“The Lady’s Maid” is the autobiography of Rosina Harrison, it was first published in 1975 with the title “My Life In Service”.
It tells the story of a working class, Yorkshire lass born in 1899.
Rosina’s parents were both in service when they met, her mother was working as a laundry maid at Tranby Croft, a large country house, and her father was employed as a stonemason by the Marquess of Ripon.
As a child Rose (Rosina) was a tomboy and liked nothing better than being the goalkeeper in a rough game of football with the lads.
Her mother did not approve of this unladylike behaviour and in order to give Rose the best possible start in life she was encouraged to stay on at school, two years past the usual leaving age of fourteen, to receive extra tutoring from the Headmaster and his wife.
Another rare advantage which the family had was a piano and Rose and her siblings had weekly piano lessons at a cost of four pence each.
When she left school at sixteen Rose received a five year apprenticeship to Hetherington’s, a large clothing establishment in Ripon, Yorks. although she only stayed for two.
Whilst in Ripon she also had weekly French lessons, at sixpence each.
As Rose’s one wish in life was to travel her mother offered this advice
“In service there are two servants who usually go everywhere with their masters or mistresses, valets and ladies maids”
from then on it was only a matter of time before Rosina’s became a lady’s maid.
Her first position in 1918 was as a “young ladies maid" to Lady Tufton’s daughters, Patricia and Ann. Four years later, after the death of her father, Rose became lady’s maid to Lady Cranborne of Mayfair, London with whom she stayed for five years.
“she (Lady Tufton) was a pleasure to serve, my life was interesting, I was fulfilling my ambition to travel, unfortunately there was only one stumbling block, money”
Rosina’s annual salary was £24.00.
In August 1928 Rosina moved to Cliveden, home of Lord Astor and his American heiress wife, Nancy, (daughter of Charles Dabney Langhorne of Richmond, Virginia) to take up the position of lady’s maid to their daughter Wissy (Miss Phyllis Astor).
‘I was able to get on well with everyone below stairs and above, or so I thought until I began working for Lady Astor…’
Lady Astor was the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat, a Christian Scientist, a social butterfly and a difficult employer who tested her servants to the limit.
Rose’s true Yorkshire grit, however, made her a worthy opponent and over the 35 years that Rose served Lady Astor their relationship strengthened into a deep friendship.
Although much has been written about the Astors, their lifestyle, politics and, later on, the scandal which centred on Cliveden, "The Lady’s Maid" is Rose’s personal account of how life was lived upstairs and downstairs and includes many anecdotes from other servants who were in service with her.
A must read for "Downton" fans.