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The Maid's Tale: A Revealing Memoir of Life Below Stairs

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Born in 1910, Rose Plummer grew up in an East End slum, where she fought an unending battle with hunger and squalor. At the age of fifteen, Rose started work as a live-in maid, and despite the poverty of her childhood, nothing could have prepared her for the long hours, the backbreaking work and the harshness of a world in which servants were treated as if they were less th Born in 1910, Rose Plummer grew up in an East End slum, where she fought an unending battle with hunger and squalor. At the age of fifteen, Rose started work as a live-in maid, and despite the poverty of her childhood, nothing could have prepared her for the long hours, the backbreaking work and the harshness of a world in which servants were treated as if they were less than human. But however difficult life became, Rose found something to laugh about, and her remarkable spirit and gift for friendship shines through in her memories of a now-vanished world.


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Born in 1910, Rose Plummer grew up in an East End slum, where she fought an unending battle with hunger and squalor. At the age of fifteen, Rose started work as a live-in maid, and despite the poverty of her childhood, nothing could have prepared her for the long hours, the backbreaking work and the harshness of a world in which servants were treated as if they were less th Born in 1910, Rose Plummer grew up in an East End slum, where she fought an unending battle with hunger and squalor. At the age of fifteen, Rose started work as a live-in maid, and despite the poverty of her childhood, nothing could have prepared her for the long hours, the backbreaking work and the harshness of a world in which servants were treated as if they were less than human. But however difficult life became, Rose found something to laugh about, and her remarkable spirit and gift for friendship shines through in her memories of a now-vanished world.

30 review for The Maid's Tale: A Revealing Memoir of Life Below Stairs

  1. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    This was ghost written, but nevertheless written in an authentic voice, helped perhaps by Rose's vehemence and lusty use of swearing. It's written in the first person, and I suspect large parts of it were dictated by Rose herself. She was born in the East End of London, and worked as a house maid in various middle and upper class families in the 1920's and '30s. It is fascinating to read about her childhood and work experiences. She says her Cockney accent was so strong she literally could not un This was ghost written, but nevertheless written in an authentic voice, helped perhaps by Rose's vehemence and lusty use of swearing. It's written in the first person, and I suspect large parts of it were dictated by Rose herself. She was born in the East End of London, and worked as a house maid in various middle and upper class families in the 1920's and '30s. It is fascinating to read about her childhood and work experiences. She says her Cockney accent was so strong she literally could not understand the English spoken by her employers at first - nor they hers. She was no forelock tugger, and right from the start appreciated the misfortune of her position in life. She went on later to join the Communist Party. There was deep poverty in her childhood, but at least she was the first of her family to be able to attend school. She could have gone on to university - she was at a grammar school, and her headmaster actually went round to speak to her parents about furthering her education - but her family couldn't afford to let her stay on and do her A-levels. Instead she had to go off and work on the lowest rung of the ladder in domestic service, as a housemaid. (In her first job, her hands were so raw and scarred from cleaning that the mistress of the house asked her to wear gloves when serving food, in case the state of her hands put people off.) In the same way that UK society in general was strictly hierarchical, so was the positioning of servants. As she progressed, Rose often felt sorry she couldn't offer friendship and support to those who were struggling as newly employed housemaids, but it would have been completely unacceptable behaviour - she had to keep her distance. Hierarchical behaviours were strictly prescribed in all sorts of different ways, for instance with junior servants lighting fires in the bedrooms of more senior servants. Ladies maids would never mix with housemaids. Everyone had their rigid position in the household. Her one great release was her half day off on Sundays, when she would meet up with her great friend Mary, whom she had met in Kensington Gardens. They were both house maids - cheeky, full of good humour, enjoying flirting with the men they met in the park, and obviously an enormous solace to one another. In 1939 Rose got married, and life got a lot better for her. She and her husband left the world of domestic service. Then later things changed quite drastically when the war ended. Lots of people left domestic service, and those who remained were usually treated with more respect. This is a short book and a light read, but I think it gives one interesting insights.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    What a fascinating and absorbing read this book was. It's a short light read but Roses's story is so interesting you won't want to put the book down. The author, Tom Quinn, who told the story did a brilliant job. You could almost hear Roses's voice in your head as you were reading. It's billed as being a story about domestic service in the 20's and 30's and it is but it's also about Rose starting out in life and the poverty she grew up in. It resonated with me because it could have been my mother What a fascinating and absorbing read this book was. It's a short light read but Roses's story is so interesting you won't want to put the book down. The author, Tom Quinn, who told the story did a brilliant job. You could almost hear Roses's voice in your head as you were reading. It's billed as being a story about domestic service in the 20's and 30's and it is but it's also about Rose starting out in life and the poverty she grew up in. It resonated with me because it could have been my mother's story I was reading. Even though she grew up in Ireland, it was also in complete poverty. She went to England when she was sixteen and went into domestic service. However, having read Rose's story, I know my mother was one of the lucky ones. She got on really well with the families and was actually sad when she left. It was nice too reading about the places Rose went to on her time off because they're places I often heard my mother speaking about. A lovely, lovely read for anyone who enjoys reading about the past, especially that of ordinary working people. Loved it as much this time as the last.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    This book wasn't so much of an 'easy-read', as meeting a dear friend for a chat and a catch-up over coffee! I loved it! With many of my ancestresses having been in domestic service during the same time-period as Rose, but no longer here to share their experiences, Rose's account of her life 'in service' opened a window on a new world - and opened my eyes on so many things that today we take for granted! I understand now why my Great Grandma was quoted as saying that she never wanted any of her ch This book wasn't so much of an 'easy-read', as meeting a dear friend for a chat and a catch-up over coffee! I loved it! With many of my ancestresses having been in domestic service during the same time-period as Rose, but no longer here to share their experiences, Rose's account of her life 'in service' opened a window on a new world - and opened my eyes on so many things that today we take for granted! I understand now why my Great Grandma was quoted as saying that she never wanted any of her children to be a domestic! How times have changed! Roses accounts of her background, the people, the city, the 'protocols' of the time, along with her memories of her time in service, brought the story to life. Kudos to Tom Quinn, the author, for deciding to share Roses memories in this book, in such an honest and detailed recounting. This book has so much within 182 pages; the highs and lows, happiness, sadness, memories and important historical information that may have been lost to future generations, to whom the world of domestic service is something wrongly glamorised by modern TV and movies. Would I recommend this book to friends? Absolutely, without a doubt! Completing this book brought a tear to my eye, not because of the content of the story, but simply because it felt like saying goodbye to a friend.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clare O'Beara

    Recounted by a woman living in comfort in an old people's home to a man wise enough to record her story and bring it to us, this is a strongly felt, vivid memoir. Rose started life in a smelly room in London's East End and saw women 'wasted on early marriage and too many children'; her mother was always tired and her father couldn't earn enough to keep them all. Rose had to go into service aged fifteen as jobs were scarce for girls. She started as a maid of all work in a small house. From the fi Recounted by a woman living in comfort in an old people's home to a man wise enough to record her story and bring it to us, this is a strongly felt, vivid memoir. Rose started life in a smelly room in London's East End and saw women 'wasted on early marriage and too many children'; her mother was always tired and her father couldn't earn enough to keep them all. Rose had to go into service aged fifteen as jobs were scarce for girls. She started as a maid of all work in a small house. From the first day's work her hands were raw and bleeding, and she wore out her knees quickly as so much work had to be done on her knees, from sweeping carpets to whitening steps. Fires were lit each day and the ash and coal dirt made life tedious. Not to mention hauling buckets of hot water upstairs if a clean-minded person wanted a bath; some didn't bother very often and the maid was pleased. The struggles to learn and earn in this house and other larger ones, where Rose went when she had some references and a better grasp of the domestic work hierarchy, are telling. Class meant everything and even within the servants' hall nobody was able to be friends with other servants on an upper or lower tier. Male servants implied status, and were seen; female servants were not seen and must not work in a room where the family sat. Rose swiftly saw the injustice of her life but could only comply or be sacked. She was groped on more than one occasion and spoken to sharply; she was given extra work on her half day off so that she couldn't leave until she'd completed the tasks. When she did go out there was nothing a maid could do except walk in parks and sit in tea rooms - she felt insecure even buying nice underwear or a fan. Her conduct (even her library books) could get her fired. In later years the factory work opened up for men and women so Rose saw householders start to treat servants more carefully and increase wages. The inbred snobbery still remained and Rose had a vision of socialist reforms, though she only later realised how dire the communist totalitarian state life would be. Chatty, with occasional strong language, and friendly banter from another supportive maid Mary whom Rose met on her days off, this is a people-filled story which won't be forgotten.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kim A

    A very satisfying read and the type of book you read in between larger ones as it's short and breezy. The book felt more like you were sitting down for a nice cup of tea with Rose Plummer vs. a memoir. Also learned some fascinating things about life in London I didn't know prior. The stories of East London and the poverty reminded me a lot of the book "Down and Out in Paris and London" as well as the stories I have seen on the popular BBC series "Call the Midwife". Really enjoyed the book A very satisfying read and the type of book you read in between larger ones as it's short and breezy. The book felt more like you were sitting down for a nice cup of tea with Rose Plummer vs. a memoir. Also learned some fascinating things about life in London I didn't know prior. The stories of East London and the poverty reminded me a lot of the book "Down and Out in Paris and London" as well as the stories I have seen on the popular BBC series "Call the Midwife". Really enjoyed the book

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum

    Rose Plummer was born in 1910, had a very poor upbringing and entered service as a maid at the age of fifteen. The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was is her own story of this time as told to Tom Quinn. Rose isn't shy about including everything, the full extent of the poverty experienced in childhood, sharing a bed with her siblings, an outdoor toilet with her neighbours and petty theft to get by. In adulthood she doesn't hold back from telling us about her flirting with soldiers in t Rose Plummer was born in 1910, had a very poor upbringing and entered service as a maid at the age of fifteen. The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was is her own story of this time as told to Tom Quinn. Rose isn't shy about including everything, the full extent of the poverty experienced in childhood, sharing a bed with her siblings, an outdoor toilet with her neighbours and petty theft to get by. In adulthood she doesn't hold back from telling us about her flirting with soldiers in the park (which made me giggle) and the butler spit polishing the silver which the 'family' then used to eat their dinner with. These are personal highlights, however the majority of the book enlightens the reader about domestic service during this period; how the hierarchy of servants was structured, the delegation of tasks, what food each level of servant generally ate and the perks for each. Rose shares her personal story of entering service, her first house, then moving on to a bigger house and how it differed in terms of work. She also provides commentary on the impact of the second World War on domestic service and the changing opinions in society with regard to women in service and indeed her own feelings on this. What is achingly clear is that the work of a maid was backbreaking and tough, and the expectations of the families of the time or Mistress of the House do seem to us to be harsh and cruel now. I've always had a fascination for the 'life below stairs', but since the highly successful TV series Downton Abbey, there seems to be an abundance of books on the topic of servants, their duties and life experiences, enabling me to explore this further. If you're a fan of the series like me, then The Maid's Tale - Life Below Stairs As It Really Was is a great book to satisfy your own desire for more information on this part of English history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patsy

    Rose Plummer was born in 1910 - 1994. She was only 15 years old when she left home as a live-in domestic servant to a wealthy household. It was a life of harsh hours with low pay and very little time off. She lived in London at the end of the Second World War. She is an interesting storyteller sharing many interesting stories when she worked as a housekeeper and a cook. This is a true story of the life of Rose Plummer, I enjoyed the book and at the end it will make you smile.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Fascinating and an easy read. I wish I could have met Rose, she's such an interesting person. Fascinating and an easy read. I wish I could have met Rose, she's such an interesting person.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mary Hart Perry

    Rose, the narrator, is such an honest and sympathetic person. It's so easy to see what it was like to be a maid during the time of Downton Abbey. Amazing how much has changed since then. I loved this book. Rose, the narrator, is such an honest and sympathetic person. It's so easy to see what it was like to be a maid during the time of Downton Abbey. Amazing how much has changed since then. I loved this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    Makes me look at Downton Abbey in a whole new light.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Soumya

    Tells the lives of maids, their thoughts and aspirations. A very interesting and fast paced book. It had interesting pieces of information on the servant hierarchy, how senior servants ill treated junior servants more than their masters did. Servants had to iron the newspaper 4 times a day so it does not look crumpled, it was a norm to waste more food than you ate. It is told by Rose who joined domestic service at 15 and how her time went, where she went on her off days, her beautiful friendship Tells the lives of maids, their thoughts and aspirations. A very interesting and fast paced book. It had interesting pieces of information on the servant hierarchy, how senior servants ill treated junior servants more than their masters did. Servants had to iron the newspaper 4 times a day so it does not look crumpled, it was a norm to waste more food than you ate. It is told by Rose who joined domestic service at 15 and how her time went, where she went on her off days, her beautiful friendship with Mary and later with John. It also sounds very genuine and warm. The story is based in East End and later West end of London and covers the period from 1920s to 1960s. It touches upon how war affected the lives of servants, their masters, and how servants were treated and paid very well towards the end. A nice warm read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kilian Metcalf

    When we think of life with servants, we usually think about those they served. In this book, the memories of a maid, show us what life was like below stairs. It was a life of unending toil and grinding work from rising in the wee hours, until they turned in at night. The life of the servants was strictly regimented, with very little time to themselves. It was pretty grim until after WWI, when factory jobs opened up as an alternative. Then servants became scarce and life lightened up a bit. It was When we think of life with servants, we usually think about those they served. In this book, the memories of a maid, show us what life was like below stairs. It was a life of unending toil and grinding work from rising in the wee hours, until they turned in at night. The life of the servants was strictly regimented, with very little time to themselves. It was pretty grim until after WWI, when factory jobs opened up as an alternative. Then servants became scarce and life lightened up a bit. It wasn't nearly as fun as we think. My blog: The Interstitial Reader https://theinterstitialreader.wordpre...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This book was written over 30 years ago.It came back out recently. Rose Plummer was born in 1910. She was an East Ender in London. Her family was very poor. When her father died when she was 15 she had to go "in service' in the big houses. From 1925 to the upper 1930s she worked in three different houses. She "lived in " at all the houses mostly as a maid.{although her job called for many kinds on duties in the houses}. She writes of the hard work. But she also has quite a sense of humor describ This book was written over 30 years ago.It came back out recently. Rose Plummer was born in 1910. She was an East Ender in London. Her family was very poor. When her father died when she was 15 she had to go "in service' in the big houses. From 1925 to the upper 1930s she worked in three different houses. She "lived in " at all the houses mostly as a maid.{although her job called for many kinds on duties in the houses}. She writes of the hard work. But she also has quite a sense of humor describing her life in this memoir. An interesting book about what it was like to work as a maid during this time era.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim welford

    This book so represents my life in so many ways although I am a male who was born &bred in Suffolk .at 86 it's still very true in so many many ways of life in a very rural county. Having done 12yrs in the navy my wife God bless her was always telling me off for my aurguments with my neighbours about their upstairs and downstairs life she was a Londoner through &through and when I came out of the navy and returned to my roots with her & my daughter because I got a good job she never got used to ru This book so represents my life in so many ways although I am a male who was born &bred in Suffolk .at 86 it's still very true in so many many ways of life in a very rural county. Having done 12yrs in the navy my wife God bless her was always telling me off for my aurguments with my neighbours about their upstairs and downstairs life she was a Londoner through &through and when I came out of the navy and returned to my roots with her & my daughter because I got a good job she never got used to rural life until the day she died and we were married 51yrs.

  15. 5 out of 5

    stephen smitten

    Lovely book I loved reading the story of Rose's life in service. The way it was written was as if she was speaking personally to you. The way servants were treated, especially the lower ranking ones was awful. Rose seemed a real character, and the things she says, which would have been shocking in them days, really made me laugh. It's great that it's all written down, and not forgotten. Great book. Lovely book I loved reading the story of Rose's life in service. The way it was written was as if she was speaking personally to you. The way servants were treated, especially the lower ranking ones was awful. Rose seemed a real character, and the things she says, which would have been shocking in them days, really made me laugh. It's great that it's all written down, and not forgotten. Great book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alice Fader

    Reality of being a below stairs maid. This book tells the story of a girl who was sent out to work so she could help her parents survive. Girl is the correct word as this individual had to learn fast what it meant to be a domestic at a very early age. Very, very hard work for little pay and unfeeling employers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Lavoie

    What a great read! I ordered this book on a whim.The cover looked interesting and the time period was cool.The subject of young people having to work at such a young age seems strange.The book had great flow,I love how the young woman would meet her friend at the park.Kept my interest..Sorry it was done...

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Faloon

    The Caste System for Servants I enjoyed this easy read and appreciated the exposure of servant life. I can't help thinking what these obnoxious wealthy people thought when they saw their former servants sitting at a seat of honor at the Lord's banquet table. The Caste System for Servants I enjoyed this easy read and appreciated the exposure of servant life. I can't help thinking what these obnoxious wealthy people thought when they saw their former servants sitting at a seat of honor at the Lord's banquet table.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Read it in one sitting. What an insight into the “good old days”, which were definitely not good for everyone. All those unseen souls, who made the world run smoothly for their “betters”. Class division is not something to be reminisced about fondly.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    A quick and easy, but really interesting read. Great insight into life in domestic service before WWII. Would recommend.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Christine mcgahee

    Love it I thought it was a wonderful story. Her determination to leave her job as A maid for the wealthy was an eye opener to me

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicola jane malbon

    Brilliant I've learnt so much by reading this book. It's a brilliant read. Can't believe how folk lived back then. Highly recommended Brilliant I've learnt so much by reading this book. It's a brilliant read. Can't believe how folk lived back then. Highly recommended

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Slusser

    Good Read Fun read and quite interesting, I think Rose would be fun to know. Interesting to know how times change but people, for the most part stay the same.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    Quick read and a must read for anyone who loves London. Opens one’s eyes to the lives of so many.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karyl M. Wade

    Servants are People Too! I really enjoyed this book! It moved right from one subject to another! I loved watching Downton Abbey, even though it probably wasn't too realistic! Servants are People Too! I really enjoyed this book! It moved right from one subject to another! I loved watching Downton Abbey, even though it probably wasn't too realistic!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Smith

    This book shows how it was like to live back in the 1920/1930s and how some of them worked has servants in the big houses

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nicolas Olivari

    What a fantastic account! I will never be able to watch "Brideshead Revisited" without a thought for Rose and those downstairs. These people were slaves. What a fantastic account! I will never be able to watch "Brideshead Revisited" without a thought for Rose and those downstairs. These people were slaves.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katinka

    Full review posted on http://www.momkatreads.com/2017/09/th... Full review posted on http://www.momkatreads.com/2017/09/th...

  29. 5 out of 5

    K

    This is a great first-hand account of a woman who worked as a domestic servant in the 1920's and 1930's. I always feel a little uncomfortable when people revere the past and view it as a gentler, kinder time. That may have been the case for some, but as this book reveals, the past had its share of violence, prejudice, injustice, and poverty. This book puts the past into perspective. The author also provides insight into the changing status and treatment of domestic servants (and the working clas This is a great first-hand account of a woman who worked as a domestic servant in the 1920's and 1930's. I always feel a little uncomfortable when people revere the past and view it as a gentler, kinder time. That may have been the case for some, but as this book reveals, the past had its share of violence, prejudice, injustice, and poverty. This book puts the past into perspective. The author also provides insight into the changing status and treatment of domestic servants (and the working class in general) from the 1920's to the 1980's. I think fans of Dowton Abbey who are interested in the lives of actual domestic servants will probably enjoy this book. I know that I did.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Rose is a wonderful storyteller with a remarkable memory for the past! Very interesting read...I learned a lot. I would have love to meet this woman. Critically, I have to say the ending of the book was flat, scattered in thought, and abrupt....if it wasn't for the page count reaching its end, I wouldn't have known it was over! I thought I must be missing some pages! Overall, an excellent read, so I am recommending this book!!! The East End will come alive for you! Next, I'm reading Jack London's Rose is a wonderful storyteller with a remarkable memory for the past! Very interesting read...I learned a lot. I would have love to meet this woman. Critically, I have to say the ending of the book was flat, scattered in thought, and abrupt....if it wasn't for the page count reaching its end, I wouldn't have known it was over! I thought I must be missing some pages! Overall, an excellent read, so I am recommending this book!!! The East End will come alive for you! Next, I'm reading Jack London's "People of the Abyss" - it seems like it may be a good follow up to this book. Cheers!

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