Mrs Bunthorpe’s Respects by Ursula Bloom

I bought this book fairly recently, a signed copy in fact. I knew that I had heard of Ursula Bloom before. I thought I had read some of her books back in the year dot but I now think I was wrong about that.

This is an autobiographical account of all the servants which the author had in her life, starting just after she got married when she had to get her first lady’s maid. Apparently married ladies of her class weren’t able to get dressed on their own. It wasn’t something that she wanted, she was appalled at the thought of having to undress in front of a stranger, but Ursula’s rather superior and snooty mother-in-law was aghast at the thought of her not having a maid, what would people say about it?! – so she had to have one.

The author seems to have got into the swing of things quite quickly though and as it was 1916 when she married for the first time there wasn’t much of a servant problem but she could see that the times would change, and of course there was then the perennial moaning about servants. It’s amusing although I’m not sure that the author would have expected me to be amused at some bits of it. At one point she explains to a servant that she couldn’t possibly employ her if she expected wages of £30 a year. In the next sentence she swans out and drives off in her Lagonda!!

The blurb on the bookcover says:

Ursula Bloom blames Mrs. Pankhurst entirely –

‘When she got the vote for my sex she got it for all of us: parlourmaids, housemaids, cooks and nannies, chars and village idiots (provided they could write). The lot! Opening the door on careers for every one of us, she may have set free the servants, but heavens! how successfully she imprisoned the housewife!’

This book was published in 1963, when you think about it the changes that someone like Bloom experienced in her domestic life would have been enormous, but she wrote over 500 books under various names. Could we all do that if we had servants?!

15 thoughts on “Mrs Bunthorpe’s Respects by Ursula Bloom

  1. Katrina,
    I find it so amusing to read books about wealthy women from this time period. Their outlook on life, society, the social classes of society, are all beyond what I could ever expect. I don’t tire of reading about the Age of Servants, for some reason, nor do I tire of learning about the life of the servants or the served-to.

    How did you ever find this title?

    Good wishes,

    • Judith,
      Whilst house-hunting in Stirlingshire we decided to cheer ourselves up at an antiques centre in the middle of nowhere. They had quite a lot of books, probably from house clearances!
      I remember that Shirley Williams (daughter of Vera Brittain) said that her mother was always banging on about women’s rights – but at the same time she and all her friends spent their time moaning about their female servants. Obviously servants didn’t have any rights as far as they were concerned!

  2. Katrina,
    Stirlingshire! Such a lovely-sounding place. And I’m envious that you came across so many books at that antiques center. I must say, you have that serendipitous kind of luck in stumbling upon great sources of books. I simply must learn from you.
    And Vera Brittain: I think that is really too funny. Even middle-class women desperately needed their female servants if they were to leave the home to fight for women’s suffrage or women’s rights or have a job of any sort outside the home. Without the washing machine and dryer and all the rest, no woman was going to be able to leave the house without her “household staff” behind her 100 percent!
    Best to you,

    • Judith,
      Even the teeniest one bedroom flats here had a servant living in, usually they slept in the kitchen in an alcove called a bed recess.
      Stirlingshire does have lovely hills and we seriously thought about moving there but then decided against it. I must say that the beginning of this year was incredibly successful book buying wise for me.

  3. What an interesting kind of book to read! How you describe your reading experience reminds me somewhat of Diary of A Provincial Lady, as dealing with servants was a perennial bane of the narrator’s existence, and she felt often beset by them, which is so odd to contemplate.

    • Christy,
      I suppose it gave them something to think about, otherwise their lives must have been so mundane in some ways. The book reminded me of All the Dogs of My Life by Elizabeth von Arnim. The dogs were looked back on with fondness though!

    • Christy,
      I hadn’t realised that. It’s strange that I don’t remember coming across any of the names she wrote under in secondhand bookshops. I’ll be looking out for her now, just to see what her fiction was like.

  4. Hi, I’m a fan of hers and have read quite a lot by Bloom – novels, autobiographical works and obscure short stories she sold to old newspapers and magazines. She was also a reporter and wrote many feature articles in her time. Bloom was indeed very prolific, exceeded only (in number of books published) by Barbara Cartland, who acknowledged Bloom’s influence and exceptional talent. I would recommend in particular her early novels, such as The Painted Lady and Alien Corn. Wonderful period detail, great characters, and much humour as well. Bloom led a full and interesting life and this is reflected in her work. Many of her novels are not romances but straightforward stories about people with a dash of romance as well. Unfortunately she seems to be portrayed today as a romantic novelist only and this is not true. Also, I think the reason her books rarely turn up in brick and mortar secondhand bookshops is that many of them were written and published solely for the lending library market.

    • Richard Simms,
      Thanks so much for all that information. I had been thinking that Barbara Cartland would be the only one to have rivalled her, in numbers anyway. I’m not such a fan of romance anyway so I’ll keep looking for Bloom’s books and particularly Alien Corn and The Painted Lady.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • Hello Katrina,

        No problem. I was glad to read your thoughtful comments on her book about servants. And the anecdote about her refusing to pay a servant’s wages before driving off in an expensive car is hilarious! I should note though that in essence, there was nothing truly hoity toity or precious about Ursula Bloom. She was well spoken and achieved success as a writer (indeed she had a knack for publicity and appeared on TV and radio quite often back in the day). However, her early years were tough ones (especially at a time of class divisions when keeping up appearances was essential), and it has to be remembered that she grew up in an entirely different era of British history. Although I like browsing in “real” bookshops, the easiest way to pick up one of her early novels (long out of print) is to find them on ABE or Ebay.

        • Richard,
          I do buy on Abe and Ebay when a book I want just isn’t turning up in bookshops for me. Could you tell me if you read just Ursula Bloom books or books written under her many different names?
          From this book it seems that she had quite a difficult life with her first husband. I think I vaguely remembered her from TV way back in the 1960s when I was a child.

          • Hi Katrina, well I was born in 1970 so I don’t remember her at all, but my parents do 🙂
            She had a son, Philip, with her first husband (Bloom was married to her second husband for over fifty years) and I wrote to him not long ago. I didn’t get a reply, so I think he must have passed away. He would be very old now were he still alive.
            I have read only one Bloom novel under a pseudonym, and that was The King’s Pleasure (as by Lozania Prole), an enjoyable tale about Henry VIII and his six wives. A number of her historical novels were written under pen names, and a good deal of romances were published as by Shelia Burns, Mary Essex and so on. From my own experience of her fiction, I think some of her strongest and most compelling novels were written in the 1930s and 40s. Copies of her early novels are scarce mainly because they tended to have small print runs – from the early 1940s onwards, this was due to wartime paper shortages.

          • Richard,
            Thanks for all that interesting information, the 1930s and 40s are my favourite eras in fiction, I love Angela Thirkell’s books. I’m not quite as old as you parents (1959) but I do get very nostalgic about the 1970s, you were lucky just to catch some of that era!

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