Downton Abbey comes to Pishiobury
by Bob Reed
Resume of the Talk given by Bob Reed to the Society on April 9th 2018
Bob Reed’s talk on Pishiobury Park compared the roles and life styles of the latter in the late 19thC, with those portrayed in the TV series Downton Abbey. Pishiobury was established in 1144 as a sub-manor of Sawbridgeworth. In 1400 the estate was about 400 acres of mostly arable land with a house and orchard. It was sold to Henry VIII in 1534 who granted it to Anne Boleyn. After her execution the house decayed and was replaced in 1585. Later described as a neat pile for a Manor House, it was adorned in front by a fair bowling green and had fair walks.
The house was remodelled in 1782-4, with its Park created in the style of Capability Brown having an artificial oxbow lake, pleasure gardens protected by a HaHa and walks. By the late 19thC the estate was still self sufficient growing all its own crops, together with a herd of Long Horns for beef and Short Horns for dairy products. The octagon cow house and dairy were state of the art and are still largely intact. Crop rotation, rare at the time, was practised with clover, added guano and crushed bones. One particular field of 70 acres is unimproved grassland and never having been ploughed, has a good depth of top soil. It still has a great variety of rare native flowers and grasses.
The owners operated a strictly controlled heirarchy, like that shown in the TV series. Below stairs domestic servants and farm labourers were effectively trapped on the estate, and labour was very cheap. Gardeners and labourers were undernourished, fed after the dogs and were generally treated as being less important. Staff worked for life and if injured or severely ill, one was likely to die early of infection. The audience thought Bob’s approach comparing real life to that shown in the TV series worked well and being made with humour and good visual aids, was much appreciated by all.