Award for Research into the Working Classes of "Downton Abbey"


Professor Jane Humphries, Chair of the Faculty of History, and Dr Oliver Cox of the Thames Valley Country Houses Partner were awarded support for two 2-month projects exploring the availability of wage details in the estate accounts of country houses and the number of extant working people's memoirs.

These two research projects emerge from Professor Humphries’s recent book, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution (2010) and continue her pioneering use of working peoples’ memoirs to humanise economic history through both qualitative and quantitative sources. One project will look to extend and enhance Professor Humphries’s database of working peoples’ memoirs through a systematic survey of the archival collections of members of the Thames Valley Country House Partnership in collaboration with the National Trust and Historic Houses Association. The second project will use similar archives to interrogate the wage earning potential for men and women in service in country house estates. Both of these projects will create an inventory of usable sources and a brief indication of their scope.

The outcomes of these two scoping projects will be of direct use to Professor Humphries’s current research projects and the eighteen partner houses in Dr Cox’s network. The archival stories unearthed by the two research associates have the potential to be used as the basis for new public exhibitions, displays, or educational programmes to shed further light on ‘life downstairs’. This research will allow the associates to create an education toolkit for National Trust and other partner properties to facilitate more detailed public engagement with economic history and generate a greater public understanding of the importance of historical research in underpinning visitor experiences at heritage properties.

In addition to these important public-facing outcomes, we envisage that this scoping phase will be the necessary first step towards creating a doctoral research project that could be co-supervised and collaborative through the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Awards scheme.