Upstairs & Downstairs

Just as the much anticipated Downton Abbey opens in cinemas across the country, we have an extract from new book Upstairs & Downstairs, from real life lady's maid, Hilda Newman. This is her story of life amongst one of Britain's most established families and all the goings on behind the scenes of the landed gentry and their servants - in this extract we hear about Hilda's own 'temptations' below the stairs...

Author Tim Tate tells how he felt on working with Hilda, gathering information for the book, which is published 19th September 2019, by Bonnier Books. 

'It’s not often that a writer comes face to face with living history.  In 2013 I was privileged to do just that.   Hilda Newman was then 97 years old.  She had lived through the reigns of three monarchs and eighteen governments; she had been born during one world war and served her country in the second. Despite her years, Hilda’s memory was remarkably strong and her observations on the cast of characters with – and for -  whom she had worked were clear and insightful. 

I learned much during the (all-too-brief) time we worked together.  Dates, times and places – the basics of any history; but it was her recollections of her time as a lady’s maid in one of England’s great aristocratic houses which offered the greatest insight into the changing warp and weft of Britain.   Through Hilda’s eyes I came to see and understand the fundamental shifts in Britain’s social fabric – and, most importantly, what we have lost, as well as that which we have gained.'

The incredible true story told by former lady's maid, Hilda Newman, of what life was really like living and working amongst England's nobility

The year was 1935: the twilight of the English aristocracy. It was a time of wealth and glamour; of lavish balls and evening gowns; of tiaras and a coronation. As personal maid to Lady Coventry, Hilda Newman had a unique insight into the leisured life of one of Britain's most noble families. In her fascinating memoir of life upstairs and down, Hilda takes us back to this period between the wars; a gilded era which would soon be dramatically changed by the Second World War.

Transplanted from a tiny house with no bath or hot water to an eighteenth-century Neo-Palladian mansion, Hilda's life changed beyond recognition. But in a time when the very foundations of British society were being shaken to their core, the luxurious life of the country nobility couldn't last. The Second World War brought more turbulence with it, and Croome Court, where Hilda had lived and worked, became a haven for the Dutch Royal Family fleeing Nazi occupation, whilst also home to a top-secret RAF base. The lavish banquets and decadent parties had become a thing of the past.

Hilda's story takes us back to a bygone era, showing us what life was really like in England's classic country manors of old - and uncovers the real lives of the people who occupied them, from wealthy lord to lowly servant.


Roland had joined the Earl of Coventry’s staff several years earlier and, in addition to his duties as a chauffeur (and acting as a part-time footman whenever the local gentry came to dinner), he also looked after the Court’s water-pumping station – for a house that size and set in so rural a location had to have its own water works – and helped out with just about anything that any of the other servants needed doing by way of mechanics.

I’d discovered – in truth, I’d made it my business to find out – that he was a very popular member of the servants’ household. All in all, I began to look forward to our trips to Worcester and to miss his company on the days when I didn’t see him. But, just as my heart was warming to this warm and personable man, my mind sounded a very sharp note of warning. Since you’re reading this, I think it’s a fair bet that you’ve watched some of the television programmes about life below stairs. They always seem to have storylines involving various members of the staff getting involved and having love affairs. But that’s just television for you because, in my day, romances between servants in the same house were not just frowned on but absolutely forbidden.

If friendships between head servants like me and housemaids like Dorothy Clark were actively discouraged, for most of the gentry of the time, an actual relationship between a man and woman in their employ would have been unthinkable. ‘Listen, my girl,’ I said to myself, ‘If this goes any further and you allow these feelings to develop between you and Roland, one or other of us – possibly both – will find ourselves in very hot water indeed. Why, you could even be dismissed on the spot.’ And, of course, in those days there was no such thing as employment rights or even a written contract: if your master or mistress decided to give you the sack, you were out on your ear faster than you could say jack rabbit, without so much as a reference, never mind an industrial tribunal. ‘You’ve made your bed, Hilda Mulley,’ I thought, ‘and you jolly well just better get on and make the best of it.’