Sunday, December 30, 2012

Downton Abbey Economics

First up, Architectural Digest: 

Historic Houses: The Splendors of Highclere Castle 
AD revisits the Earl of Carnarvon’s estate in Hampshire—now the setting of PBS’s hit show Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle: A Look at the Real Downton AbbeyDownton Abbey, PBS’s hit period drama that has become essential Sunday-night viewing, has turned its setting, Britain’s Highclere Castle, into a television icon. Here AD revisits the historic Victorian estate as it appeared in the January/February 1979 issue, long before it was chosen as the home of the fictional Crawley family.
“I am the last link of the feudal system. I’ve done everything I possibly can to keep the ancestral home.” The present earl of Carnarvon, who is the sixth of that title, lives at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, one of the great country houses of England. He succeeded to the estate in 1923, on the death of his father, who financed Howard Carter and discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, in Egypt.

Maintaining Highclere Castle has been a difficult challenge for Lord Carnarvon, who is the head of the Herbert family. When he succeeded, he inherited about 8,000 acres. Some he sold to pay inheritance taxes, and since then he has made over the remainder to his son, Lord Porchester, and his grandson—but kept for himself the castle and his stud farm, amounting to about 600 acres. There are nine different entrances to this domain, which has a circumference of 16 miles, with three lakes on the grounds, and 56 Cedars of Lebanon, planted a good bit over three centuries ago.

Pictures have had to be sold, family silver and a fine pearl necklace also, and over the years, some of the outlying parts of the estate. But Lord Carnarvon was determined not to sell the family seat, and the status quo is preserved. The red-and-blue flag still waves valiantly and proudly from the tower over the castle.
In spite of the upkeep, life here has always been enjoyed in great style. Much attention is paid to detail. For example, when Lord Carnarvon gave a ball for a thousand guests in the 1950s, he wanted the house to be perfect. So the crenellations around the tower, which were falling apart, were reconstructed for the occasion in hardboard, and then floodlighted.

Lord Carnarvon lives at Highclere with a staff of seven. He is now 80, and remembers well his childhood in this house that has been in the family since the 18th century. When he was a small boy, there was a basic resident staff of 23—including a maid whose life was spent concocting preserves.

Lord Carnarvon went into the army when he was 18, and was posted to India with the Seventh Hussars. The problems of inheritance taxes were devastating, yet he managed to invest a considerable sum in modernization of the castle. The time of the lamplighter, who had orders to fill 150 lamps, came finally to an end....MORE
And from Somewhat Logically:

Celebrating the Height of Empire as Queen Victoria Opens the Great Exhibition of 1851
How much do Public Broadcast Service viewers understand about the economy that led to the lifestyle of the wealthy Edwardian-era family in the hit series Downton Abbey? If one watched only PBS historical dramas, the British history leading up to the Abby era seems to run to the understanding that Horatio Hornblower  (born imaginarily in 1771) and the Royal Navy defeated the French, and somewhere in there, Jane Austen came to her Sense and Sensibility (1811), and didn’t James Watt (1736-1819) invent the steam engine and thus power the Industrial Revolution upon which England built a mighty Empire on which the sun wouldn’t set until World War One came along and upset the elegance and gentility of the Edwardian Era?  Well, there may have been a couple of social issues here and there, along with the Titanic, providing the PBS drama with some good plot points.

The historical truth is markedly different.  The span of relevant history starts out with a major bailout of the landed gentry and the banking system, and ends with the rise of the financial sector providing much of the income for the Downton Abbeys of the time. It progresses through the Industrial Revolution to a late-Victorian English ruling elite that was smug, narrowly educated and scientifically illiterate, rich from the financial sector but with a manufacturing base that had been increasingly starved for the capital to keep up with the technological pace of change.  It spans a time of tectonic social shift from an agrarian economy to one where a rising industrial middle class needed workers for its factories. Because of that fundamental change, the working poor were largely cut off from the land and social structure which produced the food they ate, making them dependant solely on the factories that provided their wages.

The bailout occurred when Parliament passed the Corn Laws, a steep tariff on cheap imported grain   As the eminent British historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote, “The Corn Laws which the farming industry imposed on the country in 1815 were not designed to save a tottering sector of the economy, but rather to preserve the abnormally high profits of the Napoleonic war-years, and to safeguard farmers from the consequences of their wartime euphoria, when farms had changed hands at the fanciest prices, loans and mortgages had been accepted on impossible terms.” The linkage to the sub-prime debacle and subsequent bailouts is obvious. Then, as now, making risky loans based on bubble-inflated real estate was a recipe for trouble....MORE
It wasn't the farmers who were safeguarded, it was the landowners who may or may not have been the husbandryman.
from Architectural Digest:
One of the Great Homes: Eaton Neston

from Somewhat Logically:
Napoleon III, Butter and West Marin

and on the Corn laws:
The End of Cheap Food- What was Old is New Again AND: Profiting from Politics
Global Warming, Politics, Laws and Opportunity
Global Warming, Politics, Laws and Opportunity--Part II