Because it was written, filmed and designed primarily for the British audience, there are many expressions and references used in the hit TV series Downton Abbey that may not make sense to viewers living outside of England. This page provides insights and explanations to help people better understand the series and in so doing, enjoy it even more. The intent is to avoid trivia that is already available in the series' extras or other websites. Most of the information came from Wikipedia.
1. The sinking of the Titanic starts the series. In 1912 the RMS Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship ever launched. Her disastrous sinking on her maiden voyage was one of the greatest marine disasters of all time. The Titanic was 882 feet long, displaced slightly over 52,000 tons and could maintain a constant speed of 21 knots.
When she sank from a collision with an iceberg, over 1500 of the 2224 people on board perished.
At first blame was placed on the captain because he was passing through an area with known icebergs at full speed. Many experts have discounted this because at the time this was accepted practice. Many ships had survived collisions with icebergs under similar circumstances so the captain was just following precedent.
Next blame was placed on the steel hull plates because two small samples were recovered and shattered when tested. Later studies of larger plates established those first two samples were anomalous and that the steel was not to blame.
Then people started pointing fingers at the rivets, claiming that to save money the building company used inferior iron rivets in many places instead of steel rivets throughout the ship. The fact that her identical sister ships the Olympic and Britannic sailed for many years without problem even though they had endured multiple collisions during their service is strong evidence that the iron rivets were more than sufficient. In fact the Olympic was so well build it purposely rammed and cut in two a German submarine during World War I with little or no damage.
The sad truth is that no one may have been to blame. The ship was built as well as any ship could be at that time and the captain followed established operating procedures. The real fault has to be placed on an iceberg that was just to big for any ship to survive a collision.
"RMS" in the case of the Titanic stands for Royal Mail Steamer, since it carried mail. Had it not, RMS would mean Royal Merchant Steamer.
2. Because Valets and lady's maids were hired by the lord and lady of the house rather than by the butler or housekeeper, they enjoyed significantly higher status than other servants. Their intimacy with the lord and lady usually equated to greater job security, higher wages and less strenuous work. This explains why Thomas coveted Bates' position and O'Brien's behavior was more tolerated than if she had been just one of the other female staff members.
The job of helping someone get dressed sounds odd today, but back then both the lord and lady would change clothes four and five times a day so having a helper was a major time saver. Many of his lordship's suits also required the attachment of multiple studs and cufflinks, difficult for one person to do. Many men's suits and ladies dresses were made out of materials that did not lend themselves to washing, so a valet or ladies maid would need to know many tricks for removing spots and stains without destroying the cloth.
Because most upper class ladies had ladies maids to help them get dressed and dress makers knew this, they could design and make dresses that had hooks and fasteners in places that would make them almost impossible for the wearer to do themselves, so the two professions supported each other. Practical zippers weren't available until 1925.
3. Edith's middle name is Josephine.
4. Matthew is a solicitor. In the British legal system solicitors do all of the legal work occurring outside of a courthouse: mainly wills, conveyances, contracts, etc. If they represent a client going to court, they find (solicit) a barrister to do so. Only barristers defend or represent people in court.
5. In Britain, "pudding" means the same as "dessert" does in other countries and doesn't necessarily refer to a set custard.
6. Bates was introduced as being Lord Grantham's batman during the Boer was. A batman was a British officer's private orderly. He'd be responsible for taking care of the officer's clothes, like a valet, keeping his quarters orderly and running any errands required. The Boer war (1899-1902) was a south African war waged to throw off Britain's colonial yoke. It didn't succeed.
7. English peerage uses the following terms in descending order: king, prince, duke, marque, earl (called a count in Europe,) viscount and baron. The wife of an earl is referred to as a countess because there isn't a feminine for earl. I couldn't find complete data on the number of peers in 1912, but the following for 2016 should provide some sense of how many there were in the United Kingdom and how they were distributed:
Princes and Princesses = 9
Dukes = 32
Marques = 34
Earls = 191
Viscounts = 114
Barons = 1198
Numerically, this places Lord Grantham in the top 14 percentile. The actual number of people holding these titles is less than the total listed because some peers hold multiple titles. Baronets and Knights are not peers.
1. Early in this episode, Mrs. Crawley corrects her son by stating that they weren't middle class but upper middle class. The distinction was greater than it sounds. The middle class consisted of lawyers, doctors, clerks, low level politicians and other college educated professionals. Upper middle class professionals occupied the same positions, but went to the best schools, were more successful in their professions and usually had some connection to a titled family or a large estate. They spoke standard English devoid of common accents and would have enough refinement to be asked to proper dinner parties by the upper classes. In the class conscious era in the early 1900s the difference between middle class and upper middle class was much greater than between lower middle class and middle class.
2. During one dinner, Lloyd George's name is mentioned, to which the Dowager Countess requests that "that man's name" not be mentioned because they were about to eat, suggesting that just hearing his name would ruin their appetites. Lloyd George was an influential liberal leader who eventually became prime minister. Under his guidance, most of Britain's modern social security programs were created. The problem was that they were funded largely by increased taxes on the rich. In 1890, the average income tax rate in England was a modest 3-percent. By 1922 that had increased to 40-percent. Death duties (inheritance tax) was a mere 8-percent in 1894, but reached an astounding 50-percent by 1922. These two factors drove the collapse of almost all of the large family estates. It's no wonder that the Crawley's felt as if they were being victimized by the liberal party and didn't want them talked about during dinner.
3. At one point the Dowager Countess comments that she may need smelling salts. During Victorian and Edwardian times, these were ammonium carbonate crystals dissolved in perfume or alcohol and soaked into a sponge, which was contained in a small stoppered bottle. The odor was so strong that it was supposed to shock people out of a faint and is still used, though in a different formulation, to shock stunned boxers back to consciousness. It was also used as an affectation by women to show that their upbringing was so pure that even the discussion of an off-color topic was enough to make them swoon, so they would have to take a sniff to revive themselves.
4. The Grizzly Bear Dance Thomas teaches Daisy was a novelty dance originating in the US. It involved unattractive, rough and clumsy steps intended to mimic the sideways shuffling of a large bear. It was considered such a low class dance it was banned in many areas.
5. Dressed down by Lady Crawley, Mrs. O'Brien sarcastically says something like: "... I'll give her three bags full." This is a reference to the Baa Baa Black Sheep poem in which the 'three bags full' of wool passage was a reference to unfair taxation. Most of the time it was a sarcastic response by a servant to an unreasonable demand.
6. It's learned in this episode that Carson spent time on the stage as one half of the Cheerful Charlies. This creates a problem in continuity because later in the series it's mentioned he started as a junior hallboy at 14 and worked his way up to butler. Several biographies have him on the stage from 14 to 19 at the same time he's also supposed to be working as a servant.
7. After the Cheerful Charley's disclosure, Lord Grantham chides Carson for taking it too seriously and says something like: "You're not playing Sidney Carton." This was a character in Dickens' novel The Tale of Two Cities who's saddened because he feels he wasted his life.
8. In one scene the Dowager Countess is seen making tea for her guests. It might seem odd that she'd do so instead of having it prepared in the kitchen. For much of Britain's history, tea was so rare and expensive, and sometimes taxed at over 100-percent its retail price, that it was considered too valuable to leave its brewing to the staff. A house's silver might be worth more, but wasn't so easily pilfered. Consequently the lady of the house would brew it herself, spooning the leaves from a fine container normally kept under lock-and-key. By the time of Downton Abbey, tea prices had dropped considerably but by then the practice had become custom.
1. Mr. Pamuk was in England to represent Turkey in talks to determine the results of the 1st Balkan War. From Oct. 1912 to May 1913, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro went to war with the remnants of the once vast Ottoman Empire. They won and the talks served to divide the Empire between them and establish a free Albania, which had been part of the Ottoman Empire. Afterwards, about all that was left of the Empire was Turkey.
2. Male riders in the hunt wear both red and black coats. At that time, red was reserved for the nobility. In modern times any man can earn a Hunt Masters pin by supporting the hunt in any of a number of different ways. Once the pin is earned they may wear a red coat. Ladies always wear black.
3. The side saddle Lady Mary rides wasn't invented to preserve womanly modesty as much as to accommodate full skirts. By the 1920s split skirts appeared allowing women to straddle the horse, which is much more stable and safer. Soon thereafter, women began wearing trousers.
4. Standard formal evening wear for men was the tail coat, a black, unbuttoned coat with two long tails, white shirt, cream colored vest and white tie. Some humorous moments are created when Lord Grantham has to wear the more modern dinner jacket (tuxedo,) consisting of a black coat cut off straight at the hips, black vest or cummerbund, white shirt and black tie. A tail coat was an expensive garment because it was expected to fit perfectly without being buttoned, which required highly skilled tailoring. The dinner jacket could be buttoned, which enabled it to hold its shape easier.
The question the tail coat begs is: "Where did the tails come from?" The answer is that they were a nod to earlier times when men commonly worn elaborate capes to signal their status. These were inconvenient and evolved into simpler jackets with tails.
5. After the hunt, Mary comments that after bathing they will be "ship shape and Bristol fashion." Many experts believe this idiom comes for the port of Bristol, which experiences such low tides that boats are repeatedly beached. Only ships that were the best could be counted on to withstand such treatment and became known as being Bristol fashion. In time the term was used to describe anything that was properly put together.
6. Also after the hunt, Robert looks at their mud splashed clothes and comments they look like something out of a Trollope novel. Anthony Trollope was a successful and prolific Victorian writer who focused on political, social and gender issues.
7. The Della Francesca painting first appears when Lady Mary Shows it to Mr. Pamuk. In the following double image, the version on the left was shown in Series 1 while the one on the right was used in Series 5:
Several sharped-eyed viewers noticed the change. But what's more interesting is that if it's carefully inspected, there are several features that are still the same. For example, the green arrows point out what looks like an area where the paint chipped away identically in both versions. The red arrows show the same crack in the same place. Even more interesting is that the cyan arrows point out that the halo is identical in both images. There is the same crack, yellow arrow, on both blouses. The implication is that for some reason a different face was pasted over the original one. But why?
The reason comes later in series 5, in which Lady Cora and Mr. Brecker view an actual Dell Francesca in a museum and comment that Cora's might have been a study, or practice picture, for one of the faces in it.
The right-most lute player is the one they were talking about. So, the over-paste appears to have been forced by the continuity people to make the study look similar to the larger painting.
Piero Della Francesca was a renaissance painter (1415 or 1420 to 1492.)
8. After Pamuk's death, everyone is in a state of shock, to which Violet prescribes sweet tea as a pick-me-up. Sweet tea in the 1900s was very strong green tea served iced with as much a one cup of sugar added per eight cups of tea. That gives it twice the amount of sugar as in coca cola. That much sugar and caffeine would be sure to jolt anyone out of the doldrums. It's typically served with a little lemon and is very popular in the southern USA.
9. While touring a church with Edith, Matthew asks something like, "...was the screen was a Cromwell casualty." During the civil war in the middle 1600s, Oliver Cromwell was a major political and military leader. He strove to simplify church proceedings to reflect his Puritan background. He may have directed that the ornate screen, elaborate openwork divider, be torn out because it was immodest, or it could have been damaged during a battle because churches were often used by troops since they were the sturdiest, and therefore safest, building in a town.
11. Near the end of this episode, Robert mentions that Mr. Pamuk was taken care of by Grassby's. Grassby's Funeral Services is a highly respected company founded in 1861 and still in business today.
1. Mrs. Crawley misdiagnoses Molesley's rash as erysipelas, a skin strep infection usually caused by a cut. Prior to Fleming's 1928 discovery of penicillin there was no cure for it. She prescribes tincture of steel (iron chloride dissolved in alcohol) and nitrate of silver. Tincture of steel was one of the most effective treatments and could be either rubbed into the affected area or taken internally. Nitrate of silver, now called silver nitrate, was not effective and often caused burns that were as bad as the original rash.
For much of medical history, human experimentation was common. Patients would go to a doctor with a condition and he would apply something he thought might work or wanted to test. If it worked he'd report it in a medical journal. If it didn't, he'd try something else next time the patient came in. Over time physicians discovered what worked and what didn't, not so much by understanding how various medicines functioned but by the simple process of trial and error.
Fortunately, for Violet but not Mrs. Crawley, Molesley ends up only having a rue allergy. Rue was a bitter herb used sparingly in some dishes, particularly those of India. Its blue leaves also make it an attractive ornamental plant. Its toxic nature has made it fall out of favor for both uses.
2. When Anna catches a cold, Mrs. Hughes sends her to bed and says she will fetch her a Beechams Powder. Beechams Powders are a blend of aspirin and caffeine used to alleviate the symptoms of colds. They are sold in packets and mixed with water or another liquid to be drunk and still popular today.
3. Mrs. Patmore seems to get away with firing a lot of sarcastic remarks at both Mrs. Hughes and Carson. The reason she'd be able to get away with that is that in those times, a good cook was essential for impressing guests with the quality of food the family could offer. Consequently, they earned as much, and sometimes more, as either the butler or housekeeper and were indulged more than any other servant. Like valets and lady's maids, they were often hired directly by the lord and lady of the house rather than by the butler or housekeeper. They were a power all to themselves. The butler managed the footmen. The housekeeper the female staff and the cook ruled over her own staff of assistants and kitchen maids, though they would be hired by the Butler and housekeeper so there was some overlap of authority.
4. In one scene Bates is seen sorting through his lordship's collars to see which should be disposed of. Gentlemen's collars were detachable because they tended to stain or wear out before the rest of the shirt. That way they could be thrown away rather than having to buy an entire shirt. They were also extremely stiff and would not wash well in a system designed for the softer fabric of the shirt.
5. At one point Mrs. Hughes tells William to "stop flanneling." This was a term used to describe someone talking evasively in order to mislead. However, in the context used of the scene it seemed more like she was saying something like, "Stop wasting time and get back to work," but in a friendly, comforting manner.
1. Sir Anthony Strallan's favorite dessert is Apple Charlotte, a thickened, chunky apple sauce (almost an apple pudding) baked in a tin lined with thin buttered bread. It's served warm with whipped cream.
2. At one point Robert says, "You're a braver man than I, Gunga Din." This is the last line of the Rudyard Kipling peon titled Gunga Din about an Indian regiment's general purpose servant who, in spite of being mistreated, was so devoted to the men of the regiment that he lost his life saving one of them.
3. Molesley's father wins an award for his Comtesse Cabarrus rose. I've googled several spelling variations and so far have not found a reference for this rose.
1. Lord and Lady Grantham mention that this was the year in which Sybil would be presented at court. At that time, 18 year old girls of the nobility were presented to the King and Queen in an extremely formal and carefully choreographed function. It represented a royal license for them to attend all the social functions of The Season. It was the most socially significant event in a girl's life.
Queen Elizabeth II abolished it in 1958 because it was being increasingly criticized as preserving the class system and because an entire industry had grown up around it to work the system to get women presented who close scrutiny would establish had no business being there. Another reason may have been fatigue. The March affair had grown to such proportions that by the time of its abolition it took three full days to run the 1,400 debutantes through the gauntlet.
2. While Cora and Violet are discussing plans for Mary, they agree that if nothing develops by the "start of the grouse" they'd ship her off to Italy. Grouse are chicken-sized flying game birds that are a staple of shooting parties. Their season starts on 12 August.
3. "The Season" they mention starts shortly after Christmas and continues until late June. It consisted of a solid schedule of balls, dinner parties and charity events. It faded away after World War I because increased taxes on the aristocracy forced them to sell their London mansions, which formed the foundation of all the Season's activities.
4. When Violet walks into Lady Cora's morning room to discuss what to do about Mary, she points to a chair and asks, "Should I sit here?" This formality of asking permission to sit in someone's house was common in upper society. My father, who was born in 1908 and grew up in the upper crust of Washington DC, once explained that when a guest entered a man's house, he would remain standing until the host not only invited him to sit, but would indicate which chair should be used. The invitation was considered a complement while the position and quality of the chair indicated how sincere the host was. If the host really liked the guest it was a comfortable chair close to him. If the host was just being polite it would be a less comfortable chair located somewhat further away. The bottom line is that a guest would not presume to take a seat without being invited. Assuming similar courtesies existed in Britain at the time, Cora's hesitation to offer Violet a seat would be the same as her saying, "I'm not happy you're here," while Violet's asking, "Should I sit here?" was a dig at Cora for hesitating to follow polite behavior.
1. Cora offers to place an ad in The Lady to help Violet find a new ladies maid. The Lady was short for The Lady's Realm, a very successful women's magazine targeting upper class ladies and upwardly mobile middle class women.
2. Mrs. Patmore has to have surgery to correct her vision loss do to cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens. While it might seem surprising that surgeries such as this were available in 1912, in fact it was one of the oldest surgeries on record, going back to biblical times. The surgery involves removing the opaque lenses. Vision afterward is hopelessly blurred, but easily corrected with coke-bottle thick glasses.
3. Mr. Carson is disgruntled to find several of the understaff in his (the butler's) pantry looking at the new telephone. Any storage room associated with the kitchen was referred to as a pantry. The Butler's pantry was used to store valuables such as the china, silver and wine logs. The butler would often sleep in it for added security even though the valuables were locked in cupboards and the room itself locked at night.
4. British telephones were not uncommon in 1914. Run by the British Postage Service, there were over half a million of them. However, in that there were 45 million people in the UK at this time, that meant that there was only one phone for every 90 people.
5. The garden party at the end of this episode took place on August 4, 1914. That's when Britain declared war on Germany.
1. The episode starts in 1916 with Matthew at the Battle of the Somme, which was a months-long offensive in 1916 intended to end the war. Instead, it turned into the deadliest combat period in the history of mankind. In the first 24 hours, Britain lost over 57,000 men either wounded or dead. Before winter ended it, 1,000,000 men had died or been wounded.
2. When speaking to Edith, Dowager Countess Violet mentions that Edith's great aunt Roberta loaded the guns at Locknow. Locknow was a city in India besieged in 1857 by Indian rebels attempting to throw off the English yoke. To free up as many men as possible to fire rifles, civilian women volunteered to load them for the men, thus demonstrating the ability of even titled ladies to pitch in when required.
3. Speaking of Dowager Countess Violet, A dowager is a woman who inherits property when her husband dies. In England this term is more commonly used when describing a titled lady.
4. The quote, "God moves in a mysterious way, his miracles to perform,' is used in this episode. It comes from the first two lines of a hymn written by William Cowper (1731-1800.) One unsubstantiated source for the hymn was that in a great depression, Cowper planned suicide by throwing himself in the river. On his way there he got lost in a fog and ended up back at his own house. He interpreted the fog as the mysterious way God used to save his life.
5. Branson chided Sybil for talking like a posh, an uncaring upper class snob. A popular urban rumor is that it is an acronym for Port-side-Out, Starboard side Home. Linguist authorities doubt this as true since the term was in use decades before the acronym explanation first appeared.
1. When commenting on Edith's job of driving a tractor for a tenant, the Dowager Countess asks something like, "Is she Toad of Toad Hall?" This is a reference to Mr. Toad in A. A. Milne's The Wind In The Willows. Mr. Toad is a foolish, self absorbed character who slowly improves as he endures a series of misadventures in his attempt to reclaim his ancestral home, Toad Hall.
2. Thomas escapes the war by allowing the Germans to shoot him through his hand. Self inflicted wounds were a serious problem in World War 1. Almost 4,000 soldiers were courts martialed for it and many more escaped punishment. Although he didn't fire the shot himself, had a witness seen how he got it he could have been shot for cowardice.
3. When he shows his wound to O'Brien, she calls it his 'blighty.' Blighty, or more commonly 'blighty ones' were wounds that were serious enough to send a soldier home. Originally it was reserved for wounds received from shells fired from one of the four Big Bertha howitzers the Germans used, but soon came to be applied to any wound that sent a man home.
4. In describing General Strutt, Matthew mentions he was awarded a DSO. This is the Distinguished Service Order, the second highest medal awarded to British soldiers for bravery under actual enemy fire.
5. Thomas befriends a soldier with gas blindness. All sides used gas warfare with several different types of chemicals. The most common were tear gas, mustard gas, phosgene and chlorine. Mustard gas was the most widely used. It was a blister agent that attacked any exposed skin. If inhaled, it could damage lungs enough to be fatal. Its symptoms match the soldier's blisters and eye damage.
6. Dr Clarkson was forced to relocate the soldier because the hospital was about to be deluged with wounded from the Battle of Arras. This battle, 9 April - 16 May of 1917, resulted in 160,000 British wounded or dead.
1. While explaining why he refused to join the army, Branson says to Sybil that prison would be better than the Dardanelles. The Battle for the Dardanelles was a military disaster for the British. The idea was to attack Turkey and take control of the Straight of Dardanelles, the narrow passage between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Thousands of British soldiers died in a defeat that was so total it embarrassed the British strategic planners. Referring to the Dardanelles was like saying one was throwing his life away for nothing because the army didn't know what it was doing.
While most conscientious objectors were classed as cowards, many refused to fight because British generals at the time were using outdated Victorian tactics, which called for huge formations charging straight at the enemy. Such tactics were now suicidal because of the advent of machine guns. Many of these men didn't mind fighting and even dying for Britain. But, they refused to do so because the antiquated tactics is use at the time was as effective at winning battles as ordering men to run and jump off a cliff.
2. Mary says to Matthew, "no names, no pack drill." This was a saying that meant, 'I won't mention the names of who did what so that no one, meaning us, will be punished.' Pack Drill was a British military punishment where a soldier would have to exercise, or drill, in full uniform and a heavy back pack.
3. While touring Downton, General Strutts swings a ball on a board game. The game was Devil Among The Tailors, a popular pub game. In it, a ball (the devil) suspended on a string from a vertical stick is swung in an arc around the stick to crash into and knock over as many of a 3 x 3 group of nine skittles (tailors) as possible. It's a little like bowling.
4. The Marconi Scandal, on which Miss Swire provided information to Carlisle, involved highly placed ministers in the liberal party who knew that the British government was about to sign a lucrative contract with the Marconi Company and purchased shares in it ahead of the public announcement. Newspapers found out and published details about it including the names of the guilty. Rather than suing the writers for defamation of character, which would have forced a trial, they shrugged it off and blushed all the way to the bank. None were ever convicted. That doesn't mean there were no long term repercussions. The Marconi Scandal is often cited as the pivotal point when the common British citizen began distrusting all politicians.
1. Edith and Mary sing the popular song If You Were The Only Girl In The World And I Were The Only Boy. This was first released in the 1916 musical review The Bing Boys Are Here and quickly became a popular standard in the UK. It was never a hit in the US, though Perry Como did a version that made it to number 14 in 1946.
2. Mrs. Patmore exclaims that she knew William would be alright after he returned from being trapped behind enemy lines because she 'felt it in her waters." In the British Empire this was the same as saying 'I felt it in my bones.'
1. Matthew and William get wounded in the battle of Amiens. This was the first of a series of coordinated battles over 100 days starting in 1918 that lead to the end of the war.
2. Tom mentions Jacobean Revolutionaries to Sybil. These were people lead by Bonnie Prince Charles in a 1745 attempt to return the Stuarts to the throne of England. They failed.
3. Tom also mentions Sylvia Pankhurst. She was a woman's rights advocate active before, during and after the war.
4. William wanted to marry Daisy so she'd get a war widow's pension. For the wife of a private killed in action, it would be 13 shillings and 9 pence a week, equal to $125 in 2016. But, because day to day expenses were less than a correction for inflation suggests, the actual value would be closer to $250.
5. In this episode we learn that like Edith, Mary's middle name is also Josephine.
6. Carlisle warns Mrs. Bates that he better not read anything about Lady Mary in anything except The Court Circular. This was an official record of all the past activities of the royal family and peers.
1. The wounded officer claiming to be Patrick Crawley says he got his memory back after a shell exploded near him at Passchendaele. The Battle of Passchendaele was a 1917 offense designed to free Belgium from German occupation.
2. Patrick states that he was part of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. This was a four-battalion force of 2,000 men formed in 1914 to help in the war. The 'light' suggests that most of the Infantry's firepower was from small caliber weapons.
3. When commenting on his decision to send Miss Swire away, Matthew quotes, "I am the cat that walks alone and all places are the same to me." This is a line out a the Rudyard Kipling poem about how man came to domesticate animals and how the cat tried to outsmart him.
1. Lady Sybil and Tom run away to Gretna Green to get married. In 1754 Lord Hardwicke passed a marriage act that made it harder for people to get married in England and Wales, but the legislation did not affect Scotland, where it was much easier to get civil service weddings even if underage and without parental consent. Gretna Green is a town just across the Scottish border and quickly became popular for people wanting to elope. It plays the same role as Las Vegas in Nevada for people wanting to get married quickly.
1. The main event darkening this episode is the Spanish Flu that overcomes many people in Downton Abbey. There is simply no way to express the magnitude of this disaster, universally credited as being the most devastating medical pandemic in the history of mankind. It infected the entire world, even the remotest islands in the south pacific and Antarctica. From 1 January 1918 to its end in December of 1920, as many as 100,000,000 people may have died from it, far greater than even the Black Death that decimated Europe centuries earlier. To this day no one knows for sure how or where it started. The name "Spanish Flu" came about because all of the countries involved in World War 1 used their still active wartime censorship powers to down play how bad it was to prevent panic. Spain, which was neutral, let the press report the truth, which made it appear Spain had it worse than anyone else so that country got blamed for it.
The disease was a severe flu, or influenza virus, that often lead to pneumonia, from which the victim died. Two oddities, besides it's 10-percent lethality, was that it was at its worst in summer rather than winter like most flus and that young adults were more prone to die than the very young or old. The reason was that it triggered an over reaction of the immune system, which is strongest in young adults. The very system that would normally render them the best to survive an attack made them the most likely victims.
Lavinia Swire's partial recovery followed by a sudden, fatal final attack was common, as was Lady Cora's bleeding through the nose.
Imagine half of everyone you know coming down with a severe flu that completely incapacitated them for up to two weeks. Of them one in ten died a horrible, agonizing death. Now imagine that you read that this is happening all over the world and you may get an idea of the terror passing through everyone who lived in those times. Death from war could be understood. But this disease seemed to come from nowhere. With the limited understanding of medicine in those days people must have felt it was an attack from God... or the Devil.
Lady Cora was given epinephrine, or adrenaline, for her symptoms. While it's usually used to stimulate heart action, it also improves circulation and lung function.
Carson is prescribed aspirin and milk with cinnamon. Milk and cinnamon was a common cure-all and may have had real affect. Cinnamon is noted for improving circulation and for its antioxidants. Aspirin may have created more problems than it prevented. Because of the severity of the flu, it was often over prescribed and people in their weakened states died from aspirin poisoning.
2. During the dinner in which several people excuse themselves because they are sick, Violet mentions it reminded her of a cholera outbreak during a Paris dinner party in which half the guests died before dessert was served. Cholera is an intestinal infection caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with sewage from people previously affected. It causes such severe dehydration that it can be fatal.
3. In one scene we get a close side view of Sybil. In it it's obvious her ears have been pierced. Anyone wondering if that had become a custom yet in 1920 may be interested to know that ear piercing goes back to the days of the pharaohs.
1. A Ouija board features in several scenes. Considered a joke today, Ouiga boards first appeared as parlor games in the 1890s. There are several scientific reasons explaining the movement of the tile, none of which involve the supernatural. The enormous trauma of the carnage of World War 1 left many people desperate for answers and to reconnect to those they had lost. At the same time recent scientific developments made it seem that anything was possible. People got used to living with what only a few years had been unbelievable. This opened the door to spiritualism and for many, the Ouija was the instrument of choice to explore it. The attitude of many was that after death, we transfer to a sort of parallel dimension separated from ours by a thin veil that didn't take much to penetrate.
2. During the Christmas dinner a flaming dessert was brought in. This was the famous Christmas pudding. The closest western analogy would be a steamed fruit cake soaked in brandy.
3. Upon learning Sybil is going to have a baby, Robert remarks that he never thought he'd welcome a fenian grandchild into the family. The Fenians were a 19th century Irish revolutionary group that later became eclipsed by the IRA.
4. Robert names his dogs after Egyptian goddesses. Isis was named for Isis, protector of the dead and children and some believe the mother of Horus, the hawk-headed god.
5. When Mary admits her affair with Pamut to Matthew, like many I expected him to immediately sweep her into his arms and offer comfort rather than the shock and discomfort he initially displayed. To our sexually liberated times his attitude may be hard to understand, even in the context of 1920 Britain. My father, who was a teenager in the 1920s, once explained how damaging having such an affair could be. In Washington DC, where he grew up, if it became known that a couple in high school or college had slept together, it wasn't just the parents that came down on them, their very friends and co-students would shun them with an intensity that rivaled the worst the Amish would do. Multiply this by ten for the effect it would have in upper class Britain.
6. Several times William's father says to Daisy "Nae," when he's trying to tell her to not doubt herself. Nae is Gaelic for no, but in this context is seems to mean something closer to 'not that way' or 'don't think that.'
7. During the servant's ball, Thomas makes a joke when asking the Dowager Countess to dance that at least they aren't doing the "black bottom." This was an African-American dance that evolved in the southern US. It could be danced alone or by couples. In the 1920s it became a fad in the UK. Somewhat crude, it reflected the sentiment that after the horror of the war and Spanish Flu people felt entitled to let loose.
8. Shortly before Matthew proposes to Mary, she says that shes his Tess of the D'Urbervilles to his Angel Claire. Tess and Angel were the heroine and hero of the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The plot closely parallels Mary and Matthew's troubled romance.
1. Carson compliments Mrs. Patmore on her treacle tart, a pie crust filled with a mixture of golden syrup (a honey-colored sweetener related to molasses but much milder,) breadcrumbs and lemon.
2. The Canadian Grand Trunk Line Robert invested in really existed. There were several Grand Trunk lines named for the areas of Canada they serviced. He probably bought in after 1910 when the President, A Mr. Hays, began a new Trunk line to connect the central hub of the other lines with a new line leading to an all weather port in Rhode Island. If completed, this would have greatly enhanced the company's value and made Robert a lot of money. The problem was that Hays died in the Titanic disaster and his replacements mismanaged the company into ruin.
3. Matthew jokes to Tom that he shouldn't plan on convincing Robert to join Sinn Fane, which was a large and powerful Irish separatist party.
4. Commenting on Branson's plain clothes, the Dowager Countess says he looks like the man from the Prudential. The prudential Insurance company at the time was targeting middle class families by sending plain, almost shabbily, dressed salesmen door to door.
5. Larry Grey tries to make Tom appear foolish by drugging his drink. In later times this would become known as 'slipping him a mickey' short for Mickey fin. The most common drug used was chloral hydrate.
6. Branson is forced to wear a morning coat to Matthew and Mary's wedding. A morning coat is formal wear for daytime, in the same way that tails are formal wear for night time. The easiest way to visualize a morning coat is to think of a tail coat with the two tails sewn together. It has one wide tail that reaches down behind the knees in a point and tapers open as it come up the sides to the waist. They can also be gray. Unlike tails, morning coats are allowed to be buttoned, probably as protection from the cold since they are often worn outside.
7. When talking about Cora's mother, Violet says, "Was Napoleon overawed by the Bourbons?" The Bourbons were the royalty in France and Napoleon was the young upstart. The innuendo was that Cora's mother, or perhaps all of the US, were the upstarts and should, but don't, respect the more civilized British society.
8. Mary forbids Matthew from seeing her the night before their wedding. The origin of this tradition isn't superstition but practicality. It comes from a time when marriages were arranged and neither the bride nor groom would see each other before they were standing in front of the priest, and even then the bride was veiled. The fear was that if the groom saw the bride the day before and didn't find her attractive, he'd run off. By the time the ceremony had started it was too late for him to do so.
9. Mrs. Levinson refers to Matthew as Young Lochinvar when talking to Violet about his inheriting Cora's fortune. Young Lochinvar was a character in Sir Walter Scotts epic poem Marmion. In it, he convinces his love, Ellen, to run away with him instead of marrying her fiance. Lochinvar is described as being the best of all men.
10. When speaking of Carson, Mary states that his motto is be prepared. Violet comments that he borrowed it from Baden-Powell. Robert Baden-Powell was the founder of the Boy Scouts and coined the saying as the foundation of the scout philosophy.
Crawley buys an AC Six roadster after marrying Mary. The AC stood for
Auto Carrier and the six meant it had a six cylinder engine. The one
used in the series was a 1927 even though it was used in 1920.
2. At one point Lord Grantham says: "Steady the buffs." This is an idiom meaning 'don't panic.' It originated when an officer was leading his men on parade while a competing squad was watching, looking for any mistakes. The squad on parade were known as The Buffs because the color of the lining of the lapels of the red coats they were wearing were buff colored. He said, "Steady the Buffs" to inspire them to steady themselves and not panic.
3. During the big dinner party, at one point everyone joins in to sing Let Me Call You Sweetheart." This was a major hit in 1911 America for the enormously successful Peerless Quartet. It held the number one position for seven weeks, equivalent to 12 weeks in the modern era.
1. Before Edith's wedding, a photographer uses flash powder to take a photograph of the three Crawley sisters. Flash powder was a mixture of five parts powdered magnesium and one part potassium nitrate. Once mixed, the powder is too unstable for long term storage so most photographers mixed it right before use. There were many mixes available. Barium nitrate was often used as a stabilizer, but it's toxicity quickly made it fall out of favor. Flash powder was ignited in a flash pan usually with a spark from a dry cell but occasionally using a flint-and-steel sparker connected to the flash pan's handle via a short rod. Flash durations were on the order of 1/20th of a second, but that could be adjusted by increasing or decreasing the amount of potassium nitrate, how much flash powder was used and how it was piled onto the flash pan. Because magnesium burns with a pure white flame, color rendering would be different than photos taken with sunlight or incandescent lights, so it was good photography back then was black and white.
2. At the end of this episode we hear Carson singing: ...dashing away with the smoothing iron she stole my heart away. A smoothing iron was another name for a clothes iron.
1. Carson states that he doesn't want to hire any old hobbly hoy (also hobbledehoy) as the new footman. A hobbledehoy is an awkward, gawky youth.
2. Robert goes to London to talk to the Home Secretary (who heads the Home Office) on Tom's behalf. In Britain, the Home Office is responsible for immigration, security and law and order.
3. Mrs. Hughes startles Carson by getting an electric toaster. The first electric toasters started showing up as early as 1909, but practical units weren't available until 1919. Initially they only toasted bread on one side. British toast preferences are different than American. They prefer toast that is cool and crisp rather than warm and soft, hence their use of toast racks that hold slices separately but allow the toast to cool fast.
The early 1920s must have been an exciting time for households. Electricity was becoming common and with it came a series of electrical devices that made life much easier. In a way it was similar to the era of smart phones. Hardly a day goes by that we don't read about a new app or use for them.
4. Mary compliments Matthew on starting the 'Augean task' of learning how the estate works. The fifth task of Hercules was to clean the Augean stables, which housed an enormous herd of divine cattle and cleaning it was thought to be an impossible task. Hercules succeeded by diverting two rivers to wash the sables clean. The implication was that the job of figuring out the estates operation was both unpleasant and impossible.
5. Tom is allowed to remain in England because the Home Office doesn't want to make him a martyr like Lady Maud Gonne (MacBride,) who was an English born Irish revolutionary, or Lady Gregory, a successful Irish playwright who supported Irish culture and independence.
6. Matthew defends Edith to Robert about her becoming a writer by mentioning Lady Sarah Wilson, who was Britain's first woman war correspondent.
7. Mrs. Hughes refers to Ethel's baby as a 'bairn,' which is Scottish (Gaelic) for baby.
1. Sybil died of eclampsia, a condition of high blood pressure accompanied by the constriction of small arteries that can lead to major organ death.
2. Edith is invited to write a column for the Sketch. This was The Daily Sketch, a tabloid format, politically conservative newspaper that focused on popular trends. Tabloid format means that is was a large format magazine printed on newsprint paper. It was highly respected and shared nothing in common with the cheap sensational tabloids of today.
1. In response to Tom's saying that Sybil will be baptized Catholic, Robert says that there hasn't been a Catholic in the family since the Reformation. The Reformation was England's break with the Catholic church and the formation of the new Church of England during the 1500s.
2. Defending Tom, Mary says no one should choose their religion to satisfy Debretts. Debretts was a publication of English peers featuring a short history of each family.
3. Ethyl makes a Charlotte Russe for the lunch given by Matthew's mother. This is classically made by lining a tall cake pan with buttered bread and filling it with a dessert cream set with gelatin, then topped with fruit jelly.
1. Tom's brother refers to the Crawleys as 'toffs." This is short for 'toft' or 'toffee-nosed,' both are derogatory terms used for the gentry and meant to class them all as snobbish people who consider themselves superior. 'Toft' is the tassle hanging from Oxford caps. Over the years it converted to toff when used as slang. 'Toffy-nosed' has a less attractive connotation. It refers to the exclusively upperclass habit of men using snuff, which causes their nosed to weep a brown discharge.
2. After dinner, Robert predicts Tom's brother will start singing Molly Malone any second. This song about a hard working girl selling cockles and mussels on the street is a classic in Ireland. The earliest record of it goes back to 1883.
1. People not familiar with cricket may have trouble understanding how the game played in this episode works. While cricket explanations abound on the Internet, they can be challenging to understand without a comparative reference. The following description is grossly simplified, but helps people in baseball-dominated countries get an idea of how it's played:
Imagine a small baseball diamond with the pitcher (bowler in cricket) standing close to second base. The batter stands at home plate, like normal, but there is a second man at second base who is on the same team as the batter. The pitcher throws the ball at the batter, making sure it hits the ground before it gets to him, and the batter hits it on the bounce. If the ball is hit where the fielders are going to need a few seconds to get it, the batter runs straight across the diamond to second base at the same time as the runner of second base runs directly to home plate. If they both make it before being tagged out, they have scored one run. If the ball is hit so well that there is enough time, the batter and runner can run back to their original positions to score a second run. They can continue running and scoring runs as long as the ball is far enough away so that they can't be gotten out. Balls hit out of the park score an automatic six runs. They play until five outs are called, at which time the teams trade places.
Scores can climb into the hundreds and games go on for days.
Cricket balls are hard cork wrapped in twine then covered with leather with raised stitching running parallel in five lines around the middle. They are slightly smaller and much harder that baseballs.
2. Resisting Matthew's recommendations for modernizing the estate, Robert suggests investing in Charles Ponzi's scheme in America as a way to make an enormous profit in short time. Charles Ponzi was an inveterate con man who'd spent many years in and out of jail. He finally thought up a scheme where he'd buy postal reply coupons cheaply in Italy and redeem them at 400-percent their value in the US. At least that's what he told his investors. The fact was that there weren't enough postal coupons to support a large money making scheme and they were extremely difficult to cash in. Instead, he just said that was where the money was coming from when in fact he was using new investors money to pay off earlier investors... after deducting a sizable fee for himself. It worked like this:
An investor gives him $100.
The next day two investors also give him $100 each. He uses $100 of their money to give to the first investor, thereby apparently giving him a 100-percent return in one day, and pockets the remaining $100.
On the third day four new investors also give him $100 each. He uses $300 to pay off the first three and once again pockets the remaining $100.
And so it goes on. As long as the number of new investors continues to increase, the previous investors continue to make money and everyone's happy, especially Ponzi who by 1921 was making $250,000 a day. (At this point I will resist the temptation to draw parallels between this and the US Social Security system.)
Everything came crashing down when the number of new investors slowed and older investors began demanding their money, which Ponzi had either spent or used to stop runs on the system. In the end newspapers learned of his earlier jail time, people stopped investing and the entire house of cards collapsed. Ponzi was eventually convicted of larceny, served time, got out, was convicted of mail fraud, served more time, got out, sold swampland as dry land, went to jail again, got out, was deported and eventually died a pauper in South America.
To this day pyramid schemes pop up from time to time and all are labeled as Ponzi schemes.
1. Carson's 'Cheerful Charlies' partner is living in a workhouse. These were places offering room and board in exchange for long hours of hard work grinding stones into gravel, bones for fertilizer or picking apart rags and other textiles to be used to make oakum, fibers soaked in tar and used for ship's caulking. The work was hard and the living condition poor to discourage lazy people from taking advantage of the system.
2. Valentines Day arrives at Downton with everyone getting cards. Traditionally, these would be anonymous, a throwback to Victorian times where strict parental censorship would result in cards from inappropriate persons being discarded. If they were unsigned, the parents would be reluctant to throw them out in case they were from someone they wanted their daughters to marry.
3. Daisy's proud addition to the kitchen is an electric mixer. Although the first electric mixers appeared in 1885, they were designed for commercial use. Smaller units didn't make it into households until the early 1920s.
1. James mentions Phyllis Dare, one of the two Dare sisters. Phyllis was on stage by the time she was nine years old and by 16 had established herself as a major singer and actress. She was particularly popular for her Edwardian musical comedies.
2. While suggesting Tom take Mary around with him as he works, Violet continues to call him Branson, to which Mary insists she call him Tom. Violet's response was to state she now has sympathy for King Canute (actually name Cnut.) He was the Danish king of Denmark, England and Norway during the time the Vikings ruled much of the land west of Europe. Just as Violet had Mary working against her, so Cnut had relations working against him, though in that case they were trying to take the throne from him rather than just getting him call someone by the proper name.
3. Robert resists acknowledging Matthew's letter declaring Mary his heir partially because if it's true, his power over Downton is decreased. The other reason was that the death duties in 1922 Britain were as high as 50-percent for large estates. If the letter is invalid, Matthew's son is the heir so death duties are only paid once. But if the letter is declared a legal will, then death duties have to be paid when Mary inherits and again when she dies and Matthew's son inherits from her. This means he only ends up with one-quarter of the original estate.
1. While Rose is talking to a young man he asks if she likes April Showers by Al Jolson. Most people have heard of both the song and the singer, but few are now alive who remember just how popular they were. Al Jolson, the jazz singer, was so popular it's hard to find a modern performer to compare him to. He had 21 #1 hits and 91 hits in the top 30. For comparison, Elvis Presley only had 18 #1s and 85 #30s. April Showers was a mega hit in 1922 that held the #1 spot for an incredible 11 weeks. Under the current Billboard system, in which it is much easier to remain #1, it would have lasted 18 weeks in the top spot.
2. Dame Nellie Melba (1830-1931) was a world famous Australian operatic soprano.
3. When Violet is trying to convince Mrs. Crawley to leave her grief over Matthew's death behind her, Mrs. Crawley mentions Rossetti. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was a Victorian poet who focused much of her early works on death and loss.
4. During dinner, Mrs. Crawley sees Mary laugh and says that she doesn't want her to be 'The Lady of Shalott." This was an 1831 poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson about a woman living in a shadow world who dies in her attempt to escape it.
5. The servants have a rowdy game of Racing Demon. Each player deals a pile of 13 cards face down (the demon) and turns the top card face-up. Deal four more cards face-up in a row, extending right from the demon (the work piles). If an ace is revealed, it is placed above these, in the middle of the play area (the "foundation"). This forms your basic patience grid. Place the remaining cards - the stock - face down between you and the grid.
When play begins, each player starts turning over their stock in threes. Cards revealed from the stock can be moved to the bottom of a work pile, as can the face-up card of the demon or any other card at the bottom of a work pile. Build downwards from the work piles with cards one lower in value and of opposing color. So if the bottom of one pile is a red eight, you can place either of the black sevens under it. On aces in the foundation, build upwards, in the same suit.
If you empty a work pile, replace it with a face-up stock card or the top of the demon. If you remove the top of the demon, turn the next card face up.
Now for the twist: the foundation is a communal area. This is where the interactively comes in. The first player to empty their demon ends the game, and scoring begins. The player who went out scores 10, any player who placed a king on a foundation scores five, then everyone gets points equal to the number of cards they placed in the foundation minus the number of cards left in their demon. Because of this scoring system, you need to use decks with different designs.
If that didn't make sense to you, it didn't me either and I've read it three times.
6. Toward the end of this episode, Edna gives Tom a drink. He looks at it and comments, "It's huge," suggesting it was a large drink. We happen to have the same size glasses used in this scene and I filled it to the same level. Measuring the liquid gave gave a little over 4 fluid ounces. The drink her gave him was whiskey, which has an average proof of 86. Since the average 'double' of whiskey is 2.5 ounces, that means she gave him the equivalent of a triple. Considering that he would have had at least a couple of glasses of wine with dinner and probably a drink or two after it's no wonder his judgement was clouded.
When talking to Gregson, Edith mentions Lady Warwick and her scandalous country parties. Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick (1861-1938) was a rich socialite and long time mistress to Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. Successful in bringing together huge groups of upper class peers for parties, in time she fell out of favor because she burned through all her money hosting the parties and because she couldn't resist bragging about the men with whom she'd had affairs. This made her the focus of gossip and more importantly, unsafe to be seen with.
1. Robert agrees to let the tenancy of Yew Tree Farm transfer to the son of the father who had held it because the family had done so since George III. King George III was on the throne from 1760 to 1820, so they had farmed Yew Tree for between 100 to 160 years.
2. Baxter shows up with a new electric sewing machine. Available as early as 1889, electric machines didn't start appearing in households in large numbers until 1921. NEW!!! The machine being used is a Singer model 28-9. It was in production from 1890 to 1943. Originally intended for treadle power, optional hand crank attachments were available. They were also available with factory installed electric motors. This particular machine is showing the Victorian decal set.
3. Alfred goes to the Ritz Hotel in London for a cooking class. The Ritz was opened in 1909 by Cesar Ritz, a successful Swiss hotelier. The Ritz was built in response to a shortage of upper class accommodations in London at the time. It featured many innovations such as unlimited and instant hot and cold running water, heated towel racks and cupboards for clothes rather than free standing wardrobes as was the custom up until then. Despite these luxuries, the hotel struggled for several years. It took persistence and the arrival of the great chef Escoffier to turn its fortunes around. By 1922 it was considered the premier hotel in London and perhaps the world. It is still in operation and is as highly respected as ever.
4. During his testing, the chef administering the test mentions Escoffier. He's talking about Auguste Escoffier, a French chef who has done more to advance the art of cooking than anyone else. Besides inventing many classical dishes and improving others, writing cook books that have become classics and are still studied a century after they were written, he also redesigned the structure and management of kitchens so efficiently that after 100 years they have yet to be improved upon.
5. After Robert says something witty at dinner, Violet observes that the last thing they need is a poet peer. She cites Lord Byron and laments "...how that ended." Lord Byron (1788-1824) was and is one of the most revered English poets of all time. However, he lead a life of such scandal and dissolution that he was dead by 36.
6. Cora is trying to convince Mrs. Patmore of the advantages of getting a refrigerator toward the end of this episode. In 1922, refrigerators were typically two-unit affairs. All the mechanical cooling apparatus was located in the basement and only the cold box, still referred to as 'the ice box,' was installed in the kitchen. They were extreme luxury items that cost as much as a car.
1. Violet complains that a valuable Japanese Netsuke (her pronunciation sounds like Netzky) carving has been stolen by the new garden boy Peg. This was an intricately carved toggle used to secure cords to the sashes of Japanese kimonos.
2. Ivy and James go see The Sheik, and immensely successful 1921 movie staring Rudolf Valentino. The plot involved a strong willed British girl going into the Arabian desert for adventure. During it, she's kidnapped by the handsome sheik, they fight, fall in love, she's kidnapped, he saves her and she discovers their forbidden love isn't forbidden because he's not really an Arab but of British-Spanish parents who died when he was young. The movie was such a success it netted five times what it cost to make. Modern movies are lucky to break even and considered a success if they make back twice what they cost.
3. Jack Ross sings I'm Just Wild About Harry as the opening number at Robert's birthday party. The song hit #4 in the US in late 1922 and was introduced by Marion Harris, one of the most popular singers of the 1920s.
1. Mrs. Patmore mentions she's glad Carson is going to keep Alfred away from the Abbey to avoid Ivy and Daisy's 'mithering.' This term means fussing and moaning with a touch of misery.
2. Tom goes to a town meeting to listen to the local MP. An MP is a member of Parliament, specifically the lower house, the house of representatives.
3. The MP is talking about the split between Asquith and Lloyd George, both of whom were liberals. George replaced Asquith in 1916 as prime minister by building a coalition of some liberals but mostly conservatives. This put Asquith out of office but still technically the head of the liberal party since most of the liberals still supported him. When post war Britain failed to recover as fast as the people wanted and because of scandals from George handing out honors in return for money, he came under attack from Asquith and others. It's made to sound like the split occurred in 1922, but in fact it went all the way back to 1916.
4. We learn that Blake and Gilliam both served on HMS Iron Duke in the Battle of Jutland. The Iron Duke was the largest of the new dreadnought class of battleships, which featured many innovations in size, armor, speed and the revolutionary turreted main guns. It was the flagship of the British Grand Fleet. The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of World War 1 and was the last naval battle in history where battleships were the main battle platforms.
1. Early in this episode we learn that Cora's brother Harold is involved in the very real Teapot Dome Scandal of 1922. The US Secretary of the Interior was paid $7,000,000 in bribes in today's money to lease oil fields earmarked for the Navy to a private oil corporation. When people started noticing his standard of living had improved by an unexplainable degree in a very short time they started asking questions. The result was what became the greatest US political scandal until Watergate. Equally tarnished was the US legal system because Fall, the US Secretary of the Interior, was convicted of accepting the bribe Doheny, the oil company's operative, had given him. Yet one year later Doheny was acquitted of giving Fall that very same bribe. It demonstrated the absurdity the US legal system was capable of.
2. Violet tells Mrs. Crawley that she's been inside so long after her illness that she feels like Dr. Manette, who could remember nothing but his number. Dr. Manette was a doctor in Dickens' novel The Tale of Two Cities. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 years. When released he was so traumatized he could barely function in society.
3. Violet tells Edith that having Mr. Drewe, the Yew Tree Farm tenant, take her baby would be like having the Sword of Damocles constantly over her head. In Greek literature, Damocles was a member of the court of a great king. While praising the king on his power, the king offered to show Damocles what it was like to be king. He ordered everyone to treat Damocles as the real king. He was enjoying himself immensely until he noticed that there was always a razor sharp sword hanging over his head, suspended by a single thread of horse hair that could break at any second. The implication was that the in spite of his privileges, the king was always in danger.
4. Toward the end of this episode Violet commiserates with Robert that he hadn't been able to drink while he was in the US because of Prohibition. Prohibition was the 18th amendment to the constitution the made the production, sale and consumption of alcohol illegal. It lasted from 1920 to 1933, when the 21rd amendment overruled it. Many wealthy people constructed large vaults in which to store liquor purchased before the amendment was passed, which was still legal to drink because it was permitted under a grandfather clause in the amendment. Robert comments that he didn't have to go without drinking because Harold, "...has his uses," implying Harold had been one of those forward-thinking people who had stored up on liquor to weather the approaching dry spell.
1. In the 1920s a 'flapper' was a girl who flaunted an almost arrogant disregard for accepted behavior. The expression has three possible origins. First, their busy, exaggerated behavior gave the impression of a young bird trying to fly, all enthusiasm but not really knowing what it's doing. Second, an allusion to unbridled teenage girls who wear their hair in braids that bounced (flapped) as they ran around. Third, that 'flapper' used to be an expression for prostitute, which to many of the older generation, they seemed to be acting like.
2. Blake defends himself to Mary by saying he's not as bad as Robespierre. Robespierre (1758-1794) was a leader in the French Revolution.
3. Carson suggests they visit the Crystal Palace for the staff outing. The Crystal Palace was a massive 1,800 x 500 x 123 foot tall iron and glass structure built to house the Great (technical) Exhibition of 1851. At the time and for almost a century it was considered a marvel of engineering.
4. Edith reports that Gregson disappeared after an altercation with some thugs in brown shirts. The Brown Shirts were the early German Nazi party, who wore brown shirts of military style.
5. Violet complains that after the afternoon's picnic followed by a dinner and cards, she felt as if she'd fallen through the looking glass into Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe. commonly mispronounced to sound like day-shoe-lay-salab, this is a large oil painting (1863) by Manet depicting two nude ladies and two dressed gentlemen in a rural setting. In as much as the scene doesn't suggest a picnic, this allusion is hard to understand.
1. This episode was the first where Rob James-Collier (Thomas) had his credit changed to Robert James-Collier.
2. When the war memorial delegation comes to Downton to ask Carson to be their leader, at one point a lady asks to have the milk added first before the tea is poured in. To this Carson gives her a tolerant look of disapproval. Pouring milk in first was to prevent cheap china from cracking when hot tea was poured in first. The idea that Downton Abbey would have cheap china is what evoked Carson's disapproval. Also, it labeled the lady as someone low enough in social standing that she was familiar with cheap china and clueless that Downton Abbey would have better cups that wouldn't break. On the other hand, it may have been an intentional dig at Downton, suggesting that while they may look good, their substance may not be any better than the rest of the common people.
3. During a dinner party, Tom's almost-girlfriend Sarah Bunting, upsets Robert by implying World War 1 really didn't accomplish anything. Her statements beg two questions: Why did Britain enter World War 1 and did winning it accomplish anything?
There are many theories why Britain got involved. After reading several of these, I've come to the conclusion that the main reason was that Germany had attacked Belgium and France, both of whom Britain had treaties with. More importantly, if Germany won, then it would have ports on both coasts within minutes of Britain's east coast. Consider; the US almost went to nuclear war with Russia for trying to put a single base on Cuba, 90 miles away from the tip of Florida. What would we have done if Russia had invaded Mexico or Canada and been able to establish military bases all along thousands of miles of borders? Britain faced this very problem if Germany had succeeded.
As for the second question, Britain's winning it protected her eastern coast. Consider how different World War 2 would have gone if Britain hadn't entered WW1, Germany won, had occupied Belgium and built military bases near the coast. It would be able to launch attacks directly across the channel without announcing its intentions by having to take Belgium and France first.
One interesting side note is that many experts thought the war would last less than a year because that's all the explosives Germany had stockpiled. The world's main source of nitrates, used to make explosives, was Chile and Britain had that country blockaded. What people didn't realize is that German chemical engineers had developed a way to manufacture nitrates from available resources and in so doing were able to produce all the explosives they needed.
4. Mrs. Shackleton says, when speaking of Lord Merton, "A single man in possession of a good fortune must be in need of a wife." To this Violet says she sounds like Jane Austen. Mrs. Shackleton's comment was a quote from the first line of Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen (1775-1817)
5. Several times during the series a letter arrives in the 'second post.' In the 1920s it was common for the post office to make multiple deliveries each day. In London it could be hourly. More rural locations would get fewer.
6. Complaining of how hard learning mathematics is, Daisy states she has the brain of a kipper. Kippers are salted and dried herring often eaten for breakfast.
7. Thomas says that James' previous lady employer is playing with him like a cat with a vole. A vole is a small relative of a mouse with a rounder body and shorter tail.
8. James says that maybe all his amorous previous employer wants to do is talk. To this Thomas says, "... and I'm the missing Tsarevich." The Tsarevich (which sounds like Daravich the way Thomas pronounces it) was Alexei Nikolaevich, the 14 year old son of the Russian tsar. For many years it was thought he had escaped the massacre of the royal family and was labeled the missing Tsarevich.
9. When Carson is speaking about Daisy studying math, he exclaims that she doesn't have to be Archemedes to be a cook. Archemedes (287-212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, philosopher and scientist considered by many to be one of the greatest minds of all time.
1. When the wireless radio first starts working, jazz music is heard, to which Rose asks, "Is that Jack Hylton?" Jack Hylton was a popular and successful band leader from the War year through the 1950s. He specialized in jazz-style dance music.
1. Rose mentions she's going to take her Russians to see the Brontes' house. The Bronte sisters were gifted 1800s writers responsible for such works as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, to name just two of their successes.
2. While discussing the true nature of Mary's 'sketching trip,' he comments that it was really more like something in an Elinor Glyn novel. Elinor Glyn (1864-1943) wrote scandalous romantic fiction that challenged the censorship rules of the day.
1. Daisy mentions the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was when King James II was overthrown and the British Bill of Rights was established, which forever ended the absolute power of the monarch. As positive as this sounds, there was a darker side to the revolution. The main purpose wasn't to install a bill of rights for the people as much as to remove a Catholic king and make being a British Catholic horrendously difficult. After the revolution, no king could be Catholic, nor could he marry a Catholic. No Catholic could vote and no Catholics could be officers in the military.
2. In the background of one scene, Mrs. Hughes can be seen flipping over a tab on a framed listing of several columns. This is a Household Wants Indicator.
This would have been a very useful tool in a house with a large staff where it's doubtful any one person would know the inventory of every consumable in the house. With this tabulator, every time a servant discovered something had run out, they'd flip the tab over to indicate it. Presumably, once a day or week Mrs. Hughes would copy down all the items that were needed for the shopping and send someone into the village to get them.
3. When Mrs. Hughes, Anna and Carson are discussing Miss Bunting's behavior at dinner, Anna says she almost missing the old Branson quoting Keir Hardie in the servant's hall. Keir Hardie (1856-1915) was an influential Scottish socialist and member of parliament.
1. Violet comments that Isobel could string out a moment like Ellen Terry (1847-1928.) She was a popular Shakespearean actress in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
2. When Rosamund hears Rose's boyfriend's name, she says he sounds like something out of a Mrs. Humphry Ward novel. Mrs. Ward (1851-1920) was a extremely successful novelist who focused on Victorian values and strong religious themes.
1. When Robert is talking about poor housing, he describes it as C3. After the war, the British government started working to improve housing conditions. The first step was to rank all the current housing to quantify the problem. Houses were graded along military fitness grading from A1 (the best) to C3, which was the poorest state of physical health a person could have and still be accepted into service.
2. The German Bierkeller Putsch (Beer Hall Coup) is mentioned in connection to Gregson's death. This was Hitler's first attempt, in November of 1923, to take over the German government. It failed.
3. Daisy mentions she's studying the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714.) Because Charles II of Spain died without an heir, many European factions went to war to grab as much of his vast empire, which consisted of most of Europe. In a very real sense, this was the true World War 1.
When Mary walks into the drawing room with her new bob haircut, Robert comments that it's as if Pola Negri had come to York. Pola Negri (Polish, 1897-1987) was an internationally popular star of stage and films during the 1920s who often wore a bob haircut.
1. Molesley asks Daisy if she'd like to discuss Vanity Fair. This novel (1848) by William Makepiece Thackeray was a satiric novel about the early 1800s in Britain. One of the two female heroines of the book was Becky Sharp.
2. John Barrymore (1882-1942) was mentioned. He was considered by many to be the greatest Shakespearean actor of all time. Immensely successful on stage, screen and radio, he was one of the few silent film stars that succeeded in the transition to talking movies and radio.
1. Shrimpy tries to explain that the 1919 Amritsar disaster wasn't what many people thought it was, but never finished. Shortly before the incident, Indian nationals had thought the extreme wartime restrictions on gathering and movement were going to be lifted by the British. When they weren't, groups started protesting. For weeks there had been riots and looting in many cities. Several British soldiers had been killed and a priest had been beaten almost to death. Since all of India was essentially under martial law, General Dyer was sent in with orders to quell any uprising. At Amristar, he found 10,000 people within a walled enclosure with only a single exit. While some of the people were protesters, it's generally accepted that most of the people were there peacefully to observe a traditional holiday. Out numbered by 100 to 1, Dyer blocked off the entrance and opened fire on the unarmed crowd and kept shooting until his men ran out of ammunition, then withdrew. Afterward, it was discovered 371 people had been killed and another 1,200 wounded. To this day people debate whether he was a mass murderer or acted appropriately.
2. Mr. Molesley's desire to be promoted to first footman was not as trivial as it sounded in the series. One of the most important jobs for a first footman would be to accompany the ladies of the house on their shopping trips, act as an escort to protect them, demonstrate they where high enough in society to have a first footman, carry packages, run errands while they were shopping and, most importantly, receive significant gratuities above their wages. This last item could double their yearly income. For a complete description of the ranks and salaries of the servant staff of a large Victorian house, please click on the following link:
VICTORIAN DOMESTIC SERVANT HIERARCHY AND WAGES
While Downton Abbey takes place in post-Edwardian times, this page helps understand the structure of the servant classes.
3. At one point Robert is playing Snakes and Ladders on the library floor with his grandchildren. Snakes and Ladders is an ancient Indian dice-and-board game designed to teach children the rewards of virtuous acts (associated with the ladders that let them jump ahead in the game) and the penalties of poor behavior, which occupied snake squares and caused them to slide downward toward the game's start. Popular in England for the same purpose, it was revamped in the late 1700s to reflect Victorian moral standards.
The original Indian iconography was used until 1930, so the version Robert was playing might have looked something like the following:
In its original incarnation, the game was much harder to finish because there were twice as many snakes as ladders. It wasn't until 1943 that Milton Bradley introduced the purely fun variation Chutes and Ladders to American children, which featured equal numbers of chutes and snakes, making gameplay faster. The snakes were replaced by chutes because market analysis showed many parents and children were put off by snakes.
1. Robert sells the Della Francesca for an undisclosed amount, but hints that it made a great deal of money. There are very few Della Francescas in existence and they have all been locked away in museums or private collection for so long there are no current sales prices on any of them. I found one reference that claimed a full sized Della Francesca (The Virgin and Four Angles) sold in 1913 for $170,000. After the war and before the great depression, many newly rich Americans began buying up all the art they could at the same time many British families were being forced to reluctantly sell their treasures. The result was that prices for art went through the roof. It's not unreasonable that prices doubled from 1913 to 1924. This is good news for Robert. On the other hand his painting was much smaller and featured less significant subject matter. Taking all things into account a reasonable guess would be that it sold for between $10,000 and $20,000. The 1924 rate of exchange would make this 2,300 to 4,600 pounds sterling. Since the average British single family house in 1924 was 600 pounds, Robert would be able to build between four and eight houses. This doesn't sound like very many, but then remembering how small the field was it seems about right if he wants each house to have a bit of yard for gardening.
1. While discussing the wage bill for the estate, Lord Grantham mentions that it's three times what it was before the war. Research suggests that may have been an exaggeration. By the end of the war servant wages had doubled, not tripled. Still, when combined with the increases in tax rates it was one more nail nail in the aristocracy's coffin.
2. Mrs. Crawley is the local hospital's Almoner (sounds more like armaner the way she pronounces it.) The almoner worked as a hospital's social worker, determining which patients were indigent and eligible for subsidized care, which could pay, monitored their care during their stay and in some cases following up after they left the hospital.
3. When she sees Gregson's flat, Rosamund comments that she can imagine the Bloomsbury Set sitting in a corner reading books. The Bloomsbury Set was a set was an London-based group of influential writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century.
4. To Rosamund's comment, Edith mentions she met both Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was one of the most influential lady writers in the early 20th century. Lytton Strachey was also a writer, famous for inventing a new form of biography that combined psychological insights coupled with ironic humor.
1. We begin to see that Downton Abbey is starting to get short of servants. Prior to World War 1, there were 1,500,000 servants in Britain. By 1925 this number had dropped to 200,000. It's ironic that many of the tax policies and wage increases designed to improve the lot of servants, who represented the largest working segment prior to the war, destroyed the very estates that that employed them, forcing the servants out of their jobs.
1. At one point the Dowager Duchess rubs a finger across a table, looks at it then looks away slightly disgusted, implying the reduction in staff is resulting in standards falling. Dust could be a major issue because unlike the US, Canada and Australia, screens are not put over windows in Britain. Screens not only stop insects, they also block a lot of dust from entering the house. Many UK and European countries dislike screens because they make windows look dark and foreboding. They also make rooms darker, which is a big issue in northern Britain where sunlight can be scarce. Finally, the presence of a single fly buzzing around a room is not considered a sign that the family isn't fastidious like it does in the US.
2. Edith comments that women's freedoms are expanding everyday and supports this by mentioning Adrienne Bollard's 1921 flight over the Andes mountains. Adrienne Bollard (1885-1975) was a French test pilot. She flew over the Andes to demonstrate the capabilities of the airplanes the company she worked for made. While this might not sound like a big deal today, it has to be remembered that the Andes were still unknown and she had to fly over them without any maps in an underpowered aircraft not designed for the Andes' high altitudes and unpredictable winds. Built for World War 1, her G3 aircraft was little more than a flimsy kite with a small motor. It didn't even have a windscreen and most of the fuselage was open framework. Her flight was an accomplishment of remarkable skill, determination and courage.
3. When Thomas interviews with Sir Michael, it ends poorly when Sir Michael suspects Thomas is a republican. In the 1920s 'republican' was a term most commonly used when referring to someone who supported Irish independence.
4. Throughout the series the term 'crikey' is heard several times. Context suggests it's slang for surprise. Linguistically, it's short for 'Christ the King" as an exclamation of surprise. In the US it became shortened to "Christ." In Australia, it was shorted to 'crikey.' Because Britons sometimes consider Australians to be their poor, comical southern relations, the expression gained popularity because using it suggested a humorous note in addition to surprise.
5. Molesley mentions the War of the Austrian Succession to Daisy when helping her prepare for her exams. This war (1740-1748) was fought over Maria Theresa's right to succeed to the throne of the Habsburg empire, which many believed was illegal because women were not supposed to inherit thrones. It involved almost as many nations as the earlier War of the Spanish Succession.
1. Mr. and Mrs. Carson decide to go to Scarborough for their honeymoon. Scarborough was and still is a popular seaside vacation spot in north eastern England.
2. When discussing the staff with Robert, Carson explains that the two new maids live in town. Servants living 'out' became possible in the 1920s not only because their higher wages provided the funds to do so, but also because rent rates decreased significantly after the war.
3. Violet observes that Mrs. Hughes being called Mrs. Carson was like Jane Eyre asking to be called Mrs. Rochester. Jane Eyre was a nanny in Charlotte Bronte's 1847 novel titled Jane Eyre. She accepts a job in the house of the rich Mr. Rochester, they fall in love and after many problems find happiness.
4. Edith mentions she has to go to London to manage her magazine. 'Running down to London' is accomplished many times during the series but it's never explained what it involved. Yorkshire is in northern England. London is 200 miles away in the south. Assuming an average speed of 30 miles per hour (even a few stops greatly reduced the train's average speed) it could take seven hours for a one-way trip. It's no wonder they comment on how tired they are after the trip.
5. When everyone upstairs goes down to the kitchen, the Dowager Countess mentions she might need Ariadne's Thread to find her way out. While it sounds like she's saying she would need something like a rope or trail of bread crumbs to find her way back upstairs, Ariadne's Thread is actually a logical procedure used to solve mazes, puzzles and any number of complex problems. At its core is maintaining careful records of every step taken to get where you are and all attempted solutions.
1. Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940,) Minister of Health, arrives at Downton after being blackmailed by Violet to do so. Her weapon is the knowledge that in his youth he and Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936) dug a trench across Piccadilla road to block traffic as a prank. This incident really happened, but there is no evidence Chamberlain took part.
2. The Crimean War was mentioned during Violet's explanation of how she knows Chamberlain. The Crimean war (1853-1856) was a multi-nation war fought mainly over which religions would have sway over which countries. It was mostly Europe against Russia.
3. Henry goes to Catterick to test a new car he's considering purchasing. This is a town in north Yorkshire famous for its horse racing track.
4. When speaking about Mary, Violet says, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," French for 'the beautiful lady without mercy."
No interesting trivia.
1. Everyone goes to Brooklands for a day of racing. Brooklands was the premier British automobile racing venue from 1907 to 1939. It was a 2.75-mile kidney bean shaped track featuring the first use of highly banked turns for greater speed.
1. At one point Lord Grantham says something like, "...if you can believe what we read about what the Edwardians got up to..." The Victorian era lasted from 1837 to 1901 during the reign on Queen Victoria. It was a period where living, or at least appearing to lead a moral life was the standard. The Edwardian era, 1901 to 1909, followed King Edward VII's playboy lifestyle that emphasized enjoying a leisure lifestyle and not being afraid to show off your wealth and position. It's not difficult to imagine that after 64 years of the constraints of the Victorian era, everyone was primed for a little fun.
The Edwardian era was the last to be named after the sovereign. From then on it was the WW1 era, the era of the great depression and the WW2 era.
2. When commenting on the romantic problems of Edith and Mary, Violet says, "The course of true love never did run smooth." This is from A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare.
3. When it's learned that Bertie Pelham is the new Marque, lord Grantham exclaims that he's, "...a copper bottomed marque." The expression comes from when British merchant ships started sailing into tropical waters where various parasites attacked their hulls. Britain was short of tar to protect her ships at the time so the navy started plating the bottoms of their ships with copper. It worked so well that very quickly anything labeled as being copper bottomed was considered a sure thing, a safe bet, or the real thing. So it was as if Lord Grantham was saying the Bertie was 'a real life marque."
4. Bertie comments that his mother is 'cock-a-hoop' about his being the heir. The expression comes from pubs and is short for 'set the cock (tap) at hoop (full open,)" meaning "let the good times roll." It's another way of saying she was jumping for joy.
5. Bertie says his mother is more frightening than Mr. Squeers. Mr. Squeers was the one-eyed headmaster of a school who took in children, starved them and kept their board money for himself in the Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby.
6. Tom is performing Punch and Judy for the children. This classic, and extremely violent, puppet show originated in Italy in the 1500s.
1. Lord Merton is diagnosed with pernicious anemia. This is a disease where vitamin B12 can't be absorbed and as a result hemoglobin can't be produced. Without it red blood cells aren't able to pick up oxygen and the person can effectively die from asphyxiation even while breathing pure oxygen.
2. Anna gets an electric hair dryer for Mary. While the first electric dryers appeared in 1890, hand held units for home use didn't show up until 1920.
3. When commenting about Mary, Violet mentions Salome: (AD14-AD 62 or 71) the daughter of Herod II and the queen that demanded the head of John the baptist. The implication being that Mary can be dangerous when angered.
4. Henry says he wants to do something to make Mary proud but doesn't mean he feels he has to become Bulldog Drummond. This was the popular British hero of dozens of stories from 1920 to 1983. He was wealthy, a WW1 hero and the complete gentleman adventurer.
5. Lady Rosamund asks Violet why the British are the way they are. Violet answers that she thinks it's because of the weather, which begs the question: what is the weather like where Downton Abbey takes place. Located in York, in the north of England, the average summer high is 62-degrees F and the winter high is 40-degrees. Rain fall is 114 inches per year with 12 inches per month in winter and 7 per month in summer. Humidity averages 63-percent.
I sincerely hope this page of trivia helps any visitors better appreciate the wealth of subtle details in which Downton Abbey is so rich. Thank you for visiting!
Like most people, I skip over the credits following each episode, particularly those dealing with the production staff. However, after one episode I watched and was amazed, and confused, by the number of terms used to describe certain jobs. The following list defines many of the more obtuse titles:
sound mixer: Selects, sets up and operates the sound recording equipment. Also called a recordist.
line producer: Responsible for the daily running of the production.
colourist: Responsible for maintaining the same color balance, brightness and contrast the same for all scenes meant to be edited together and watched continuously.
re-recording editor: Sometimes it's impossible to record video and sound at the same time. When this is the case, a re-recording editor makes sure the proper sound tracks are recorded and them combines them with the appropriate video.
camera operator/steadycam: The person who operates the camera. A steadycam is a frame that supports the camera and enables the cameraman to move around a scene while keeping the camera from moving up and down with each step.
focus puller: An assistant to the cameraman responsible to adjusting the focus of the lens so it tracks the action.
clapper loader: A clapper is a hinged board with scene information written on it. When the top of the clapper is snapped down it produces a a sharp clack that is used as a timing reference.
grip: A general purpose handiman.
best boy: Assistant to the gaffer or grip.
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