Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Downton but not as we know it!

A while ago, Sharon over at Sharon’sunlit memories mentioned she was enjoying Downton Abbey.

For those of you who don’t know, Downton Abbey is a costume drama starring Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville. It first aired in the UK in September 2010 and in the United States in January 2011 and has gone on to be a huge success loved by millions, including Sharon and me! The series is set on the fictional estate of Downton Abbey and depicts the lives of the Crawley family and their servants.

Sharon’s comment reminded me of a visit to Downton Abbey aka Highclere Castle in 1999. It also prompted me to look out some of the photographs. We were there for the wedding of Nicola and Jay. Nicola is the daughter of two of our oldest and dearest friends. 

I'm sorry about the quality of some of the pictures my camera was struggling with the lack of light.

Nicola was the perfect fairy tale princess, and the castle was beautifully bedecked for Christmas. 

The wedding took place in the Saloon, seen here from the staircase.

I thought my outfit was perfect but looking at it now I'm not so sure! I wish I could go back and chose something more suitable for the occasion and surroundings. I don’t have the suit any more, but the 'fascinator' is carefully preserved in tissue paper. You never know it might turn out to be a collector’s item one day!

It was nice to be part of the upstairs family for a day, but if we were to travel back in time I'm sure our place would be firmly downstairs!

My mum often talked about her days as a scullery maid (the lowest grade of ‘below stairs’ maid). Her duties included many of the most menial tasks, cleaning and scouring the scullery floor, washing all the pots and pans and lighting the fires on the kitchen stove. One of her most vivid memories was of making beeswax polish. This involved melting beeswax in a pan of turpentine; all was going well until she decided to leave it ‘simmering’ and get on with some of her other tasks. The result was a fire, followed by a very serious telling off and a docking of two week's wages.  Mum was born in 1917, so I would guess this must have been around 1931. I can’t watch Downton without thinking about her and wishing I could ask her more about her time below stairs.


  1. You certainly know how to stir peoples memories by recalling some of your own. Thank you! Like yours my Mum was in service and for a time Dad was butler in the same house. Right up to the lady's death she and mum coresponded. (I still have the letters) Mum's mum,Granny Moore, left home to go into service as a maid at a big estate. She bought her mum a clock for £1 with her first wages. A lot of hard earned cash back then. Thats over a hundred year ago. The clock is still in the family and still working. Its memories like these, as you say, that brink back the sorrow of ones parents demize...........

  2. barbaraannefisher30 October 2012 at 11:28

    Hi John, I had no idea your mum and dad were ‘in service’. Your dad must have been important being a butler, certainly a step up from the position my mum held. My dad used to deliver milk (by horse and cart) to the house in Harley Street. That's where he, and mum met. I wish I had taken more notice when they talked about the old days.
    I love the story of the clock. I'm humming ‘grandfather’s clock’ as I type this.

  3. That most certainly was a fairytale wedding and it looks like it was absolutely beautiful. I love that Christmas was the background adding to the festivities.
    We have been watching Downton Abby too and enjoying it so much. I love those period dramas, but depending on our Presidential election outcome, we may lose the station that runs them.
    Your poor mom, I can only imagine how scared she must have been when all that happened. I hope she was working for some kind people, who didn't make her life totally miserable. Thanks for sharing this bit of family history with us. I always find it so interesting.

  4. rusticvintagecountry30 October 2012 at 13:14

    Gosh, your poor old Mum! I have the book of Downton Abbey which is not only about the series but goes into how life was for the people 'downstairs' with their duties etc. It looks a really interesting read but at the moment has to take it's turn in my reading pile that i'm working through! Suzy x

  5. Oh my goodness Barbara - this is such a wonderful post for so many reasons. First of all thank you for the mention at the beginning. I've even managed to get my teenage son 'hooked' on the series with me as well - although I don't think I'm supposed to broadcast that fact! He was asking me during Sunday's episode about the 'real' Downton - I didn't know that much about it. How fabulous that you actually went there. The wedding looked glorious - what a beautiful fairytale occasion it must have been ( and as Alex commented Christmas provided a perfect backdrop.)

    I also loved reading your snippet about your mum's time in service. I could just feel the horror she must have experienced when the beeswax caught fire. Like you I also wish I could find out more from my grandparents (and even my parents) - all of them are gone now! My mother's mum's story was fascinating. Her mother fell in love and was married (by the captain) on board ship sailing from Bath to Cape Town (1908). She was pregnant when they arrived. Her husband left her with her relatives in CT and went to prepare a home for them with his people inland. She never heard from him again. She had to wait 7 years for the marriage to be annulled before she could marry again. My grandmother grew up thinking her stepfather (a Jewish refugee from Russia) was her real father and it was only when she got married herself that she discovered the truth. She was phoned on honeymoon and told she wasn't legally married yet as she had signed the register with a surname that did not match the one on her birth certificate! I've always thought there was a great novel in this bit of family history!

  6. barbaraannefisher30 October 2012 at 15:53

    Hi Alex,
    Perhaps you should vote for the candidate who would keep the station!! Failing that you might be able to get future episodes on DVD. Downton is the highlight of my week, so I would hate to miss any episodes.
    Mum was expecting to be dismissed after the fire, but that didn’t happen so they must have been reasonably kind people.

  7. barbaraannefisher30 October 2012 at 19:12

    Hy Suzy I didn’t realise there was a book about Downton Abbey –but now I do it’s gone straight onto my Christmas present list! Thanks for the info and for calling in.

  8. barbaraannefisher30 October 2012 at 19:24

    Hello Sharon, thanks so much for your lovely comment! I enjoy everything to do with Christmas and weddings – so it really was a fairytale and Nicole made the perfect princes. Tell your son not to worry we won’t tell anyone he likes Downton!

    Your poor great grandma, I wonder what happened to her husband? You should write that novel, I know it would be a best seller!

  9. I love Downton Abbey and am waiting for the next season here. I am so hoping it will continue, as Alex said Mr. R. does not think we need public broadcasts. I adore the period pieces with the costumes and gorgeous homes. Very interesting how society worked back then too. Wonderful photos and story about your mum and the beeswax ... bless her heart!

  10. Garden Of Daisies30 October 2012 at 20:49

    We are really enjoying Downton Abbey over on this side of the pond, too. The wedding you went to looks very fairytale like. I can't even imagine a more gorgeous place to have a wedding. Very interesting story about your Mum. She probably did everything she could to make sure you had a different kind of life.

  11. What a great post and photos, and I loved the story about your mum's time in service!
    Downton Abbey is on TV here as well, and we enjoy watching it :)

  12. The Desert Rocks30 October 2012 at 23:44

    The wedding photos are gorgeous. What a lovely dress and a beautiful couple. Your poor mum.

  13. How wonderful that you attended a wedding at Highclere Castle! I love the photos. I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey and can't wait for the next season which we will get in the New Year. My husband just bought me a book written by the current Countess of Carnarvon called Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle I am so enjoying it. So this post was timely! Thanks.

  14. barbaraannefisher31 October 2012 at 09:47

    No Downton, no vote! Mum had lots of stories to tell about her time in service, but sadly, I didn’t take much notice at the time – now of course I wish I had.I appreciate your comment, thank you.

  15. barbaraannefisher31 October 2012 at 15:51

    Hi Gayle, Isn’t Downton great? Mum certainly did try to ensure my sister, brother and I had different lives than she did, and we have.

  16. barbaraannefisher31 October 2012 at 15:52

    Thanks Hilde, I had a lot of fun with this one!

  17. barbaraannefisher31 October 2012 at 15:54

    Thanks Eve, Nicola and Jay do make a lovely couple, and the venue was magical. Mum did have quite a few highlights while ‘in service’ one was meeting dad!

  18. barbaraannefisher31 October 2012 at 16:00

    Hello Darlene, I think it’s difficult not to be a fan of Downton! The new season is every bit as good as the last one, so I’m sure you will enjoy it. The lost legacy of Highclere Castle sounds like something I would enjoy – another for my Christmas list!

  19. I haven't seen the show- but I so enjoyed your pictures. Your friend's daughter does look like a princess. :) I also liked finding out a bit more about your mum. I am sure she had lots of stories she could tell about her job. I know from working as a waitress at fancy parties when I was in college that the staff often sees a whole different side to things.

  20. What a fabulous post! How interesting! I would love to get married in a magical place like that- thanks so much for sharing- crazy about the beeswax polish! ~ Jess

  21. barbaraannefisher1 November 2012 at 11:07

    I’m sure you would enjoy Downton. I really didn’t think it would be my kind of thing, but I’m hooked!
    Maybe you should write down your memories while they are still fresh in your mind – they will prove very interesting to someone one day.
    We are trying to persuade my husband's dad to write down his war time experiences, he did so much, but once he is gone all those memories will go with him.

  22. barbaraannefisher1 November 2012 at 11:09

    Thanks Jess, it is the most beautiful setting for a wedding.

  23. Love Downton! And that is so interesting about your mother!

  24. barbaraannefisher1 November 2012 at 15:32

    Hi Leanne, me too! Sunday nights would not be the same without it!

  25. Thanks for sharing your mum's memories. Downton is much loved at my house.

  26. barbaraannefisher2 November 2012 at 05:50

    Hi Jane, it was fun to share. Great to hear from you.

  27. Barbara, we don't have Downtown here but loved watching Upstairs, Downstairs and I see the new series is being shown here.

    The first time I ever heard the word scullery was from my Great Grandmother who always referred to an area of her house as the scullery.

    You're poor Mum and the beeswax fire, she must have been very frightened.

  28. barbaraannefisher2 November 2012 at 19:17

    Hi Michelle, I loved upstairs, downstairs so I suppose it’s no surprise that I also love Downton! The word scullery was used a lot when I was growing up, but you don’t hear it much now. Mum was terrified, not least because she expected to be given her marching orders – thankfully that didn’t happen.

  29. Oh, what lovely pictures. I'll have to find what channel this airs on and watch it. I think your suit was perfect. You're right. Nicola makes a most beautiful fairy tale princess. I'd love to hear more of your mum's stories as a scullery maid. Maybe you could blog on that someday. Can you imagine doing all that, or having your wages docked for two weeks?

  30. barbaraannefisher5 November 2012 at 10:43

    Well thank you Donna, I feel a bit better about ‘that’ suit now! You won’t regret watching Downton it’s wonderful – Sunday nights just would not be the same without it.
    I don’t remember much of what mum told me, just every now and then that something triggers a memory. I was never really interested when I was younger and now that I am she is no longer around to ask.

  31. Oh no, two weeks' wages must have been a lot in those days. I hope your mother did not suffer much grief (nor any injury from the fire). I'd have loved to hear more about her time as a scullery maid, too. Downton Abbey is a wonderful series and I caught a few episodes of Season II. When the first season aired, it reminded me of the movie 'Gosford Park' because of the issues surrounding the upstairs and downstairs folks, and that there's also hierarchy within the two groups. (I thought you looked lovely in that suit, Barbara. The 'fascinator' ~ I'm guessing that's the hair accessory? That looks great!)

  32. barbaraannefisher6 November 2012 at 08:17

    Hi Claudine, it was a lot of money – but being dismissed would have been much, much worse. Her pride was dented, but she wasn’t injured. I wish I could ask her more about it. I remember her saying the fire brigade were sent for, and I think it was a horse-drawn pump, but I’m not sure if that is something she told me or something I imagined.
    Thank you for your kind comments re my suit, I’ve always felt I should have worn something ‘floaty’ it would have been more in keeping with the place. You are spot on re the fascinator – much easier to wear than a hat, and I did like that.

  33. I love this post, Barbara. Thank you so much for sharing your photos and stories. I'm never disappointed when I stop by :)


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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