Book Review: The Servant’s Story by Pamela Sambrook.


Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Nov. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445654202
It is hard to imagine what could have left out of this book. No it’s not just another upstairs downstairs expose, it’s a companion that follows the life of a great countryside house through the minutiae of its staff during the 19th century. More, it’s about how a house was managed and run.

Instead of a conventional format the book has themed chapters, so in one you’ll be learning about why someone would want to seek employment with the southerlands, and in another you’ll be getting an idea of the duties and personalities of the many people who passed through the entrance of Trentham, which is the house that is the principle focus of the book. Though others, such as the London residence and Dunrobin get a word here and there

Pay, housing, healthcare, travel and even what they ate, from beer to main courses is here. This is all thrown together with anecdotes that showcase individual experiences and common facets of working in a particular job. Hierarchy of course was strict, and the chain of command is clearly set out here, which, since the world became obsessed with servants and masters will clear a few things up.

This book is a gift to authors and researchers for its invincible authority on everyday life in the service of the Duke of Sutherland. And a boon to students who will be able to be able to dip in and out at will. Quite apart from being a record of how individual houses were run, it offers an insight into service as a whole. Each house being different and at the same time similar depending on the owner and his or her close staff. Quite apart from statistics and average duties we get many personal stories of life at Trentham.

Such as the House steward Vantini an Italian who at first had trouble assimilating to the household, but would leave a distinctive mark on the house. Also of note, due to the primetime drama tone, is that of the in many ways respectable housekeeper Mrs. Doar , who fell pregnant while employed and had to be dismissed, however sympathy soon waned, as it was then soon discovered that she had been up to no good all along.

Well illustrated and scattered with insightful captions throughout the book, the author has dug through mountains of records to provide first hand accounts to build the Servant’s story around, through letters and legers, pay slips and accounts whole careers come into focus and a picture of daily life and management comes through.

Throughout the book Mr. Loch (two of them in fact), the Duke’s chief agent keeps cropping up as the capable administrator of life in the household. The management of these self contained communities all serving the family, like ants or bees that collect, build and work to serve the queen, is fascinating. And the hierarchy no less so, where stewards largely control the male population and the housekeeper the female. Life in service at Trentham was a series of doors, from the gate where the porter let you into the grounds, to the front door where the Steward stood guard of the family’s privacy, to the warren of private and not so private rooms where the servants slept.

With Pamela Sambrook no door is closed to us and a crisp reality is glimpsed, not just through keyholes but in wide screen. The ups and downs of service life, a myriad of different people from the 1820s down to the 1890’s, what they did, what was expected of them, how they measured up and what happened after they closed the servants door for the last time.