Downton Abbey servants are far too clean, says historian
Published 28/12/2011 | 11:08
THE cosy image of life at Downton Abbey is completely wrong and ''infuriating to watch'', according to an expert on the period.
Historian Jennifer Newby said the servants in the country house drama, created by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, look too clean and were too friendly with their employers.
She said: ''I find it infuriating to watch, it sets my teeth on edge.
''The relationship they have with their employers is totally wrong.''
Viewers who watched the Downton Abbey Christmas Day special saw members of the aristocratic Crawley family support valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his wife, housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), during his trial and eventual conviction for his first wife's murder. The Crawleys also hosted a dance for the servants.
The two-hour episode ended with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) finally going down on one knee and proposing to Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).
Ms Newby, the editor of Family History magazine and author of a new book called Women's Lives, has read hundreds of letters and diaries kept by people who worked in service and the families they worked for.
She said: ''There was one butler who said that even if in a moment of weakness an employer could ask for advice they wouldn't give it because it could be held against them.
''The servants in the programme are far too clean. The reality would have been a lot more grubby, I don't think people realise that the servants stank.
''I read one story from a woman who worked in a vicarage and she was only allowed to wash when the vicar was out.
''They would have been seen rather like the way we look at our washing machine, just something to give us a clean shirt.''
Ms Newby, who lives in London but is originally from Knaresborough in north Yorkshire, said the reality for many women who went into service was working for miserly employers from a very young age.
She said: ''They were offered not just a regular wage but a warm home as well but they often became institutionalised and could not cope without the routine.''
While writing her book, she uncovered letters from a teenage maid who told her mother she started work at 5am and went to bed at midnight and was so tired that ''sometimes I am obliged to have a good cry''.
Another, Edith Hall, was forced to use her miserly master's old underwear as dusters, and ate her Christmas dinner ''on the draining board, by the sink (again)''.