Scrubbing till her hands were raw

The life of a skivvy in the early 1900s was no bed of roses.

What was it like to work below stairs in the early 1900s? In The Mail on Sunday, 96-year-old Mollie Moran recalled her early days as a scullery maid, or skivvy, the lowest possible position in a grand house.

"You were the youngest, the lowest paid, you worked the longest hours and you spent most of the time on your hands and knees, scrubbing," she writes. You were even a skivvy for the servants themselves, and in the house in London's Cadogan Square where Mollie worked which belonged to an elderly bachelor called Mr Stocks there were dozens.

When she started, Mollie's duties were explained to her by Mrs Jones, the cook: "Your day starts at 6.30am. You come downstairs, black-lead the grate, polish the hearth and light the range fire. Woe betide you if it's not done to my standards. Put the kettle on for staff teas and bring me a nice cup. Strong and sweet is how I like it. Then you clean the steel fender and the fire irons, clean the brass on the front door and scrub the front steps. Then you'll need to scrub and polish the kitchen floor and passageways. Then you and the kitchen maid need to start on the staff breakfasts, so we can eat at 8am. Then I will come down and make the boss's breakfast for 9am."

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Listening to this, Mollie's head began to swim. I'm not surprised on and on went the relentless Mrs Jones, outlining a day that didn't end till 9.30pm. Soon Mollie's hands were raw and numb from cleaning: the kitchen table, for example, had to be scrubbed twice a day, and even its legs washed with soap and soda "until they gleamed". Then there were dinner parties to prepare, with "vast quantities" of food being delivered via the back stairs, most of it from Mr Stocks's Norfolk estate.

In Servants: A Downstairs View of 20th-Century Britain, Lucy Lethbridge paints a similar picture. Take the 11th Duke of Bedford, who (as Dominic Sandbrook noted in The Sunday Times) commanded an army of at least 60 indoor servants, as well as four cars and eight chauffeurs. Whenever he travelled from Woburn to one of his two houses in Belgrave Square, he never took a suitcase. "Another chauffeur, accompanied by a footman, took the bag separately to the capital", where yet another footman waited to receive it.

The duke had his quirks: all parlour maids had to be 5ft 10ins or taller, for example, and he began every meal with a cup of beef consomm. His wife had her personal staff, as did his mistress, who lived in her own quarters. So big was the establishment that one maid went for two years without ever setting eyes on the duchess. When she did, one day, while cleaning her bedroom, she was "terrified".

This country-house world, says Sandbridge, was one "built on deference, fear and backbreaking toil". That is broadly true, but not everyone found it miserable. Mollie Moran, who went on to marry an RAF officer and have servants of her own, says her ten years in domestic service were "some of the happiest" of her life.

Tabloid money "Abolish boom and bust? Well, we abolished boom!"

We are in the midst of a national crisis, says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. "So how shameful that during Osborne's [Budget] speech, Labour MPs could be seen laughing, jeering and having a singalong about the country's failings. Do they think people living on the breadline is funny? Do they think a steep decline in living standards for ordinary people is a joke? Yes, the Coalition is making a pig's ear of the recovery, but does Labour imagine we will vote for a party that sees the collapse of this country simply as fodder for beating up the opposition?"

"Is there nothing the EU politicians will not do to keep their absurd gravy train on the rails?" asks Rod Liddle in The Sun. "The latest wheeze was to nick lots of money from Cypriots. Up to 10% of savings were to be filched from accounts to underwrite some gargantuan bail-out. The Cypriots reacted in the only respectable way possible, by driving JCBs into the front of the banks to get their dosh out.

Now the Russians have stepped in and offered to bung the tiny island some currency. So there's the choice for the Cypriot government: take the money from an unaccountable, undemocratic bunch of self-interested gangsters or go with the Russian offer."

Peter Mandelson, writes Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun, "has skewered his old boss Gordon Brown, saying: I can't remember which member of the government claimed to have abolished boom and bust. Well, we abolished boom!' Tony Blair also attacks Labour for opposing free schools his idea. Now, self-styled left-leaning liberal' David Goodhart joins the chorus of disapproval, blaming Labour for dividing Britain into multicultural ghettos.

One of Mr Brown's Treasury chiefs told him: I argued for the most open door possible to immigration. I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.' In other words, explains Goodhart, the aim was to give more help to someone in Burundi than someone in Birmingham'. Shocking, eh?"