Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain by Lucy Lethbridge - review by Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines

Maid in Britain

Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain


Bloomsbury 385pp £20 order from our bookshop

Lucy Lethbridge has written a history of domestic service based on a formidable range of manuscript, broadcast and published sources. The resultant book contains few surprises, but is a fluent, trustworthy account that will not be superseded. Its utility is enhanced by Lethbridge’s quiet, firm, clear judgements: there is no glib indignation or condescension towards historic ‘victims’, but a level, compassionate neutrality that makes her narrative seem all the more telling. There are undertows to her book: the celebration of self-respect, resilience and tenacity; the rejection of subordination, victimhood and selfishness. Her heroines and heroes are people who do not repine, grab or give up.

A government Report on Domestic Service declared in 1945 that ‘service between master and man and mistress and maid is the age-long relationship stretching far back into history’. Lethbridge shows how this relationship has been challenged, buckled, broken and repaired during the last 125 years. There were 800,000 British households

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