central Hotel in London.

Tickets were on sale to all, and it was difficult to tell amongst the thousand dancers

who was a servant and who an employer.

Lady Malcolm was rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of Edward VII and his mistress,

beauty and international actress Lily Langtrey.

Only someone of Lady Malcolm's unorthodox social standing would dare such a thing.

Why did Lady Malcolm do this?

She had a very odd childhood.

Her mother touring, doing her stage appearances,

cavorting with her boyfriends, left her alone,

at a time when, if she'd been seen with her daughter, tongues would have wagged.

So the little girl is taken out by servants and makes friends with servants.

She sees that they are not just human beings but, in many ways, nicer human beings

than the grand folk with whom she is expected to spend her time.

How did the ball work?

It was very fairly formal, obviously, judging from the descriptions in the press.

It started off with a procession led by Lady Malcolm and her butler.

So they would come in and they would walk down here.

I'm the butler, you're Lady Malcolm. We would go like this.

Presumably holding their hands, proceeding.

The press all over Britain delighted in covering the ball,

as did the American Delaware Morning Star.

I love this headline - "So Lady Malcolm defied society, danced with the butler!

"While the conservative London dowagers sat back and sizzled, but had to take it."

"The dowagers gasped in astonishment as the erstwhile dignified British servant

"chatted gaily with Lady Malcolm while he escorted her across the spacious floor

"with the casual air of a young lord.

"But they were still more astounded when she stepped into his arms

"and went dancing across the floor.

"The chef forgot the giggling housemaid by his side.

"This was indeed an innovation.

"Even Lady Malcolm, whose impregnable social position permitted her many privileges

"had never dared such an act before."

Lady Malcolm. Looking, of course, away from the butler.

And, indeed, he does look a rather bottle-nosed old buffer, doesn't he?

She's either holding him up

or she's turning away from his very, very wine alcoholic breath.

And, of course, that's one of the things you never hear about.

I mean, what was their actual feeling about being held in the embrace

of a man who was serving you your drinks for the rest of the year.

Could you ever quite go back?

The question is raised here, I think -

could you ever go back to the old relationship

once you had gone through that?

Because their old relationship depends on that difference.

It depends on the difference. It depends also on physical distance,

by which I don't mean that he wasn't a few feet from you

and, of course, when he was pouring wine at dinner he was leaning over your shoulder.

But, nonetheless, they weren't actually touching.

Whereas once you'd been in his arms, things were never going to be the same again.

In her own way, I think Lady Malcolm

achieved one of the great sort of blows against the class system.

But while some mistresses were trying to charm their servants with balls and flowery aprons,

a new model of middle-class service was emerging.

Change came from a surprising quarter,

not from the country house set,

but from those eager to move out of crowded city housing.

Tired of these surroundings. We're cooped up in this London flat all the days of our lives.

Well then, let's go out into the country.

The country? Where? There are awfully nice houses at Purely Oaks. Charming.

Purley Oaks? That's where the Goodmans live. Yes.

He's always telling me about it. Golf, too. Yes, lovely.

By Jove, we'll go, darling! Not far from town. We'll go.

Immortalised by John Betjeman as Metroland,

new suburban developments were springing up all over the country,

built on green land outside the city centres.

Astonishingly, the number of privately owned houses quadrupled between the wars.

Designed for a lower middle class of teachers and bank clerks,

the most popular housing type of all was the semi-detached home.

This is a classic 1930s house.

The families that moved out to these suburbs were full of hope and optimism.

They were building a new way of life, and you can see it in the sunrise motif over there,

which was everywhere at the time.

What's really interesting is that this new way of life

required a different kind of servant.

It's hard to imagine that these small houses had room

or a role for servants.

Lots of families still wanted the status and the labour

of having some kind of servant.

And so they compromised by having a day servant.

Somebody that, you know, was kind of like a cleaner,

but we don't really have cleaners at this point.

So day servants would still have looked very like traditional servants. Still wore a uniform?

They might have worn the uniform.

They might well have come in pretty early. They might have come in at about seven in the morning.

And, again, left fairly late. So they still have the long hours.

The suburbs were not a servant-free zone.

So I think for a lot of families they wanted to have the visible domestic worker,

the daily servant in their house so they could show everyone, "We've arrived. We really are middle class."

So they might get the maid working, hoovering or serving up dinner in the front room,

and have the bay window curtains open and the lights on

so that everyone can look in and see what they've got. A little glance!

But how was the already fractious bond between servants and their employers

going to play out in these small houses?

Well, it causes immense problems for the relationship between employers and dailies,

because they're thrown very close together.

You know, they no longer have the clear sense of separate spaces.

But you can kind of still see the way in which that is built into a house like this.

The fact that it has the side-entrance, so that you can still have tradesmen and dailies

coming in around the side is very important.

It's an attempt to delineate the status of people coming in and out of the house.

That's an important part of being semi-detached. Absolutely.

Is to have a side entrance? Yeah. It's less upstairs/downstairs.

It's more front door/side door. Exactly, yeah.

So this kitchen is modern because it's full of labour-saving devices -

the cooker and the gas and the fridge.

But it's also part of the house. It's integrated, isn't it?

There's a kind of proximity to the rest of the house. That's right.

Kitchens were being pulled in to family life.

I wouldn't say they were yet the heart of the home, which they become after World War II,

but, nonetheless, this might be a family room.

You might have the family breakfasting in here altogether.

But we also need to remember that there were real limits to that.

So although it's a bright, cheerful, sunny room

and it's a step away from the other rooms in the house,

this was also the servants' domain,

and if you just look out here, she would have been expected

to use...this little...

outside toilet.

Oh, yes!

So it's really clear that servants were NOT being invited to use the indoor facilities. Yeah.

So just have a look at this.

What we've got here - this is some servant-grade toilet paper, you see?

Strong toilet tissue.

So you've got the soft, quilted toilet paper upstairs,

and here you've got, what I call, the tracing paper version. Yes, the tracing paper!

But what is going on here with these two bathrooms? What's the story?

I think what we see is a kind of persistent disgust

at having to share intimate spaces with servants who are still imagined to be other.

They were still different kinds of people. You didn't want the servant in your bathroom.

The physical otherness of the servant. You know, the disgust at their bodies.

So that sense of disgust is really played out in these different products.

You know, the servants get carbolic soap and the family get scented, creamy, leathery soap.

Just like the suburban houses, innovative household appliances were designed with servants in mind.

If you look here, this is a great example of this.

It's the Daily Mail Ideal Labour Saving Home Book.

And it's full, it's absolutely packed, with adverts and commentary,

which is basically saying, "How do we solve the servant problem?"

Here you've got all these happy looking servants using these devices.

You know, they're trying to say,

the solution to your disgruntled servants is in getting the carpet sweeper, the sweeper vac.

Smiling servant, no cap.

That's right. Much less decorative. Fashionable hair.

That's right.

Gadgets were being sold as servant pacifiers,

but in reality the roles of servant and middle-class housewife

were becoming increasing blurred.

With new technologies significantly reducing

the hours and physical challenge of housework, who was actually doing the work?

Suburban housewives were taking on tasks like cooking, but one duty remained beyond the pale,

to the point of absurdity.

This is a wonderful example of how, in some ways, things hadn't changed that much. What is this?

The Receivador? The Receivador.

It's being advertised here as the "greatest household labour-saving device".

It actually says here, "The Receivador is the silent servant of the household,

"giving orders and receiving parcels."

When we think of what the greatest labour-saving device of the 20th century is, we might say...

Washing machine. ..Vacuum cleaner. Yeah, one of those.

But here, this is a device which enables you to not answer your own front door.

So it's a little hatch that goes out at the front

and the tradesman delivering some meat puts their parcel in it

and you open it and take it out on the inside.

And you don't need to have an interaction.

We don't think of answering the door as particularly hard work.

But it was still a really fraught thing.

Do you answer the door yourself if you're not a servant?

Is it OK for the mistress of the house to do that.

Would that kind of thing have been installed in a house like this?

Yeah. This is exactly who they're aiming at.

It's exactly the middle-class house

where there's not enough money for the old staff.

Those higher up the social ladder, who did still have enough money,

were desperately clinging on to their live-in staff.

This was the site of Clayton Lodge, where the Tinne family lived.

Emily Tinne, her husband, Doctor Philip Tinne, their kids and up to six servants,

and that was including a cook and a butler and a gardener.

They had a very nice life up here.

They had three acres, an orchard, an eight-bedroomed house.

It's all been bulldozed now and it's been replaced by period houses,

mock period houses, ironically.

But what remains is an amazing record of the Tinnes' troubles

of finding and keeping good servants in the 1930s.

I've come to the National Museums of Liverpool

to see the Tinnes' photo album and letters

that have been carefully preserved by the family.

It's a big box.

So there are five children?

There were six. The youngest hasn't been born yet. He's not on this line.

This is Elspeth. This is Ernest.


Helen and Alexine.

So this is Ernest, who went away to Eton. Most of the letters are directed to him.

And his father writes to him, literally, every week.

They tell everything that goes on in the house, from what the cat's doing, to what the servants are doing.

So let's have a look at this one.

"Mummie is getting over-worked with no cook and stupid girls,

"but prefers it to dishonest and insolent older women in the kitchen."

They talk constantly of how difficult it is to recruit servants and to retain them, the good ones anyway.

"The new maid is useless, she knows nothing and does less,

"always wanting to go home or go to dances and stay away for the night."

Now you can see what's happening. There's a problem here,

as problems are mounting in the later '30s with servants, generally.

"An impossible Irish maid turned up today, (with two sisters - not applying),

"to interview Mummie."

Instead of the other way around, because she would be interviewing them, yes.

"One year in England, wanted 17/6 a week

"and two evenings off till 11.30pm." These are her demands. Yeah.

"Plus latch-key. It seems we had better live in the cottage and offer the maid our house."

So, he's being sarcastic. He's saying, "What else would she like?"

She's come to interview us instead of the other way around.

Yes. "The working class, so called, can have it all their own way these days.

"So we have no maid and have to start our own fires and do the cooking and washing-up."

So this would have been such a change for a family like that... Definitely, yeah.

Who had been used to... A bit of a come-down in social terms.

Because she was somebody who wouldn't even have answered her own front door in 1910,

when she first got married, and here she is having to run the house and look after the kitchen

and do the jobs of the maids and so on.

So she's really doing those kinds of jobs. She's really having to pitch in.

The hands-on jobs. Definitely. What did her husband make of that?

You get the sense that he's not thrilled about it,

but it's one of those unfortunate facts of life that you have to just do these things sometimes.

They're powerless against the trend of history, which is fewer and fewer servants around.

And this is a good example here, from a letter from 1937,

which talks about the kinds of things people are considering as an alternative.

"No signs of a cook, and most people are in the same plight.

"The aerodrome and factory at Speke..."

Which is now John Lennon Airport.

"..Will absorb still more girls."

So girls are going to work in the new industry?

These new industries are absorbing people from different directions,

including servants, in a big way.

"We badly want an importation of Russians or Spaniards to act as domestics.

"The Irish cannot be counted reliable and the English won't work."

The English won't work.

So that's an interesting statement. 1937. Yes.

They are obviously looking abroad for servants at this point.

"I have not got a maid yet.

"Nearly all the ladies I know have got Austrian, German or Swiss maids,

"but I have not quite brought myself to that yet."

Even though there was a demand for Austrian and German maids

it wasn't that easy for them to get into Britain.

In the build-up to war, Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler flooded into the country.

In order to control the flood, the British government started issuing new visas,

including a Domestic Service Visa,

which restricted the holder to working as a live-in servant only.

20,000 refugees came over on these Domestic Service Visas,

double the number that were saved through the celebrated Kinder Transport.

They were mostly young, middle-class Viennese girls,

themselves from servant-keeping families,

utterly unprepared for domestic labour.

Edith Argy made it over from Vienna in September 1938,

and had nine jobs in the space of only a year and a half.

Did you change jobs so many times because you didn't like the work?

Why couldn't you settle into one job?

Well, I hated every job.

I just didn't want to be a domestic servant.

And what was so bad about it for you?

Well, in most cases...

I wasn't...

either psychologically

or physically really suitable for that kind of job.

Psychologically, because the whole idea of being a servant

and being treated - either ignored or...

You know, servants just didn't...

They weren't human beings, somehow.

They were sort of sub-human beings.

And I felt that already in Nazi Austria

I had been treated as a sub-human being,

and I felt that this was a continuation of it.

And that's me when I arrived in England.

Is that an official photograph for a visa?

It must have been, yes, yes.

These are my parents.

You know, my mother died when I was four years old.

This is my father and me when I was -

I don't know - three or four years. I don't know how old.

Perhaps four years old. You were very close to him?

Yes, yes.

He really, really loved me.

This is my stepmother and me.

I tried desperately and I had found her somebody who would employ her,

but, you know, she was two years too old. She was 57.

Two years too old to get this visa? Yes. I never saw her again.

I've lived with that guilt...

I can't imagine. ..For the rest of my life.

Edith's stepmother was deported to Poland and never returned.

When the war ended, Edith, her father and brother were reunited.

Although the war may temporarily have pulled more women into servant roles,

its aftermath inflicted lasting damage to the world of service.

Many big houses, like Brodsworth, faced crisis,

with soaring taxation, there were to be no more shooting parties or hunt balls.

And the live-in servants that remained, down from 15 in the last war to just three,

spoke out with a new openness and directness.

So is this when you worked here? Yeah.


When was this, after the Second World War? Oh, definitely.

So how old were you here, about 18, 19?

Er, about 19.

I weren't bad looking, were I? Yeah, you were very good looking.

Look at that. Is that your dress?

Yeah. It were blue.

So you didn't wear a uniform? That was me uniform. Yeah.

And a white apron - a big one on a morning and a small one.

But I had to supply them meself.

Right. But you didn't have a cap? No.

Had that all gone out then, after the war? Yeah, that had finished.

They never asked you to wear one? I wouldn't have done it.

Wouldn't you? No. Why not? No!

I were a big enough mug as it was.


What did you have to do here? What was your job?

Er, parlour maid. Right.

I used to do the breakfasts.


I used to help Esther upstairs with the sitting-room, clean the brasses,

and then I'd go down to dining room,

see that their breakfast were all right.


And then upstairs, helped to make the beds.

Back downstairs, cleaned the... cleared the dining room,

wash-up, cleaned the silver,

get ready for lunch.

This is all before lunch? Yeah.

It's a big house, isn't it? Oh, a big house!

It really was hard work.

And do you think you were, you and Emily and Esther,

you were helping them to maintain a lifestyle that was really on the way out?

Yeah. Well, I mean, they used to have...

Well, about ten staff.

They were left with three of us. Mm.

But expecting the same standard. Expecting the same standard. Mm.

And I mean, when they had guests,

muggings here had to...

do the donkey work. Mm.

And it WAS hard work.

We were underdogs. We weren't on the same level as them. Mm.

But we had to know our place. Right.

'Ask at your local Ministry of Labour office or a hospital for details of how to...'

But Sheila didn't accept being an underdog.

After an argument, she left Brodsworth,

later getting a job as an auxiliary nurse in the new National Health Service.

'First you must learn nursing.

'It isn't difficult. While you're learning, you're paid.

'The job is interesting and there's plenty of companionship.

'One day off a week and four weeks paid holiday a year.'

Oh, it was a different life altogether.

How would you explain that? What would you say?

Well, I had more freedom. Mm-hm.

I mean, when you were in service, you're confined.

You don't get out, only on your half-day.

But there, I'd do me shift at the hospital,

then I could go out.

I could even go to a cinema, which was unusual for me.

And how did the money compare? Oh, better, a lot better.

So more money, more freedom. Yeah.

Sheila met her husband, Bob, while he was working in a children's home.

And after you left, did you keep in touch with people here?

We came once,

my husband and me, to talk to Emily.

Well, Mrs Grant-Dalton must have heard our voices.

And she came in, "Oh, Sheila!" she says, "nice to see you again."

And she says, "Who's this?" I said, "My husband."

And she said, "Would you like a job here?"

So he said, "What's it worth?"

So she says, "£4 a week."

What did she want him to do?

She wanted him to be the butler.

4 a week and those two rooms, you know, right at the end."

And when we got outside me husband said, "No way," he said, "would I work in a place like that!"

He says, "£4 a week and two scruffy rooms!"

He says, "No way!"

It's interesting, isn't it? Cos it almost sums up the end of formal service,

the end of an era.

You'd had this system for a 100 years or so, and then...

Because people like you and your husband weren't going to do this work any more. No.

Sheila was just one of thousands of women who seized with both hands

any chance to leave service,

flocking into jobs in offices, shops and the NHS.

Service was no longer the largest category of female employment.

Typists and clerks were instead.

Now, only 1% of households still employed a live-in servant.

The servant class, as we knew it, had truly disappeared.

So this was, indeed, the end of grand-scale, country house living.

Since the end of the war, 1,000 historic estates have been demolished,

diminished or turned into flats.

Servants quarters were usually the first to be converted to other use,

either storage or the tearoom.

The more entrepreneurial owners, either on their own

or with organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage,

cleverly located themselves as part of the heritage industry.

And the survival of these houses is really important.

They're a vital part of our heritage industry and thousands of people visit them every year.

The houses give us a window into the world of service, a really important one.

But, for me, it's a window that's partially open, half open,

and the view we get through it is pretty rose coloured.

Often the fantasy of service presented in these houses is tinged with a sentimental nostalgia.

Old-fashioned cooking implements,

retro household wares and beautifully recreated food stuffs

from cheeses to game,

are all carefully arranged in the pristinely clean, elegantly painted servants' quarters.

Visitors delight in this visual feast,

but what can't be mocked up is the reality and complexity of the servants' lives.

The memories of most who experienced service were anything but rose tinted.

Margaret Powell's memoirs were published in 1968,

and her candid view of life below stairs chimed with the spirit of the '60s,

when class hierarchies were being questioned like never before.

Her publisher sent her on a book tour.

The first morning she came down to me, she said,

"Cook, have you ever worked for a lady with a title before?"

So I said, "Well, no, I haven't." So she said, "Well, I suppose you know how to address her?"

So I said, "Yes, I suppose I'd say Lady Gibbons."

"Oh, no, you don't!" she said.

"When you're talking TO me you say 'm'lady'.

"And when you're talking OF me to the other servants, you say 'Her Ladyship'."

We generally used to say 'that old cow upstairs'!


The public's interest in what Margaret represented

turned her into something of a celebrity.

The BBC sent her to interview the kind of people she might earlier have worked for,

questioning them about how their lives had changed.

MARGARET: 'My host is Hugh Seymour, eighth Marquis of Hertford.

'I'm feeling very grand.'

How do you do? Very well, thank you. Welcome to Ragley.

Do you entertain? I mean, do you have house parties now as they did in the old days?

Not quite on the scale. We have six or eight people stay every now and then. You do?

Which I love. I love the idea of having 20 people to stay,

but my wife says there are certain little local difficulties about sort of bed-making and washing-up.

We find it slightly embarrassing nowadays that just occasionally

some elderly friends of ours arrive with a chauffeur

and, of course, our servants' hall is now a tearoom seating 100 people for tea,

and there's nowhere really for the chauffeur to sit.

But what do you think the role is now then of a lord in the 20th century?

Or have they got a role even at all?

I never see myself as having a role as an aristocrat. I have a role as the owner of Ragley.

That's the important thing in my life, owning this gorgeous house.

Today, the rich still have staff to cater to their every need,

and the middle classes still employ nannies and au pairs to watch over the children,

and cleaners to clean the toilets and scrub the steps.

They may no longer be called "servants", and most now come from abroad,

from places like Poland or the Philippines.

Their relationship with their employers

doesn't have the same anxiety and mutual dependence that once lay at the heart

of the master/servant bond.

But they are still largely poor, under-appreciated and invisible,

performing the repetitive, often thankless,

yet essential tasks of domestic service.

Margaret Powell was able to write about service because she was able to leave it and get an education.

My great-grandmothers were servants but they never had that chance,

and I wonder what they would have thought of a Britain

without its traditions of live-in service,

a Britain that no longer has what was once called a "servant class"?

And a country where their great-granddaughter

could choose to go to university, earn a doctorate,

and spend her life wielding a pen instead of a broom?

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

The Description of Servants: The True Story of Life Below Stairs. Part 3 of 3 - No Going Back