‘Downton Abbey’ has become required Sunday night viewing again on the ‘tele’, this time set in the period after the first World War. For all the depredations of the war, and looming death duties, the earl still seems to have an awful lot of servants scuttling around below stairs.
Here at Staunton the tenth earl conveniently died three years before the war started. He had insisted on living in great style up to the end, leaving his successor, a distant cousin, in much reduced circumstances. Buildings were less well maintained, no trees were planted. The eleventh and twelfth earls must have lived in a state of constant anxiety.
Though the social divisions are still enforced we see instances in Downton where the servants rebuke their employers. This reminds me of the story told to us by Lady Penelope, who came to live at Staunton Hall as a girl in 1937, following her grandfather’s death. Exploring the house with her brother, Robin, they burst through a door and found Miss Smith, the housekeeper, on the other side. “Good morning my Lord, good morning my Lady – I think you’ll find that side of the house is yours, and this side is ours.” Lady Penelope now lives in Cornwall, near to her daughter, but comes to see us every now and then, and tells us how the house was used in her youth.
Penelope had s sister, Elizabeth, so there were three children living in the hall seventy five years ago just a s there are now, but without Miss Smith to tell them of the ‘no go’ areas.