Downton Abbey inspires course at Meadow Brook Hall

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“I found that my learning about English history strengthened my watching of Downton Abbey and Downton Abbey strengthened my understanding of English history.”

By Kevin Graham

Randall Engle was watching “Downton Abbey’”with his wife when he was inspired to work more at the history behind the series.

  “I went back to do a lot of researching about it,” Engle said. “I found that my learning about English history strengthened my watching of “Downton Abbey’” and “Downton Abbey” strengthened my understanding of English history.”  

  It wasn’t long before he decided he had to share the experience with students and a course was born.

The course, entitled “The World of “Downton Abbey”: Revolution, Rebellion, and Re-Creation” will look at the English aristocracy in the mid-20th century from political, social and religious perspectives.  

Students will also learn a little of what life was like in an English country house through tours of Meadow Brook Hall. Course sessions are being held in the family garage.Engle thinks the real appeal of the PBS series is that every detail is exactly right.

 The plot follows the exploits of the servants that kept the country house running on a daily basis

  “ Life downstairs was quite a bit different than the life upstairs,” he said. “I think there’s a figure for every upstairs person required four downstairs (staff members).”

The servants also had a class system amongst themselves. A butler was of higher class than the footman under him.

Curator Madelyn Rzadkowolski said that Alfred and Matilda Dodge Wilson modeled their home after an English country house after an exhaustive tour of both the U. S. and England.

Rzadkowolski said it was not uncommon for U. S. families to be able to go over to England and buy whole rooms to move back to the U. S. Alfred and Matilda took a different approach. 

 “Instead of buying these buildings and taking them away from the British people, they instead had their architect take photographs and drawings,” she said. “They used American craftsmen to make their own version of what these homes looked like.”

 Rzadkowolski discussed the types of things students would see in the house.

 “They’ll be able to see the ‘Decades of Dresses’ tour,” she said. “That’s all fashions that Matilda had that we still have in the house. They will get to see the main house tour and behind-the-scenes. They’ll get to see in the laundry room, the sewing room, the ironing room, the embroidery room (and) some of the staff bedrooms.”

 Engle said Meadow Brook Hall is the perfect location for a course like this.

 “The amazing thing about Meadow Brook is that it was not retrofitted to be what we think our house of the era would have looked like,” he said. “The amazing thing about Meadow Brook is that it is what the house looked like. It was a working house with vintage everything impeccably maintained.”

 

Contact Staff Reporter Kevin Graham at [email protected]