This was one of the most prestigious jobs a 19th or early 20th-century woman could want — and also one of the toughest. The housekeeper of an English country house might manage a hundred servants and a domestic budget on a par with a small bank. She had no need of a home of her own, or, for that matter, a husband. But for all her importance, she has been invisible to history.
The Housekeeper’s Tale draws on entirely new sources to tell the extraordinary stories of the women who ran some of Britain’s most prominent households. There is an unwanted pregnancy, a forbidden love affair, a prison sentence and several cases of summary dismissal. Far from the cosy, complacent world of Mrs Hughes in Downton Abbey, real housekeepers worked surprisingly hard, often in humiliating circumstances, for very little financial reward. This was not, as it turns out, such a cushy job.
Kathryn Hughes, Times Literary Supplement
Liz Braun, Toronto Sun
Roger Lewis, Daily Mail
‘Mary Wollstonecraft’ by Maggi Hambling. ‘It’s a sculpture about now, in her
Victorian campaigner Emily Williamson was so incensed by the millinery trade’s use
Uneasy mingling: the Servants’ Ball at ITV’s Downton Abbey, where Lady Grantham
Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4
Hear all about Etta Lemon, the ‘Margaret Thatcher’ of the birding world. How did this remarkable character hone her campaigning skills, and why was she stabbed in the back by the men who took over the RSPB?
Secrets of the National Trust with Alan Titchmarsh (Channel 5)
Erddig Hall in North Wales was once home to the Yorkes — a family famously kind to their servants. Or were they? I uncovered the story of ‘thief cook’ Ellen Penketh, jailed in 1907 for allegedly stealing £500 from her insecure mistress Louisa Yorke.
Radio Gorgeous interview with Josephine Pembroke, talking twitchers (why are hardcore birders almost always men?), the mysterious workings of the RSPB (why wouldn’t they let me revisit their archives?) and Mrs Pankhurst’s penchant for fashion (why so many feathered hats?).