WBEZ | Upstairs Downstairs http://www.wbez.org/tags/upstairs-downstairs Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Maid’s memoir gives glimpse at real life ‘Downton Abbey’ http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/maid%E2%80%99s-memoir-gives-glimpse-real-life-%E2%80%98downton-abbey%E2%80%99-106523 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/maids%20of%20downton%20abbey%20AP%20PBS%20Nick%20Briggs.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="The maids of ‘Downton Abbey.’ The memoir of real life kitchen maid Margaret Powell served as one inspiration for the show. (AP/PBS, Carnival Film &amp; Television/Nick Briggs)" /></div><p>You may have heard of Anna and Mr. Bates, O&rsquo;Brien and Thomas, but have you heard of Margaret Powell? Her 1968 memoir about servants&rsquo; life below the stairs of a stately English house was a direct inspiration for <em>Downton Abbey</em> and its popular predecessor, <em>Upstairs, Downstairs</em>.</p><p>Powell, born Margaret Langley in 1907, grew up in Sussex extremely poor. Her father, a house painter, and her mother, a charwoman or house cleaner, could barely support Margaret and her six siblings.</p><p>&ldquo;I remember when we hadn&rsquo;t anything left to use for warmth and no money to get coal,&rdquo; she wrote in <em>Below Stairs</em>. &ldquo;I said to Mum, &lsquo;Get all the wood down. Let&rsquo;s have a fire with wood.&rsquo; She took every single shelf there was in the rooms and she even took the banisters from the stairs. Things like this make you hard.&rdquo;</p><p>Perhaps predicting her future success as a writer, Margaret won a scholarship to grammar school at age 13. But her parents couldn&rsquo;t spare her, and sent her to work in a laundry by the time she was 15.</p><p>A year later Margaret found work as a kitchen maid in a stately Regency-style mansion in the posh Adelaide Crescent section of Hove, a town on England&rsquo;s south coast. She recalled the first time she set foot in the house, which was home to a minister and his family:</p><blockquote><p>&ldquo;When my mother and I arrived at this house for the interview we went to the front door. In all the time I worked there, that was the only time I ever went in the front door. . . We were ushered into the hall and I thought it was the last word in opulence. There was a lovely carpet on the floor, and tremendously wide stairs carpeted right across, not like the tiny little bit of lino in the middle we had on our stairs. There was a great mahogany table in the hall and a mahogany hall stand, and huge mirrors with gilt frames. The whole thing breathed an aura or wealth to me. I thought they must be millionaires. I&rsquo;d never seen anything like it.&rdquo;</p></blockquote><p>Powell died in 1984, but her legacy has been preserved &ndash; and not just through her memoir or shows like <em>Downton</em>. Chicago historian and actress Leslie Goddard has developed something of a specialty inhabiting the lives of famous women of yore. In an appearance in February, she took on the role of Powell, performing an adaptation of <em>Below Stairs </em>as the author herself.</p><p>In the audio above, you can hear Goddard perform as Powell. She describes the astonishing workload typical of a pre-war kitchen maid, and explains how the stark contrast between Powell&rsquo;s impoverished upbringing and her newly lush surroundings eventually radicalized her politics.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range">Dynamic Range</a> showcases hidden gems unearthed from <a href="https://soundcloud.com/chicago-amplified/a-conversation-with-u-s">Chicago Amplified&rsquo;</a>s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Leslie Goddard performed at an event presented by Chicago Culinary Historians in February of 2013. Click <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/chicago-amplified/tea-party-below-stairs-servants-life-early-20th-century-england-106369">here</a> to hear the event in its entirety.<br /><br />Robin Amer is a producer on WBEZ&rsquo;s digital team. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/rsamer">@rsamer</a>.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Sat, 06 Apr 2013 08:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/dynamic-range/maid%E2%80%99s-memoir-gives-glimpse-real-life-%E2%80%98downton-abbey%E2%80%99-106523