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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 Using secret diaries, unpublished letters, and the neglected service archives of our stately homes, Tessa Boase tells the extraordinary stories of five working women who ran some of Britain's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 members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • 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!

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • dawn
  • 19-10-2016

Good story - Awful music!

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

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • V. Watkins
  • 02-11-2017

Fascinating ....

look into these women's lives and the social norm of the times. Loved it and enjoyed getting to know them and the homes they represented.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Bob Rickert
  • 06-04-2017

Boring and monotonous

This book seemed so endless that I never finished it. Too many details of no interest. Readers voice monotonous.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Sandy
  • 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.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-05-2018

Great book

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • 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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • 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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Greenie
  • 13-07-2018

Interesting

I love social history and learning about the downstairs world. I worked as a conservator for the National Trust a few years back so can identify with the footnote and how these roles have changed to reflect modern times. The research that has obviously gone into this book is thorough and exhaustive but the one thing that really lets it down are the imagined conversations between the housekeeper of Wrest Park, Hannah MacKenzie, and the writer JM Barrie, peppered with the phrase ‘I can just imagine them saying....’. It doesn’t lend anything and becomes quite annoying after a while, spoiling, for me anyway, an otherwise excellent book

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  • suzanne
  • 24-04-2018

Enjoyable and informative

The author reads with an almost personal knowledge of her research subjects; good insight into each woman presented

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  • H Crichton
  • 17-04-2018

interesting topic well written and well read.

this book covers a very interesting topic it is well written and holds yiur attention well. it is also well read in a clear style which is easy to listen to. highly recomend it.

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  • Jane Haynes
  • 04-12-2017

the housekeepers

Excellent book that gives a great insight housekeepers lives and lot of history l enjoy the book