Downton seemed to be full of action last Sunday. Different threads of the story and characters were exploring potential relationships whether old or young. The 1920’s seemed in retrospect an era of glamour and daring, un-chaperoned parties, treasure hunts in cars, exciting meetings in smoky nightclubs, and of course opportunities for flirtations and liaisons at weekend house parties.
The visitors’ bedrooms around the gallery at Highclere have a series of inter-connecting doors. Whilst the Downton actors come in and out of our rooms onto the gallery landing in “Downton” there would in fact have really been no such need in real life. You may remember in Season 1, Lady Mary got herself in a bit of a tricky situation with the very handsome Mr. Pamuk, well if that had been real life, it wouldn’t have been such a dramatic evening as she would have been able to use the inter-connecting door!
I found it fascinating researching Highclere’s visitors’ books from the 1920’s and 1930’s. The entries began to paint a story which helped me understand and try to share the stories and relationships in Catherine’s time – the 6th Countess – who lived here at Highclere during those years. I could spot the mistresses, or daring young girls, and wonder now how on earth Catherine allocated bedrooms.
Fascinating people of the time stayed here, from Prince George, (later the Duke of Kent), to Miss Poppy Baring, and the Duke of Marlborough who stayed firstly with his wife, the heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt and later with his second wife the beautiful Gladys Deacon. The politician Alfred Duff Cooper and Lady Diana Cooper stayed, as well as handsome racehorse trainers (renowned for their charm), Malcom Sargeant, Prince Ali Khan, producers from Hollywood and actresses of the time.
In 1939 Randolph Churchill stayed here with Pamela Digby (later Harriman) and then married a couple of weeks later. Monica Sheriff stayed with her close friend Elvira de la Fuenta, a double agent, during the Second World War. The stories they must have told over a game of bridge. Women often seemed to stay on their own -sans husband – unlike pre-1914. Reading their biographies, many of the guests married several times over although the world of divorce settlements was not evident.
Today the interconnecting doors have a rather more practical purpose as my sisters’ children sleep in various dressing rooms, next to their parents and tag is played by those 5 years and under until Nanny intervenes.