The People isn’t quite what you expect from an Oxford historian. It is a passionate account of the history of the working class by someone who arrived here from a Newcastle comprehensive school.

The author, Selina Todd, vice-principal of St Hilda’s College, says in her introduction: “I looked in vain for my family’s story when I went to university to read history and continued to search for it fruitlessly throughout the next decade. Eventually I realised that I would have to write this history myself.”

Her parents both studied at Oxford, but on trade union scholarships to Ruskin. She says they never “idealised working-class life”, and her history is full of the subtleties and contradictions of real people’s lives.

The result is an accessible, compelling account of a century of British history as seen through working-class eyes, refreshingly free of cliches. Unlike recent popular histories of the 20th century, hers uses original sources rather than newspaper cuttings. Downton Abbey fans might be interested, for example, in a 1914 investigation showing servants’ loneliness and discontent with long hours and poor conditions.

Todd draws on the archives for an interview with ‘Mrs M’, who went into service before her 14th birthday, with only a weekly half-day holiday to see her distant family. “I was so unhappy. And then the postman brought me my birthday cards, and that cheered me up. . . but the lady wasn’t too happy about it.” Mrs M left her North Oxford post to marry, determined her children would never go into service.

Employers complain about ‘feckless and irresponsible’ benefits claimants, and the chapter on the 1926 General Strike is called Enemies Within, with Winston Churchill as the baddie.

She shows how austerity Britain provided hope and equality for many — though continuing class barriers were reflected in phenomena such as Oxford’s Cutteslowe Wall, built to separate private homeowners from the council housing next door.

The 20th century ended with a demoralised working class and growing inequality, and Todd’s account is enlivened by the stories of pools-winner Vivian Nicholson, the first council house buyers — and the fate of her own Newcastle classmates in the 21st century.