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The real 'Downton Abbey': A real cook talks!

February 15, 2013|By Russ Parsons
  • "Downton Abbey's" Mrs. Patmore, center, with Daisy, left, and the late Lady Sybil.
"Downton Abbey's" Mrs. Patmore, center, with Daisy,… (PBS )

Have you ever watched “Downton Abbey” and wondered just what it would have been like to be Mrs. Patmore? I mean, all those gleaming copper pans and all that wonderful game for cooking. Kind of a sweet deal, no? Well, no, at least not in real life.

At least, not according to Florence Wadlow, a real-life cook in big houses between the wars who died recently and was memorialized in a wonderful obituary in the Telegraph newspaper.

Work was hard and the life was even harder. Of the television show, Wadlow said: “They have got it wrong. They should have talked to people like me.” Wadlow started in service at the age of 16, earning 20 pounds a year. Perks included one bath a week, with a half day every week and alternating Sundays to herself.

During her career, she worked at several great houses, but probably none more memorable than Blickling Hall, home of the Boleyn family from 1499 to 1505, where she worked for Lord Lothian, a teetotaler whom she says favored dishes such as Chicken Maryland, served with corn pancakes and bananas.

As for the cordial relations upstairs and down, not so much, she says in the story. “I think I only saw Lord Lothian about twice,” she remembered, “and I was there over three years. I think he was a nice sort of gentleman, but they weren’t brought up to be friendly with the staff, were they?”

Wadlow was featured in a BBC radio program about her life in 2004, and appeared in a television series called “Upper Crust.” In 2007, she published her memoir “Over a Hot Stove: A Kitchen Maid’s Story.” She died Jan. 9.

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