Title: DIAMONDS FOR DINNER: My Life as a Lady’s Maid in a 1930s Stately Home
Author: Hilda Newman (with Tim Tate)
Type of Book: Softcover
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Memoir
Length: 241 pages
Release Date: September 2013
Publisher: John Blake/Trafalgar Square
Regular Price: $14.95
Sale Price: $5.99 at Chapters in the Bargain Book section
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Are you a fan of Downtown Abbey? Have you ever wondered if what you see on the show is historically accurate? I am, and I have.
When browsing through the Bargain Books section at the Chapters store in Barrie, Ontario I came across “Diamonds For Dinner” and I was intrigued to see if the reality of being a ladies maid was really like the way it is portrayed on Downtown Abbey.
I expected this book to focus solely on Hilda’s time as a ladies maid, but upon reading I realized that it was much more than that.
Chapter One begins: “I am, it is safe to say, old now. Though a more polite way of looking at it would be to say that I have seen a lot of history.”
To say that Hilda “…has seen a lot of history…” is an understatement. She was born during World War I and served in World War II. In her lifetime there have been 20 (yes, 20) different British Prime Ministers and she has been alive during the reign of two (and a half) kings and was ten years old when Britain’s current Queen was born. If that is not considered seeing a lot of history, I don’t know what is.
Hilda has lived a very interesting life and she has written this book (at the age of 97) with a wickedly wry sense of humour that makes it eminently readable.
Hilda was born in 1916 while her father was away fighting the war in France. In fact, she would be two years old by the time she finally met him for the first time. She didn’t know it then, but she was extremely lucky. Lucky because her father not only made it through World War I alive, but that he came through it physically unscathed and arrived home without any physical infirmities.
Hilda’s parents were never rich, and when her father returned from the war, he discovered that he no longer had his previous job as an engineer to fall back on. Hilda’s parents believed in hard work. “But we learned from our earliest years that life was a test and what mattered was the choices you made, never knowing whether you’d made the right one until it was too late: you might be right, you might be wrong but you had no option but to choose and, when all was said and done, you’d better be prepared to take the consequences.”
It was this philosophy that ultimately led Hilda to apply to be a ladies maid for Countess of Coventry, even though she had no previous experience in “service.”
The details of both how the servants lived and how the family lived are fascinating. As are the details of the estate itself. In “Downtown Abbey” the story focuses mainly on the people and on the main house and rarely shows the scope of the estate’s size. In “Diamonds For Dinner” Hilda finds a guide book in the library that she follows around the grounds. Imagine having to walk for thirty minutes just to find a building that was built as a pleasure house for the residents of the main house.
This book is completely absorbing and is so fascinating that I read the entire book over a twenty-four hour span. Because of this I have to rate this book as no less than 5 out of 5 stars. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
To learn more about Croome Park – the estate featured in this book, visit http://www.friendsofcroomepark.org.uk/index.html
All pictures below were obtained from the website above.