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The University of Southampton
International Summer School

The Real Downton Abbey

Wimpole Hall
Wimpole Hall

Life in the English Country House has long been a subject of fascination. The huge houses of the upper classes of English society, complete with gardens, lands and lots of servants, represent a way of life that few of us will ever experience. Recent television programmes, such as Downton Abbey, present a happy and content view of the country house complete with cheery domestics, friendly aristocrats, fabulous parties and the facing of personal and national tragedy with quiet acceptance. But was country house life really like that? Over the course of this module we will focus on a number of different aspects of life in the English Country House between 1870 and 1960. During this period the English Country House changed almost beyond recognition – large country estates became impractical, unmanageable and, as time wore on, far too expensive to maintain. The period was full of events which forced the English aristocracy to change, including two World Wars. Focusing on a series of country houses, we will examine in detail what living in them was really like and consider the impact of wider events on their residents, both above and below stairs. We will use a variety of source material contrasting real and fictionalised accounts of life in the English Country House, including Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs and P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings. We will also look at presentations of English Country Houses from the period by organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage.

The academic organising this topic is Dr Eleanor Quince, Lecturer in History.

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