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A classic upper-class Edwardian table settingA classic Edwardian table setting.

Silverware typical of the Edwardian EraSilverware typical of the Edwardian Era.

One of the joys of watching the Downton Abbey series is the focus on meals, ranging from grand dinners hosted by the Earl and Countess of Grantham to staff gatherings below stairs. Food in Edwardian era stately houses was far more than mere sustenance – entertaining was a display of wealth and status above stairs, whilst for servants it was the vital source of energy to put in long and arduous working days and nights. Interestingly, the style and content of their meals was vastly different but a degree of formality and hierarchy existed both upstairs and downstairs.

 

Given the lack of mod cons in the early decades of the twentieth century, it is staggering to see the quantity of food offered and the elegance of the dishes. Generally four meals were served: breakfast (on trays or at table); luncheon at 1pm; tea at 5pm; and dinner at 8pm. Different styles of service were adopted depending on the meal and also whether guests were present.

 

When entertaining, dinners were especially elaborate and the number of courses sometimes exceeded twenty. Dishes were individually served by footmen in the Russian style, course by course. Given that about fifty items might be required for each guest (cutlery, china, glassware), there would have been countless hours of cleaning up following such banquets.

The Titanic's First Class dining menuA First Class dinner menu from the Titanic.

Edwardian era menus are fascinating, not only for the number of courses served but also for the staggering amount of fish and meat featured in the daily diet. It was nothing to find several fish courses followed by a variety of poultry, game, lamb and beef courses. A selection of elaborate sweet dishes rounded off the meal – all of which was accompanied by a series of fine wines. How the women managed to keep their hourglass figures is a mystery!

 

Behind the baize door, the staff ate very differently. Their food was plentiful and wholesome, washed down with ale, cider, beer or tea. It lacked the variety and quality enjoyed by their employers, although on occasion they were fortunate to enjoy leftovers. Given that those in service often worked repetitive 18 hour days for low wages with very little leisure time, the provision of food and board in those times was clearly very highly valued.

 

This lifestyle’s days were numbered. By the end of WWI, many of the servants had joined the forces; women had been recruited into factories and the Land Army; and death duties had started to put very real pressure on the ability of the large estates to survive. Shortages of staples led to food rationing in early 1918 and thereafter life in stately houses and the British diet changed forever.

 

 

Edwardian photograph of the kitchen of Waddesdon Manor, one of the homes visited on our Downton Era tour.
Click here to visit our YouTube channel and view interviews with the cast and crew on the food of Downton Abbey (all genuine Edwardian fare prepared by onsite chefs!), as well as documentaries on food and dining in the Edwardian Era, a lovely short film on how to make that classic Edwardian dish, pea soup, and a hilarious but informative guide to Edwardian table manners with the current Countess of Carnarvon.

Find out about our 19 day tour of Britain's Downton Era departing August 2015. One highlight of the program is a guided tour of Highclere, which is already fully booked for group visits in both 2014 and 2015. In addition we will explore many of the other stately homes featured in the series and learn about life upstairs and downstairs in the Edwardian Era.

Visit Get Up & Go magazine for your chance to win two places on this unique tour !

 

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2017 Guaranteed Departures

2017 Guaranteed Departures

We are very pleased to be able to guarantee the following tours for 2017.

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Meet Our Program Leaders

Meet Our Program Leaders

Our Program Leaders are based in New Zealand and Australia, so have an understanding of the needs of our New Zealand and Australian participants. They are all well-travelled with a…

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Gold Rewards Program

Gold Rewards Program

Our Gold Rewards Membership Program allows you to experience the Uk, Europe, Asia and beyond as a local with "Live Like a Local" experiences in addition to many more benefits.

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Refer a Friend Rewards

Refer a Friend Rewards

Receive a $200 discount off any Golden Compass tour when your friends or family book with us! Your friends will also save $100 off their own booking and there is…

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Discover Spain with Jone Gaillard - 14 September - 02 October 2017

Our Discover Spain program explores the historic links, cultures and religions of these two civilisations, as well as the great geographical and cultural diversity of Spain with its ancient and fascinating cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Granada and Seville, as well as its regions away from the traditional tourist beaches. 

 



 

Inclusive of field trips, local guides, gratuities and all meals.