Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Downton Abbey Episode 1 on Masterpiece/PBS...My personal link

So did everyone have as much fun as I did watching the first episode of this on Masterpiece Theatre?  Maggie Smith is awesome and the rest of the cast is not too shabby either.  Much funnier than I thought it would be, especially the Dowager Countess!

I'm not going to say anything other than that it was amazing, a great story and also the most gorgeous location and costumes imaginable.  If you want more info on this wonderful show, here are three great links.  ITV and PBS/MASTERPIECE and the show's biggest fan site in Canada, Enchanted Serenity of Period Films are chockablock full of info.  I do so love the Edwardian period as it seems so modern and yet still has one foot in the 19th century.  What I will do is to tell you why I was watching the scullery maid Daisy with such personal interest.

My great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Caisley, was a kitchen maid in a great house in Northumberland in the north of England in 1851.  She was 19 years old and the lowest ranked of 14 servants for Member of Parliament Matthew Bell and his wife Elizabeth A. Bell.  The Bell's home in Northern England was called Woolsington Hall and a photo is shown below.

Woolsington Hall in Northumberland England - Home of Matthew Bell MP

As large and grand as this house was, it was nothing to Highclere Castle, the filming location of Downton Abbey and the country home of the Earl of Carnarvon.  In the same year, 1851, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, then also only 19 years of age, lived with his mother, the Dowager Countess of Carnarvon at Highclere with 22 servants.  So, it was a rather larger and more grand establishment, but still, for me the similarities of my ancestor Mary Ann Caisley with the Earl of Carnarvon's scullery maid Mary Foxhall or with poor Daisy of the fictional Downton, are inescapable.

Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England

So as I continue to watch the breathtaking Downton Abbey every Sunday night this month on PBS MASTERPIECE Theatre, I will watch little scullery maid Daisy with particular interest and think of my great-great-grandmother, who eventually moved down to County Durham and married John Hunter Shaw, an Engineman, and had four children, of whom only two lived.  She died in 1901 at the age of 69, after having moved in with her newly widowed son, my great-grandfather John Edward Shaw and his two little children in Newcastle upon Tyne, to help them out.  She obviously worked hard in her lifetime but I hope it was a happy life.  And I'm sure she had some interesting stories about the family she worked for...


  1. Your gggrandmother was the lowest servant in the house? That must have been awful. Everyone would have bossed her around.

    As for Downton Abbey,I have a crush on Hugh Bonneville and Brendan Coyle. And Dan Stevens' eyes! Oh my! I love Penelope Wilton. She is just a terrific actress. Looking forward to part 2.

  2. Hi Mary, yes she must have worked really hard too. I can just imagine the number of potatoes she had to peel and the number of floors she had to scrub. It makes me so grateful for the easy life I lead. Here I am sipping my coffee leisurely before I get a lovely hot shower and then drive to work in my comfortable, heated motor car. The more history I learn, the more I count my blessings.
    Glad to hear you are a Downton Abbey addict as well. I hope it goes on for years! I was so happy when Cora yelled at Lady Mary and told her to listen for once in her life. The way Lady Mary said "Well you're an American..." to her mother was just so snooty! Harrumph! I'm sure she'll get hers in the end. I'll just keep rooting for little Daisy.




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