Highclere Castle, better known as Downton Abbey. See below...
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A Personal Note (Archive)
August 26, 2014
We recently made a trip to Berkshire to visit Highclere Castle, the grand house which plays the part of Downton Abbey in the television series. This series has been the major historical drama of recent years. Personally I think Downton is most interesting in the way it explores methods used by traditional families to maintain and expand their power. If you wanted a quick guide to the rise and fall of family power then Downton Abbey is it.
Historically there are two crucial ways in which families acquire wealth and status. First there is an heir to the throne, usually an eldest son, who will inherit all the family wealth. This means wealth is kept together, and not scattered as each generation passes. Most of the early series of Downton Abbey told the story of a threat to this hereditary ideal when the Crawley family struggles to find a male heir. The second way in which families acquire status is through carefully planned marriages, often to members of the same family line. Lord Grantham married an American heiress for her fortune, and plans were made for the eldest of his three daughters to marry his wife's cousin, who would then become the male heir. These plans go awry when the cousin is drowned on the Titanic.
It is on these two intertwined foundations - a single heir and careful marriages - that the power of families lie. Many social factors have worked to break up these foundations. The Church, for example, saw influential families as a threat. The religiously inspired idea of marrying for love tended to disrupt the careful planning of marriages. Secular society also grew suspicious of concentrations of power and wealth in families. A strange mixture of left wing politics hostile to inherited wealth, and the celebration of individualism in right wing politics, combined against the idea of a sole heir. Inheritance tax reduced the wealth families had to pass on, and the fashion of splitting inheritance amongst all sons and daughters, scattered reduced wealth still further. It was in this way that the world of Downton Abbey passed away.
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Historical news for September
This month sees the annual Heritage Open Days events, where historic properties have free visiting, or open up areas not usually accessible to the public. Cadland House Gardens, for example, usually only open by appointment, will be providing guided tours. This is a unusual opportunity to see Capability Brown's smallest surviving landscape, with great views of the Solent. Go to http://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/
An exhibition exploring the sources, techniques and stories behind famous paintings by John Constable opens in late September at the V&A London. Pictures involved include the Haywain and Salisbury Cathedral From The Meadows. The exhibition runs 20th September - 11th January 2015. Telephone 020 7942 2000
Smallhythe Place in Kent, former home of actors Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, has its own theatre, which has been refurbished over the winter. Free backstage tours are available on twenty seven dates between the end of July and the end of October. For more details go to http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/whats-on/find-an-event/
London grew up around a bridge over the Thames. An exhibition exploring the significance of London's bridges opened at the end of June at the Museum of Docklands. The exhibition uses historical art works and the museum collections to tell the story. The exhibition runs 27th June - 2nd November. Telephone 020 7001 9844.
Anniversaries for September
1st September 1958: Iceland expands its fishery zone from 4 to 12 nautical miles from its coast. This puts it into conflict with Britain and begins the "Cod Wars", which continue until 1976
3rd September 1950: Nino Farina becomes the first Formula 1 champion after winning the 1950 Italian Grand Prix.
6th September 1997: The funeral of Princess Diana takes place in London.
11th September 1978: Following a laboratory accident a medical photographer at the University of Birmingham Medical School becomes the last person to die from small pox.
14th September 2007: There is a run on Northern Rock Building Society, the first run on a British bank in 150 years.
23rd September 1641: The Merchant Royal sinks off Land's End in rough weather. The ship is carrying 100,000 pounds of gold.
28th September 1928: Alexander Fleming, a researcher at St Mary's Hospital, London notices a bacteria killing mould in a petri dish. This observation would lead to the discovery of penicillin.
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Thank you to photo contributors Danielle Davis, Jean Edwards, Vicky Eagle of Portsmouth Dockyard, Kevin Edwards, Julian Jones, Richard Jones, Jackie Lewis, Debbie Lowless, Judy Mills of the Corinium Museum, Jane Barron of the World Rugby Museum, and Susan Stuart of Old Spitalfields Market.