Downton Abbey as it really was

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Writer and  journalist Tessa Boase recounted in a lively and engaging style, in the Lamb House marquee on September 17, the stories of two of the five housekeepers whose lives she has described in her thoroughly researched book, “The Housekeeper’s Tale : The women who really ran the English country house”.

This was one of the hardest, though most prestigious, of posts for female servants in the stately homes of the 19th and early 20th century and Boase has searched out letters and diaries, and explored neglected servants hall archives, to learn about their unsung, hidden lives. She has tried to understand their thoughts and emotions, lives so very unlike that of the well known Mrs Hughes of Downton Abbey fame.

Stuck between upstairs and downstairs, unmarried or widowed – with “followers” not allowed – this was a tough and isolating job. Of the two contrasting housekeepers Boase described, one, Mrs Sarah Wells, was “let go” by her mistress after 13 years service, for “gossiping”, with no notice. In contrast the other, Miss Hannah Mackenzie, rose to be the housekeeper of the millionaire Vanderbilts and the whole event was interesting, entertaining and thoroughly enjoyed by the full house.

Photo: Gillian Roder

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