Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Tea by the Nursery Fire – Noel Streatfeild #20booksofsummer

Book 12

Non-Fiction 3*s

Having read practically every children’s novel written by Noel Streatfeild as a child I then had mixed emotions last year on reading the original adult novel The Whicharts which was later reworked for children as Ballet Shoes. This year I decided to try another book by this author, a biography of a nanny in Victorian Britain which was the last book the author wrote in 1976 at the age of 80. When reading the below review, this should be borne in mind as if I can write anything comprehensible at that age, I’ll be exceptionally proud of myself.

Tea by the Nursery Fire purports to tell the tale of the nanny who started work at Longton Place as a nanny to the children, Noel’s father and his siblings in the 1890s, although of course this was not long before Noel herself was born. Despite this unnerving discrepancies and having devoured the author’s autobiographical trilogy which began with The Vicarage Family, I was fully aware that the setting should have been that of a clergyman and Longton Place was not, the first two thirds of the book was an interesting view of life as a servant at a time when it was still possible to become a family retainer.

The last third was quite an abrupt end to Emily’s story with whole decades passing by in a flash as the first family of children grew up and produced offspring to care for on high days and holidays only.

The tale itself walked a line between the hard life of a girl of twelve, sent away to become a servant to make room for the ever growing brood of children her parents produced, and the enjoyment a servant could gain from taking a post that allowed her to use the skills of mothering she had learnt at her mother’s knee.

I have to confess the writing was fairly consistently clumsy and depended greatly on this reader’s nostalgia for her children’s books, partly because it isn’t clear whether this book was aimed at those child readers themselves, or those of us who are slightly older although I’m glad to say it steers well clear of being patronising.

As a snapshot of social history, it works well enough but the tone being told through family stories passed down when Emily was in old age, lacks any real insight into the subject herself which is a great shame as the story without it feels as though it has been painted with very light brush-strokes.

Not my favourite of Noel Streatfeild’s books by a long way but not a bad little book for some insight into the tales those who worked across the turn of the century told to those they loved.

First Published UK: 1976
Publisher: Virago
No of Pages 224
Genre: Non-Fiction (Social History)
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

15 thoughts on “Tea by the Nursery Fire – Noel Streatfeild #20booksofsummer

  1. Oh, I loved Ballet Shoes and White Boots when I was young but I haven’t read this. Thanks for the review. I’m going to add some Noel Streatfield to my TBR list 🙂


  2. That’s brought back a wave of nostalgia! I read Ballet Shoes and White Boots until they fell apart. I suspect I won’t search this one out but thanks for reminding me of many happy childhood reads.


    1. My absolute favourite was Thursday’s Child and when my daughter was younger I managed to find a copy for her (it was out of print at the time) and she loved it too. I was always exceptionally pleased when the library had one of hers sitting on the shelf. Glad to have bought back fond memories for you too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. She wrote this when she was already a successful author I assume so maybe there was some pressure to police another book to keep up commercial sales rather than because there was a story she felt she wanted to tell? It just seems an odd book…


    1. She wrote so many books, and I suspect I’d read the vast majority of them but personally I think she was perhaps just too old and too well-known for this to get the editing it deserved. It was a little odd too, I think she was trying to give a snapshot of life 100 years before the book was published.


  4. Thanks, Cleo, as always, for your candor. I know what you mean about a writing style that’s a bit clumsy. But still, this does sound like a solid look at the era, and that does sound interesting.


  5. I haven’t read her other books, but this one doesn’t sound like my “cup of tea.” I can definitely relate to wanting to read a book because of nostalgia over previous books one loved, however. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Oh no if you’re not already a fan this definitely isn’t the place to start so thank you for taking the time to comment – as you’ve probably guessed I’m a little behind at the moment but I have managed to read some of your posts while I’ve been missing in action 😉


  6. What a pity! I rather wish publishers would find a way to stop people going on once they’ve passed their best – I know it must be hard but sometimes it makes for uncomfortable reading. Some authors seem able to write on until they’re about 163, but others definitely begin to decline. Thank goodness I’m only 21 so it’ll be ages before that happens to me… 😉


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