Downton Abbey: a bluffer’s guide to life below stairs

Get up to date with the goings-on among the staff as the hit drama returns for a third series


Mr Carson 


A model of propriety and decency, Carson has been employed at Downton since he was a boy and is especially close to Lady Mary, who he considers to be a surrogate daughter. Now keen to return the staffing below stairs to pre-war levels, Carson is nevertheless aware that the servant class has been changed by the 1914-18 conflict. He’s a man very much resistant to progress and also remains nostalgic for the past – so can he accept the young men and women around him who aspire to move in different directions?

John Bates 

It looks like Bates will not be appearing on any work rotas at Downton for the foreseeable future seeing as he’s currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-wife Vera. Current spouse Anna has an unshakeable belief in his innocence and is determined to overturn the verdict, but Bates finds that being at close quarters with life’s more undesirable elements throws up some fresh obstacles.

Thomas Barrow 

After impressing the Earl with his commitment to find the family dog Isis, scheming Thomas has now been given a second shot at employment. He’s currently serving as Robert’s valet, but is still on the look out for the main chance. It’s this self-interest that alienates even his old partner in crime, the equally conniving O’Brien. Will he have any allies left below stairs?

Sarah O’Brien 

It looks like there’ll be fissures in the normally pally relationship between O’Brien and Thomas when the former seizes on the opportunity to give her nephew a position in the household. If O’Brien had her way, Alfred would rise up the servants’ ranks more quickly than others could hope for – a desire that rankles with her colleagues, especially former ally Thomas. Their days huddled outdoors scheming and smoking could well be numbered.

Anna Bates 

It hasn’t been the best start to married life for head housemaid Anna: first she gets wed to Mr Bates, at which point he gets carted off to prison for the murder of his first wife. Now she’s juggling responsibilities at Downton with her tireless efforts to free Bates from incarceration. And although she’s completely cemented her friendship with principal employer Lady Mary, it’s her husband’s regular letters that are the highlights of her week.

Mrs Patmore 

A tartar of the kitchen who is for ever ordering underling Daisy around, despite assurances that the former kitchenmaid could be promoted to assistant cook. Mrs Patmore is a shrewd and observant member of staff, especially when it comes to the romantic desires of the younger members of staff, and also fiercely defends her cook’s rights and privileges against all comers.

Mrs Hughes 

Unsentimental, but moral and decent when dealing with the female servants, Mrs Hughes feels her position of head housekeeper depends on strict management of her staff and herself. This stoicism manifested itself in her personal life when she refused a proposal of marriage from country farmer Joe Burns, opting to continue with her work at Downton instead. She has always tried to act for the best, but series three finds her feeling guilty about the evidence she gave at Bates’s trial that led to his conviction.

Alfred Nugent 

A spot of nepotism here what with the tall, awkward Alfred being O’Brien’s nephew. The bigger issue though is whether this former hotel waiter can cut it as a footman and meet Carson’s exacting standards. Downton has been in need of a new footmen ever since the death of William Mason in series two, but some of Alfred’s old habits may prove hard to break, leading to questions being asked as to whether he’s in the right career at all.

Daisy Robinson 

The former kitchenmaid may have spoken up and demanded that she be promoted to assistant cook, but the post-war situation means she has some time to wait before Mrs Patmore can deliver what she promises. But at least she’s had the gumption to stand up for herself – even if she’s still at the beck and call of her martinet boss. Maybe the death of William in the previous series has demonstrated that life is too short to let opportunities go by.

Josepeh Molesley 


Matthew Crawley’s valet is constantly finding that his words are falling on deaf ears. He spends a lot of time trying to convince Matthew that he will need a proper valet at the big house once he is married to Lady Mary. But is Matthew listening? His attempts to win over Anna Smith were also unsuccessful as her heart belonged to Bates. Will the events of series three reveal whether his feelings have changed?