Get Your Free Audiobook

The Housekeeper's Tale

The Women Who Really Ran the English Country House
Narrated by: Tessa Boase
Length: 11 hrs and 36 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.3 out of 5 stars (10 ratings)

Non-member price: $36.54

After 30 days, Audible is $16.45/mo. Cancel anytime.

Publisher's Summary

Working as a housekeeper was one of the most prestigious jobs a 19th and early 20th-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 featured capricious mistresses, low pay, no job security, and grueling physical labor. 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. Using secret diaries, unpublished letters, and the neglected service archives of our stately homes, Tessa Boase tells the extraordinary stories of five working women who ran some of Britain's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. 

Dorothy Doar was Regency housekeeper for the obscenely wealthy first Duke and Duchess of Sutherland at Trentham Hall, Staffordshire. Sarah Wells, a deaf and elderly Victorian (mother to H.G. Wells), was in charge of Uppark, West Sussex. Ellen Penketh was Edwardian cook-housekeeper at the impecunious Erddig Hall in the Welsh borders. Hannah Mackenzie ran Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, Britain's first country-house war hospital. Grace Higgens was cook-housekeeper to the Bloomsbury set at Charleston farmhouse in East Sussex for half a century. 

Revelatory, gripping and unexpectedly poignant, The Housekeeper's Tale champions the invisible women behind the English country house. 

New version - now with no music.

©2014 Tessa Boase (P)2016 Tessa Boase

What listeners say about The Housekeeper's Tale

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    6
  • 4 Stars
    1
  • 3 Stars
    3
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    6
  • 4 Stars
    2
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    7
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Returning

I was disappointed with the book all round. I kept wondering when the story was about to start. There seemed to be repeated ‘introductions’.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating book

If you enjoy social history, you will get a lot from this deep dive into housekeeping and the relationship of servant to master between the 18th and 21st centuries. A well read and carefully researched look at a group of women who are under represented in the historical record.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Pamela Jane
  • Pamela Jane
  • 14-09-2017

Utterly intriguing

If you could sum up The Housekeeper's Tale in three words, what would they be?

This is a meticulously researched and absorbing book, and a glimpse into the stories of the women who ran the country estates in the19th Century. My only reservation is with the production itself which employs over-wrought music to mark the introduction and chapters. Listeners of audio books prefer to have the words speak for themselves and not be assaulted by heavy-handed music which strives to set the mood or ramp up the drama. Still, I can't recommend the book itself highly enough.

Any additional comments?

AUDIO PRODUCERS: PLEASE STOP USING MUSIC IN RECORDED BOOKS!

33 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Juana Dement
  • Juana Dement
  • 31-07-2017

good concept for a book

I really enjoyed the historical portion of this book. the narrator was easy to listen to and the story was equally as entertaining. That being said the music in between the chapters was too loud and it was like listening to Nails on a chalkboard.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Harlingen gh
  • Harlingen gh
  • 17-09-2017

the music was jarring and too loud.

the music was too jarring & too loud after the soft voice. It hurt my ears & shocked me. then I would miss the first line. I will say the author did have a great narrator's voice.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Liz
  • Liz
  • 07-04-2018

A good book for my morning walks

First, let me just say I read many comments about the music being very loud and distracting and almost passed purchasing because of this. I did not feel it was as bad as mentioned, and just turned the volume down for the dozen times it came on. I listened to the entire book with headphones, while walking dogs, so don't be deterred by the music. I would have preferred to be without it, however. I listened to this book most mornings and it put me in a better frame of mind when I then went about my own chores in life. What work these women did, often for no thanks and little pay. I believe it is good to look back into the past to see how far we all have come. I especially liked how the author included a small piece of the ending in current-times with a Housekeeper and what her role is, how she feels about the work, how her Lady treats her, etc. Not being English I find it all very interesting. This book could have never been written without diaries, letters, and momentos that were saved through the decades and centuries. As a journal writer I love it all. If you take nothing away from this book, remember to save the written word for our future. Digital is nice, but the old fashioned hand written word can often last longer and be more telling than emails and texts. I appreciated the many small chapters of this book, which made great starting and stopping points for me. I would guess I walked about 30 miles while listening to this book, every step entertaining. Thank you.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for dawn
  • dawn
  • 19-10-2016

Good story - Awful music!

Good stories and narration - terrible music !!!!!! Glad I didn't live in that Era!!

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jenn
  • Jenn
  • 28-04-2017

Good historical insight

What did you love best about The Housekeeper's Tale?

I loved the real-life stories of these housekeepers. Their memories are often lost to history and I appreciated the research that went into telling their stories.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Difficult choice- I liked all of them for different reasons.

What about Tessa Boase’s performance did you like?

She was easy to listen to.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

How similar their stories are, despite spanning more than a century.

Any additional comments?

I really didn't care for the transition music between chapters and parts. To me, it took away from the story. I just want the audio of the text, delivered in a pleasant voice.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Marie
  • Marie
  • 16-01-2018

Fascinating

Riveting, informative, so well written that mundane details become exciting. I almost passed it up due to comments about the music- in total, music was about 1 minute of the entire recording, and was only for a few seconds at a time, so not a factor for me at all. The narrator was excellent and I am very happy I purchased this one.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Lala Lapin
  • Lala Lapin
  • 24-10-2017

Unique and deeply interesting

What was it like over the centuries to run a gigantic English house with little pay but much responsibility? This is the book that tells the story with involving, fascinating style. Highly recommended.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for mz
  • mz
  • 26-02-2019

Rolling of saliva later in the book gets too much

For the last few hours of the book, the rolling of saliva every few sentences is just too noticeable to enjoy the book. I've turned the volume down, I've walked far away from the computer, and I can still hear it. It is gross and distracting and makes it difficult to listen to what she's saying. I got too annoyed to keep listening. There are sounds of book page turning from time to time too. The author is actually a voiceover artist, but the production is still not as professional as the better books. I didn't have a problem with the music. The book's content itself is fine. First 2/3 is more enjoyable. Last 1/3 has the problem above, and the stories are less interesting. The author's interjection of herself and her own role is kind of a turnoff. That should be something that's in the foreword and sticks to the foreword. It pulls you out of the 1800s into the present and have to think from the author's perspective, which is not that interesting and drags you out of the story. She keeps explicitly reminding you that some of the things are her imagination, which interrupts the story line.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Madame Jade Paris
  • Madame Jade Paris
  • 04-10-2020

Good book

I loved the story of the First Lady .... very interesting. Worth giving a listen to.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Susan
  • Susan
  • 22-02-2017

Gripping stories, compulsive listening

Where does The Housekeeper's Tale rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very good, almost like a radio drama to listen to, so many different 'voices' conjured up. Atmospheric music too. Fascinating subject.

What other book might you compare The Housekeeper's Tale to, and why?

Reminded me a bit of Mrs Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light - a quest to find forgotten and invisible voices.

What does Tessa Boase bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Drama, humour, characterisation.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Too long in one sitting - but it's divided into six separate tales of different women, so easily divided up.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for KirstyEm
  • KirstyEm
  • 11-06-2018

Just wonderful

I have spent a week, driving my children to school, entrenched in the lives of several Cook/Housekeepers. So beautifully read by the author, I have been transfixed by the stories and the immense hardships some endured. Can not recommend this book highly enough. Just wonderful.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for K. G. Harmon
  • K. G. Harmon
  • 15-11-2016

Too many stars? Not really.

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, I would because it is not only well researched but absorbing and moving.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Sarah Wells. Her plight late in life and the scrutiny of her famous son made this fascinating.

Have you listened to any of Tessa Boase’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Don't know of any.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were too many to mention.

Any additional comments?

The voice is beautiful and modulated and appropriate to the content, though you can occasionally hear indignation bubbling under the surface.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Amazon Customer
  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-11-2017

Very interesting, well written & narrated

I liked the way the author selected several lives of housekeepers and went through them chronologically. It helped to show the evolution in the treatment of the women and how their roles evolved between c. 1800 and c. 1960. The author narrates very well and the insight into the lives of the housekeepers was very interesting.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Amazon Customer
  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-07-2017

Interesting

This book was narrated perfectly well but I found the 'incidental ' music unpleasant, annoying and unnecessary.
The content of the book was interesting and thought provoking although I did feel that, at times, the author made some unwarranted assumptions.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Zack Sydes
  • Zack Sydes
  • 02-03-2019

Absolutely Perfect

Fantastically written, and with a skilled narration to die for. I was hooked beginning to end.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 16-05-2018

Great book

Engaging and well researched stories and lovely narrative by the author. Enjoyed and can recommend.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Janice
  • Janice
  • 02-09-2020

A wonderful look at an upstairs downstairs life.

Really enjoyed this book ! Super narration and such an interesting look at a part of social history from the last 100 years .

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for The Leodensian
  • The Leodensian
  • 08-07-2020

Brilliant

Really enjoyed it. Compelling stories of women, beautiful narrative. As good as the Purple Feather.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for vic
  • vic
  • 23-03-2020

really interesting

amazing how much detail the writer finds out about their daily lives. really humbling read.