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The real Downton Abbey

Can't get enough of Downton Abbey, and are living for the next instalment of the popular TV period drama series tomorrow night? The World of Downton Abbey is a new book about the inspiration behind the show and it takes us into the world of the English landed gentry, plus the servant class during Edwardian times, when Downton Abbey is set.

The TV series is written by actor and writer Julian Fellowes, while this new glossy coffee-table book is the work of his niece, the former deputy editor of Country Life, Jessica Fellowes.


The Crawley sisters, Mary, Edith and Sybil, want for nothing but freedom

An Edwardian woman was prohibited from going out without a chaperone, and from walking alone in London's Piccadilly or Bond Street, or sitting in Hyde Park, unless accompanied.

She had to be careful not to compromise herself, and therefore at a ball, would never dance twice with the same man. She was expected to know her place in the social hierarchy and to honour the differences in social ranking. In 1911, Lady Diana Manners, the third daughter of the 8th Duke of Rutland, was presented at Court. "I had made my own train -- three yards of cream net sprinkled generously with pink rose-petals, each attached by a diamond dewdrop. I was nervous of making my double curtsy. The courtiers are very alarming and martinettish -- they shoo you and pull you back and speak to you as they would to a wet dog."

Stylish Cora, The Countess of Grantham and the cost of fashionable entertaining

Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress who married the Duke of Marlborough (and an inspiration for Cora, The Countess of Grantham) described a shooting weekend in 1896. The duchess was a bride at 19 and she found the number of costume changes to be exhausting. "To begin with, even breakfast, which was served at 9.30am in the dining-room, demanded that we be wearing an elegant costume of velvet or silk. Having seen the men off to their sport, the ladies spent the morning reading the papers and sharing gossip that wouldn't have been mentioned in the company of the men.

"We next changed into tweeds to join the guns for luncheon, which was usually served in the High Lodge or in a tent. An elaborate tea gown was donned for tea, after which we played cards or listened to a Viennese band or to the organ until time to dress for dinner, when again we adorned ourselves in satin, or brocade, with a great display of jewels. All these changes necessitated a tremendous outlay, since one was not supposed to wear the same gown twice. That meant 16 dresses for four days."

Why Lady Mary Crawley is in urgent need of a husband

Jessica Fellowes writes: "The concept of marriage bringing freedom may seem strange to us in the 21st century, but it was as much about providing a woman with an identity, one that she was unable to claim as long as she lived with her parents. Having been a pawn in her mother's match-making games and required to dress and act demurely in her father's house and unable to travel anywhere without a chaperone, a woman was more or less able to write her own rules once married."

Wartime menus; people upstairs didn't go hungry during WWI

Former footman Gordon Grimmett remembers the sophistication of food at Longleat House (used as research for Downton Abbey) during the First World War. "Each week, three sheep of different breeds were butchered for the household, a Southdown, Westmoreland and a Brittany. We also had pheasant, partridge, goose, venison, hare and rabbit. Rarely was beef served. The meat course was followed by a variety of puddings and cheeses. Since there was no gas or electricity, all food was cooked on charcoal."


Servants seeking love

Margaret Powell was a housemaid in the 1920s and her life below stairs is the basis for the lives of servants such as Daisy Robinson in the series.

"The business of getting a young man was not respectable, and one's employers tended to degrade every relationship. It seemed to me one was expected to find husbands under a gooseberry bush. Their daughters were debs and they could meet young men at balls, dances and private parties, but if any of the servants had boyfriends they were known as 'followers'. You had to slink up the area steps and meet on the corner of the road on some pretext like going to post a letter." Most female servants in big houses left service in their mid-20s to get married.

The butler, a trusted position

Charles Dean (born 1895) was second footman for the Duke of Beaufort, before working as butler for Princess Obolensky -- and has inspired butler Charles Carson's close relationship with The Earl of Grantham.

"The thing about being a butler/valet is that you're in very close contact with the family. With the Obolenskys, whom I'd joined at the beginning of their marriage, I was able to watch happiness turn into mutual acceptance, lovers' tiffs into wrangling, see boredom lead to suspicion. Things were said which couldn't be taken back and consolation was sought from others.

"People are quick to criticise the morals of the rich. Under stress, employers sometimes forgot themselves and asked for opinions, and even advice from their near servants."