The Way We Were: Real people, real events...

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CITY historian JOHN TAYLOR takes another walk through history.

The popularity of such television series as ‘Downton Abbey’ is perhaps not entirely unexpected, for in an age when modern communications have allowed the profligacy of so called ‘social networking,’ it conversely seems that for many people human interaction has become increasingly isolated.

Hours spent talking to an image on a screen, or communicating on a mobile phone in messages of clipped, and barely intelligible, English, seems hardly natural, and it’s therefore perhaps unsurprising that the psyche yearns for an age when social interaction involved fluent and articulate conversation, a sense of close knit community, and the close, perhaps flirtatious, subtleties of body language.

Anyway, OMG that’s my two pennyworth, innit, LOL.

And so to the upstairs downstairs world of Downton Abbey, where everybody was far from equal, and the ‘lower orders’ would have certainly not had the leisure time to spend on Facebook, or follow the banal ‘twitterings’ of some non entity.

But if the ‘Edwardian summer’ seemed to be the culmination of this class divide, then for the social climate the gathering clouds of global conflict would soon instigate an irreversible change, and after the First World War for the aristocracy their fortunes would never be quite the same again.

Yet locally, at the outset of the war the social order was still well entrenched, and not least for the Farrars at Chicheley Hall, the Carlisles at Gayhurst House, and the Boswells at Crawley Grange.

As for Tyringham House, the fact that the dome of the mansion had been designed by the Kaiser’s architect, and that the Kaiser himself had been planning a visit, did not perhaps bode well for the Konigs.

But there could be no questioning the loyalty of Frederick ‘Fritz’ Konig, for as the owner of Tyringham House he had by September 1914 offered the Government the use of the new wing for sick and wounded soldiers. However, the War Office had already made preparations for a considerable number of wounded, and it was therefore hoped to obviate the need for four months or so.

In this time of national danger many men from Tyringham and Filgrave readily volunteered for military service, and before leaving for Oxford each was presented with a sovereign by Mr Konig, from whose own staff several members would also heed the call.

Throughout the country, the prevailing patriotism had been stirred not least by the harrowing story of German atrocities in Belgium, and witness to this was well borne by Henri Vandenberg and his wife and four children. As an impoverished labouring class family, they had fled from Ashot, near Louvain, when their humble cottage was burnt down by the Germans, and having via Antwerp escaped to Holland, there their plight came to the notice of the Belgian Refugee Committee in England.

Subsequently, on the evening of Monday, December 19, 1914 they arrived at Tyringham, and through the courtesy of Mr and Mrs Konig would there be accommodated rent free in the lodges of Tyringham House. As for the furniture, this was supplied through the kindness of Miss McFerran, of Tyringham cottage, and Mrs. Carlisle, of Gayhurst House, who also did much to make the family feel at home.

Indeed, locally there were numerous examples of how in this time of national crisis everyone, regardless of social standing, united in the common cause, and so if the producers of Downton Abbey are seeking material for a sequel, then for the period 1914 to 1918 there is no need for fiction.

Just consult the annals of the local past, for there will be found a ready made cast of real people, facing real life events.

Not a Facebook generation, but a generation who knew how to communicate face to face.