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 Housekeepers’ 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
I’m on the Nancy Astor Express. We’re whizzing west out of Paddington
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? It’s the first item on the programme (later featured on Weekend Woman’s Hour, best of the week).