It's 1924 and there have been many changes at Downton Abbey since the family and their servants first welcomed us there twelve years ago. A generation of men has been tragically lost at the front; children are once again breathing new life into the great house; a chauffeur now sits at the Grantham dinner table; and skirt hems continue to rise.
Still, in the midst of all this upheaval, many things at Downton remain largely unchanged. Nanny still holds sway in the nursery, and there are still summer fetes to be organized, menus to be planned, and farms to be run.
This gorgeous book explores the seasonal events and celebrations of the great estateincluding house parties, debutantes, the London Season, yearly trips to Scotland, the sporting season, and, of course, the cherished rituals of Christmas. Jessica Fellowes and the creative team behind Downton Abbey invite us to peer through the prism of the house as we learn more about the lives of our favorite characters, the actors who play them, and those who bring this exquisite world to real life.
A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey is packed full of exclusive new photographs, with a delicious array of traditional British recipes adapted for modern kitchens: kedgeree, orange marmalade, asparagus tarts, cream of watercress soup, Irish stew, lemon barley water, meringues with red berries, parmesan straws, Christmas pudding with brandy butter and more. From the moment when the servants light the fires against the chill of January, through the last family game of charades and the servants' Christmas ball, this magnificent book invites us to take part in twelve months in the life of Downton Abbey.
About the Author
JESSICA FELLOWES is the New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of The Chronicles of Downton Abbey and The World of Downton Abbey. She is a journalist and the former Deputy Editor of Country Life, and the niece of Julian Fellowes.
JULIAN FELLOWES is the writer and creator of the Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning TV series Downton Abbey. He is also the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park and the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Snobs.
Read an Excerpt
A Year In The Life Of Downtown Abbey
By Jessica Fellowes, Nick Briggs
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Jessica Fellowes
All rights reserved.
A thin white line on the horizon signals the dawn of a new year at Downton Abbey. The house sits atop its cold hill, the valley falling below, still shrouded in darkness, as the servants start to shuffle around slowly, waking in the icy air of their attic bedrooms.
Lady Mary stirs below her blankets; she shan't wake till a maid has lit the fire to warm the bedroom. Besides, there would have been a celebratory dinner the night before, a glass or two of Champagne at midnight before the cheers for 1924 sent her up the stairs. We have faith that the year ahead brings her new feelings of hope and vigour – in series four, we watched her allow herself to start living a life that looks forward after the death of her beloved Matthew. Lord and Lady Grantham slumber too, together in their bed, perhaps forestalling the moment when they open their eyes to a world that has been changing at a pace that often leaves them feeling bewildered rather than excited. Lady Edith lies awake in the dark – troubled thoughts are never far away, but she can only hope this year is better than the last, with her daughter no longer overseas and safely looked after only a short walk away. Tom Branson snores lightly; I like to imagine he's the kind of father to creep up the stairs to the nursery, to kiss his daughter Sybbie good morning before he goes down to breakfast. Nanny wouldn't always approve of the disruption to the children's routine, but surely Tom remembers how his mother was in the cottage he grew up in, in Ireland, and would not be able to resist. The day will be an easy one for the family, a few guests to entertain before the morrow's shoot, but no business to attend to or errands to run. There will be a long lunch, a walk in the afternoon, another dinner in the evening.
For the servants, of course, their day is quite different, in that it is exactly the same as almost every other day when it comes to their duties and routine. They will have had a small New Year's Eve celebration of their own in the servants' hall, one that would have livened up considerably once Carson and Mrs Hughes had gone to bed shortly after midnight struck. A few of them will wake regretting the last glass of beer they drank. But there's no shirking; the house must be got ready, shutters opened and fires made, rugs swept and the table laid. Two breakfasts need to be cooked, two luncheons must be prepared (for the family and for the servants), the menu for the family's dinner written out. Carson is up and at the head of the table below stairs as smartly on time as he is every single other day of the year.
For the fifth series, we have returned to Downton Abbey in 1924. It may be only twelve years since we first stepped through the vast wooden door of the castle and met the cast of characters we are now so familiar with, but the changes have been so great, it is as if a century has passed. Change has been the theme of Downton Abbey since it began, reflecting the extraordinary developments in science and society that happened in the real world during the same period. But it is only now, as we head into the middle of the 1920s, that the full effects of those changes are being absorbed into our characters' daily lives.
The differences between 1912 and 1924 are marked: motorcars are a frequent sight on the roads; a passenger may travel to Paris by aeroplane as easily as by ferry; women have seats in the House of Commons; the hems of women's dresses are several inches shorter and the corset has almost been consigned to history. More tragically, a generation of young men has been killed in a brutal war.
By contrast, what we witness at Downton Abbey is a world that still prefers to move slowly. The drama comes as we watch our friends and see how they each react in their own ways to these modern intrusions. Some are sympathetic, some fight against them, others actively encourage them along.
'At Skelton Park, they're down to a butler, a cook, two maids and a cleaning woman who comes in from the village. And that's their lot.'
CARSON: 'It puts us back in agreement, Mrs Hughes. I'm not comfortable when you and I are not in agreement.'
MRS HUGHES: 'You're very flattering. When you talk like that, you make me want to check in the looking glass to see that my hair's tidy.'
CARSON: 'Get away with you.
The gatekeeper to Downton Abbey is Mr Carson – our fierce defender of the old way of life. The butler of the house, he holds absolute superiority below stairs – and occasionally, it seems, above stairs too. Carson knows the glory days are behind him – the so-called long Edwardian summer before the war, when he enjoyed a full retinue of servants at his command, liveried and polished, always at the ready to serve the nobility in the dining room. Now he must scrape along with Thomas as under-butler and Jimmy and Molesley for footmen; he's even endured a maid serving in the dining room. Most unsettlingly of all, rather than a family of pure blue blood, the former chauffeur, Tom Branson, now sits at the dinner table. Snob though he is, we must try to be sympathetic. If Carson minds so terribly about whether or not the correct pudding glasses have been put out, it is because he feels that unless he does so, the whole world may as well have gone to rack and ruin and his entire life and career will be completely without meaning. Of course, every house did things differently, but the code by which Carson lives is not simply a set of rules to manage the Downton household – it underpins his very existence.
Mrs Hughes, as housekeeper, is Carson's ally below stairs and together they rule the servants, managing not only their daily tasks, but giving them guidance in their personal lives. In many respects, Carson and Mrs Hughes are the mirror reflection of their master and mistress, Lord and Lady Grantham, as the parents of the servant family. Mrs Hughes is different to Carson in one important respect, however – while she enjoys her job, with the dignity and responsibility that it brings, she is not in thrall to her employers. Mrs Hughes has a career and, although it does not seem that she has much time away from it, there is a definite sense that she has, at the very least, a life of her own, if only for an hour or two at a time. It means that she is able to regard the changes in the world with a sympathetic eye – not any moral lapses, mind, but when it comes to relieving the work of the maids with an electrical gadget or two, she is more than happy to try new things.
The last time we saw Carson and Mrs Hughes they were walking hand in hand together into the sea. Could this be the beginning of a romance? If it is, it would not be altogether surprising, as many butlers went into retirement to open a seaside hotel with their former housekeepers or housemaids. Of course, we hope that this would be more than a pragmatic arrangement between our two much-loved characters, but we shall have to wait and see.
JIMMY: 'Well, I think it's fantastic. When did we last have a prime minister who understood the working class? Never. That's when.'
CARSON: 'It's a qualification that is meaningless in terms of Government.'
Beyond the vast, rolling grounds of Downton Abbey the political landscape is changing – so drastically that the effects are felt even in the depths of this great house. In January 1924, Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government lost a vote of no confidence and Ramsay MacDonald became Britain's first Labour prime minister. It was a minority government and MacDonald was, in fact, to lose the general election the following year to his old rival, Baldwin. But even so, to have a Labour government in power at all signified a huge shift in traditional British politics, where the aristocracy had ruled the country practically since a government had formed. While the socialist movement had been gathering pace since the middle of the previous century, the 1924 election proved that the winds had changed for good. The working classes were at last able to believe that it was possible for them to have a say in how their country was run (many had only been able to vote for the first time when suffrage was extended in 1919); aristocrats could no longer sit comfortably in the belief that they had a divine right to rule. Quite the opposite. It wouldn't be going too far to say that the upper classes believed that they were under attack – certainly, this is how Robert and Violet feel.
In short, the idea that everyone knew their place in society and was happy to adhere to it had finally broken down completely. For people like Robert, Violet and Carson, the only result could be chaos. But for others, it meant hope.
However, while ideas may be changing, the practical daily life of Downton Abbey is out of step with the pace. That is, so long as Carson has anything to do with it. As the year begins, he will be keen to ensure that those matters over which he has jurisdiction will run along the same well-oiled lines he has always presided over. 'He is struggling to keep everything the same,' says Jim Carter, of his character. 'He believes he is the guardian of the standards, and while he is ultimately pragmatic, the sands are shifting beneath his feet.'
MRS HUGHES: 'I think it's exciting. We're catching up, Mr Carson. Whether you like it or not, Downton is catching up with the times we live in.'
CARSON: 'That is exactly what I am afraid of.'
So it is that, as the day begins, Carson will continue to keep his place at the head of the table in the servants' hall, Mrs Hughes on his right, as Daisy serves the hot toast for their breakfast. Carson's scrambled eggs are served to him by the hall boy, a youngster of fourteen or fifteen years old, in training to be a footman. The other servants – Bates, Anna, Baxter, Mr Barrow (for he must be addressed as such, now he is under-butler), Molesley and the other housemaids – are ranged around the table in strict hierarchical order, as was ever thus. The servants are fewer and the household budget is smaller in this post-war world, but Carson still does his best to maintain a pre-war air.
Despite his troubles, Carson is supported in his determination to stick to the old ways by his working relationship with Lord Grantham. For a master and his butler to be together for years was not uncommon and for many men, their butler was the one ally in whom they could confide most openly about their worries when it came to matters of the family. Husbands who did not wish to worry their wives about household budgets always turned to their butlers first. They may also have simply found it reassuring that there was someone else in charge in the house – one who knew exactly how to tend the excellent management of the wine cellar or ensure the fires were lit and the silver perfectly polished when there were guests to impress. Julian Fellowes remembers his wife's ninety-year-old aunt sadly recalling the year her father's butler died: 'They had been together a long time ... he was very quiet that summer.'
ISOBEL: 'It seems rather unlikely. To think of Spratt with a private life.'
VIOLET: 'Yes, unlikely and extremely inconvenient.'
ISOBEL: But you can't begrudge him that, surely. Servants are human beings, too.'
VIOLET: 'Yes. But preferably only on their days off.'
Not that our friends at Downton Abbey are always perfect. The Dowager Countess, Violet, a stalwart believer in the old ways, is not such a friend of her own butler – although, perhaps, the women rarely were, preferring the confidences of their lady's maids.
But quite apart from the fact that it was nicer at home if you liked the people you lived with, whether as employer or employee, there was also the matter of pride at stake. Lord and Lady Grantham need to remain at the top of the social ladder by ensuring any noble or important guests that come to stay are impressed by the grandeur and comfort in which they live.
For Carson and Mrs Hughes, this means putting on a good show for these guests, demonstrating their high professional standards. Part of their job is to instil this motivation in the younger servants. Those who do well will enjoy promotion, either at Downton Abbey or elsewhere. There existed an efficient underground servants' network which passed along news of vacancies as well as gossip about any employers who treated their servants badly. The real challenge that faces our two most experienced and senior servants at Downton Abbey is that the younger generation no longer feel the same way about service as they did when starting out. It is neither the respected nor safe career it was before the war. While Carson and Mrs Hughes see their positions in an earl's household as prestigious, the pinnacle of a successful career and most likely a welcome escape from alternative lives as a music-hall act or farmer's wife, the younger servants are weighing up new, sometimes much more attractive options.
After the war, those who lived in the rural areas of the country no longer had to choose solely between farming or service for a career. Train travel meant that going further afield for work was not the daunting separation from one's family that it once had been. New technology opened up exciting possibilities and those who were clever could aim to be electricians (revered as 'men of science') or chauffeurs. Even the women could leave and find jobs as telephonists or secretaries. Work in factories or shops, while not exactly new or better paid, was, thanks again to trains and motorcars, not quite as out of reach as it had been, with the plus that it offered much shorter working hours. These opportunities appealed to men who had fought in the war and had seen another way of life. It suited many of the big houses too, which had less money, thanks to the post-war high taxes, and had managed to survive without their usual retinue of servants when everyone was away fighting – they were less inclined to hire them all back again.
At Downton Abbey, some of these changes are being felt. There are rumblings from the likes of Thomas (though he's the type that will always find something to complain about) and Jimmy that there must be more to life than being a servant, and even mild-mannered Alfred has gone to London to work at the Ritz, flying in the face of his family's – and Carson's – expectations for him. But, for the most part, even in what he considers to be reduced circumstances, Carson puts his best face on it and sticks to the routine.
'The way things are going, life will be lived in much closer quarters in the future. My grandparents lived in vast rooms, surrounded by staff. If they disagreed they'd hardly have known it. But it won't be like that for us. I must be sure I'm right to want this man, as my friend, my lover, my husband. MARY
Mrs Hughes's housemaids will be up at 5.30 a.m. daily in order to get the house ready before the family comes down. Once Robert, Tom and Edith are down for breakfast, the maids move swiftly upstairs to make their beds and clean their bedrooms, before doing the same for Cora and Mary once they are up and dressed – as married women, they enjoy breakfast in bed. During the day, the maids are never seen in the public rooms by the family, but will do the remainder of their work below stairs or out of sight. The servants' quarters also have to be kept clean. Occasionally the maids may help out at mealtimes, carrying dishes between the kitchen and the dining room.
Carson, meanwhile, will be fussing Mr Barrow and the footmen to lay the table for breakfast before they have their own. As senior servants, they are served by hall boys and kitchen maids. (Mrs Patmore's kitchen assistants have, of course, also been up since dawn to begin their long cooking day.) Breakfast over, there will be various tasks, from polishing silver to serving coffee in the library or lighting the fires. Generally the footmen were thought to have the easiest jobs of the house, having been hired for their good looks and splendour in livery, all the better for impressing guests. The very best footmen were not only six foot tall, but exactly the same height as each other, which looked most impressive when they were standing either side of the front door.
Excerpted from A Year In The Life Of Downtown Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, Nick Briggs. Copyright © 2014 Jessica Fellowes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
FOREWORD by Julian Fellowes
SERIES 5 CAST LIST
JANUARY : The Year Ahead
SPOTLIGHT ON GARETH NEAME
FEBRUARY: The Children
SPOTLIGHT ON FOOD
SPOTLIGHT ON LOCATIONS
SPOTLIGHT ON JULIAN FELLOWES
SPOTLIGHT ON HAIR & MAKE-UP
JUNE: The London Season
SPOTLIGHT ON COSTUME
SPOTLIGHT ON PROPS
SPOTLIGHT ON ALASTAIR BRUCE
SEPTEMBER: The House Party
SPOTLIGHT ON EALING STUDIOS
OCTOBER: Living on the Estate
SPOTLIGHT ON MUSIC
NOVEMBER: The Sporting Season
SPOTLIGHT ON LIZ TRUBRIDGE
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent! A must read for Downton Abbey followers and historical buffs. A very interesting and comfortable easy read. This new book extends the information contained in the previous books by providing new background of English aristocratic history in the 1920'a and how the seasons and personal activities reflected that era.
This book has been a very interesting & exciting read!! Anyone interested in life in the 1920's will love this book. The pictures are beautiful! There are so many stories and examples to go along with each theme for the month. Best Downton Abbey book yet!
Loved this book!!! Lots of great information and beautiful photos. Definitely a great addition to all things Downton. Do I need say more?