Born in 1910, Rose Plummer grew up in an East End slum; she knew at first hand a soot-blackened world, lit by candles and oil lamps, where you slept in your clothes - if you hadn't already been sewn into them for the winter - and fought an unending battle with hunger and bed bugs. At its best, life was lived on the bustling, noisy streets where fish sellers jostled with hurdy-gurdy men, organ grinders and street fighters, where children dodged between the wheels of horse-drawn carts and where money could still be made by mudlarks and the rag and bone man. At the age of fifteen, Rose left the noise and squalor of Hoxton and started work as a live-in maid at a house in the West End. Despite the poverty of her childhood, nothing could have prepared her for the long hours, the backbreaking work and the harshness of this new world; a world in which servants were treated as if they were less than human. It was a world in which Rose found herself working from six in the morning till nine at night in a house where the only unheated bedroom was the one she slept in.
Here and in later, grander, houses Rose had to endure the strict hierarchy of the servants' world where the maid was expected to put up with sex pests, deranged employers, verbal and even physical abuse. But however difficult life became, Rose found something to laugh about, and her remarkable spirit and gift for friendship shines through in her memories of a now-vanished world. This is upstairs downstairs as it really was.
Rose Plummer was born in 1910 in Hoxton, one of the poorest parts of London's East End. She left school at fifteen and became a live-in domestic servant in a house in the West End. For the next fifteen years she saw at first-hand what life below stairs was really like. She met her future husband Harry, a footman, just before the start of the Second World War and though there were no children they enjoyed a long and happy marriage. After the war Rose had a number of jobs, but never again in domestic service. She died in 1994. Tom Quinn is the editor of the Country Landowner's Magazine. He has written several small books for small independent publishers. He has spent the last twenty years interviewing people who worked in domestic service, getting them to tell him their life stories.