Downton Abbey is a drama embedded in its period setting. Since the hit ITV series began, the Crawleys have had brushes with royalty, visits from internationally renowned singers and shared parties with the Bloomsbury set.
We’ve seen them go through the First World War and the outbreak of Spanish flu. The family’s future was set on a different course because of the sinking of the Titanic. And it’s poorer a poorer one thanks to the nationalisation of the Canadian Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad.
Tthe Abbey’s residents keep up with the news, too. They aren’t afraid of discussing the latest scandal over a cup of Carson’s finest. They talk politics, prohibition in America, medical advancements, wireless radio, telephones, fridges and electric whisks. They’ve had their say on women’s suffrage, Irish independence, the Beer Hall Putsch and the Teacup Dome scandal. And that’s unlikely to change in the show’s sixth and final season.
“We begin the series in 1925,” explained creator Julian Fellowes at a preview screening, adding that it “isn’t a particularly big year historically”. But there is still plenty of fodder…
What will the Crawleys be discussing this series – and who might turn up for dinner?
The Administration of Estates Act. This was a law passed in 1925 in England and Wales that changed the rules of inheritance and abolished primogeniture, the right of the firstborn male child to inherit the family estate. No more need for a male heir.
The first TV transmission. On 2nd October 1925, John Logie Baird successfully transmitted the first television pictures with a greyscale image. The Crawleys will be subscribing to Radio Times in no time.
The demolition of Devonshire House. The grand house by Green Park in Piccadilly was the London residence of the Dukes of Devonshire in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was then demolished by property developers – a move sure to irritate the Granthams. (Its wine cellars are now Green Park ticket hall, by the way…)
Dry hair. Hairdryers were popular pieces of tech in 1925. “We’ve got household items like hairdryers being introduced,” teases Fellowes. So that’ll make the job of lady’s maid Anna Bates a bit easier…
A royal funeral. The Crawleys might just be in need of their morning dress once again. The queen mother, her Majesty Queen Alexandra, passed away on 20 November 1925 at Sandringham after a heart attack.
The return to the Gold Standard. The Gold Standard is a monetary system under which the money in circulation is based on a fixed quantity of gold. Inflation and an unstable banking system meant it took a few years before Britain returned to the Gold Standard after the First World War, but they did in 1925. Winston Churchill, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced as much in his budget for the year. It didn’t last long, leading to deflation and Britian abandoning it again in 1931. But Robert Crawley and co don’t know that just yet.
Bright lights. In the Crawleys’ neighbouring county, the Blackpool Illuminations are back after the First World War and they are brighter than ever in September 1925. Staff trip, anyone?
The dissembling of Agecroft Hall. 15th century Tudor manor Agecroft Hall was bought at auction in 1925, dissembled and shipped across the Atlantic to America. lt was originally located in the Irwell Valley, Lancashire. It now stands in Richmond, Virginia. We assume, much to Violet’s distaste.
William Randolph Hearst. After seeing photographs of St. Donat’s Castle in Country Life Magazine, the newspaper publisher bought the property in the Vale of Glamorgan, restored it and began holding lavish parties. Edith could probably learn a thing or two from him…
Politics in Europe. January saw Mussolini dissolve the Italian parliament and became dictator. While the year also saw Joseph Stalin take power over Leon Trotsky in Russia and Adolf Hitler publish Mein Kampf in Germany.
Downton Abbey returns to ITV on Sunday 20th September