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The Housekeeper's Tale

Working as a housekeeper was one of the most prestigious jobs a nineteenth and early twentieth century woman could want - and also one of the toughest. A far cry from the Downton Abbey fiction, the real life Mrs Hughes was up against capricious mistresses, low pay, no job security and gruelling physical labour. Until now, her story has never been told. The Housekeeper's Tale reveals the personal sacrifices, bitter disputes and driving ambition that shaped these women's careers. Delving into secret diaries, unpublished letters and the neglected service archives of our stately homes, Tessa Boase tells the extraordinary stories of five working women who ran some of Britain's most prominent households. There is Dorothy Doar, Regency housekeeper for the obscenely wealthy 1st Duke and Duchess of Sutherland at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. There is Sarah Wells, a deaf and elderly Victorian in charge of Uppark, West Sussex. Ellen Penketh is Edwardian cook-housekeeper at the sociable but impecunious Erddig Hall in the Welsh borders. Hannah Mackenzie runs Wrest Park in Bedfordshire - Britain's first country-house war hospital, bankrolled by playwright J. M. Barrie. And there is Grace Higgens, cook-housekeeper to the Bloomsbury set at Charleston farmhouse in East Sussex for half a century - an era defined by the Second World War. Revelatory, gripping and unexpectedly poignant, The Housekeeper's Tale champions the invisible women who ran the English country house.
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About the Author

TESSA BOASE read English at Lincoln College, Oxford, then worked as a voiceover artist, a children's scriptwriter, and as a commissioning editor of The DailyandSunday Telegraph andThe Daily Mail. She was co-founder of the Salon des Amis (a London salon of ideas, debate and entertainment), and more recently restored a ruin in Italy's Sabine Hills where she produces olive oil.


`Forget Downton Abbey; this exceptionally well-written book is the real deal.' * Spirit FM * 'Boase makes history sing, packing her stories with details of family life and class distinctions and the minutiae of everyday living in a house with 10 or 30 or even 100 servants. A great read.' * Toronto Sun * `One of the great strengths of this book is how Boase gets under the skin of the real side of country house life.' * Eastern Daily Press * `Serves not only as an account of those who worked below stairs but also the lords and ladies who were their employers, thus providing an admirable social history.' * Scottish Home and Country * `A brave book.' * Saga Magazine * `Wiped clean of romantic sheen, this is a fascinating perspective into our upstairs/downstairs history.' * Sainsbury's Magazine * `It is no easy task to find the voice of the professional domestic servant before the 20th century, but the author has done an excellent job piecing together the stories of these five lives through her painstaking research into letters, memoirs and accounts.' * Country Life * 'It's fascinating stuff, moving too, written with great brio and such a light but confident touch, which makes it all the more enjoyable.' -- Virginia Nicholson 'The truth is more scandalous than film or fiction - this is one of those social history studies that makes the reader howl with rage.' -- Roger Lewis * Daily Mail * `A gripping popular history.' -- Bee Wilson * Sunday Telegraph * 'A fluent study...Boase builds a deep, rich account of their individual lives, returning from the archive with some telling tales.' -- Kathryn Hughes * Times Literary Supplement *

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