Friday, January 10, 2014

Tour the Manor then Life Below Stairs Downton Abbey Anglesey Abbey

Tour the Manor, Experience Life Below Stairs, Just like Downton Abbey, Anglesey Abbey
Maggie Smith 8 x 10 Photo Downton Abbey Violet Crawley

Visiting the UK, thanks to their National Trust, you can tour "over 300 historic buildings, from the grand and imposing to the small and quirky." You may find a similar experience in historical homes in the US.

One of the sites that the show Downton Abbey was filmed is a National Trust estate, Basildon Park. A Georgian mansion, it is billed as "an 18th-century house, a 1950s home."

This summer, one of the estates, Anglesey Abbey, northeast of Cambridge, is starting a Life Below Stairs feature. Several properties already offer it. Were you a fan of Upstairs, Downstairs with Jean Marsh in the 70s? The show is still available to watch.

** This type of experience is not limited to historical homes in the UK. The Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut has Beck & Call: The Interactive Servant Tour: See Mark Twain's spectacular home through the eyes and words of their servants. It's scheduled again for early September 2014. Watch for "more dates added due to popular demand!" What historical homes are in your area? (See links below.)

Much of this article speaks of Anglesey Abbey, its history and the experience there. Other historic homes in the UK have a Life Below Stairs exhibit. Check before visiting to see if the home you're off to visit has what you want to see. Some houses change their exhibits for the seasons.

"If you want to delve behind the scenes and get a taste of life below stairs, then pay us a visit. Many of our historic houses have sculleries, kitchens, dairies, butlers’ pantries, servants’ bedrooms and other downstairs rooms that visitors can enjoy, alongside the glamorous ‘upstairs’ rooms of the families who lived there." -- National Trust web site, UK


Life Below Stairs: In the Victorian & Country House 

"Giving a fascinating insight into the hierarchy within the servant's
Jean Marsh Upstairs Downstairs
8x10" Photo #B2096
quarters—from the power–wielding cook to the ever–discreet butler—this guide describes how relationships were forged and changed as the gap between upstairs and downstairs was bridged." Available in paper or Kindle ereader versions. -- excerpts from Amazon description

The Below Stairs experiences at the homes are not all alike. The new Anglesey Abbey presentation will be interactive. Their experience will be set in the 1960s when the former owner Lord Fairhaven died. 

Visitors will be able to learn how to things such as mix cocktails, polish the silver and make flower arrangements. Wodehouse's and Stephen Fry's Jeeves would be oh-so proud.

In December 2013, a call went out in local papers such as Cambridge News
"Antique tea trays and dusty coal scuttles are needed as part of a project to help people experience life below stairs. ... 

"The plan is to dress domestic rooms such as the Butler’s Pantry, Kitchen, Scullery, Servants Hall and Brushing Room with artefacts from 1926 – 1966, the period that the house was owned by Lord Fairhaven. An extensive list of artefacts has been compiled ranging from cinema tickets, postcards, tea trays, potato mashers and cake storage tins to coal scuttles."

Dan Stevens Autographed
Signed 8x10 Photo COA Downton Abbey Abbey Rare
“This is an exciting opportunity for local people to share their stories of working  at Anglesey Abbey and give visitors the chance to learn about how it all really worked. Volunteers will teach visitors how domestic servants carried out their roles and visitors will get a chance to have a go at table setting, flower arranging and collection cleaning, giving them hands-on experience of domestic life at the Abbey.” -- Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, National Trust

Maggie Smith 8x10
Color Photo
"Instead of copper pans and mangles, think SodaStreams and Hoovers – because it’s being done 1960s-style," a June 2013 Cambridge News article about the upcoming addition boasted.

Lord Fairhaven, a half-American aristocrat, spent thousands transforming Anglesey Abbey into a glorious home with beautiful gardens. A former military man, he had a passion for clocks and kept his staff on a very strict time table. 

The home was bequeathed to the National Trust on the strict proviso that it would be preserved as is when he died. He died of a pulmonary embolism in 1966.

For those of us who aren't headed to England any time soon, there are some good books to give an idea of how life was back in the day. The Real Life Downton Abbey: How Life Was Really Lived in Stately Homes a Century Ago

"Be nice to the people you meet on the way up. You'll meet the same people on the way down!"
-- found this quote attributed to at least three people :)

"Lord Fairhaven was more fastidious than most. In these rooms, their boss’s shoelaces would be neatly ironed, sandwiches (wafer-thin to the point of transparency) would be painstakingly prepared, tins of his favorite snack – sardines – were rotated like fine wine, and carnations would be selected: he insisted on choosing a colored bloom to wear during the day, and a white one at night." -- information from the Cambridge News article.

Immerse yourself and your family in a time gone by. Visit one of these homes and it will be a benefit to both England's National Trust and to you. Make it a real educational experience by incorporating it into a learning plan with your child's teacher or schooling you family yourself. 

We learn so much more when we're having fun. Any way that the past is being saved, remembered and honored is a good thing.

Not all of the homes have interactive exhibits and some of them are closed during the winter months. Many of them will decorate for the holidays. Grand as they are, films or television shows may have been filmed at these locations.

Ideas for Activities or Lesson Plans:

Think about recipes, foods they may have eaten during the era of the home
Jeeves & Wooster:
Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie
The Complete Series
also Streaming on Amazon Instant
you're touring. Clothes and accessories they wore, the people upstairs and downstairs. Talk about class structure, now and then. 

What was playing in the movies, what were radio shows and plays? Who were the famous singers and actors? What was the technology they worked with? The most current important discoveries?

Related Pages of Interest:

Name these TV Maids/Housekeepers

Mollie Sugden Are You Being Served?

Diamonds are a Man's Best Friend; Are You Being Served?

References Sources:

Tour homes and estates in the UK owned by The National Trust

Mark Twain House, Hartford, Connecticut

Volunteers for Anglesey Abbey were needed: The Cambridge News

Life Below Stairs programs in National Trust homes UK 

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