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What was it like to be a servant in Britain 100 years ago?

Maggie Smith in "Downton Abbey." She lived a fancy life, but what was it like for the staff downstairs?

For all the income and wealth inequality we have in this country, it's nothing compared to the England of a century or more ago.

In her book, Servants: A Downstairs View of Twentieth-century Britain, Lucy Lethbridge says the only thing that seperated the poor from the very poor was whether a house had a servant.

"In the biggest estates you learnt your trade as a servant by serving the other servants," she says.

Tips not included, a domestic servant could earn a livable wadge, sometimes even more.

"Upper servants could earn very well," says Lethbridge. "A butler could earn as much as, say, a provincial bank manager."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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