Downton Abbey's Real Legacy
Image: Mike Searle
Downton Abbey's Real Legacy

Most houses are just houses. Some, however, deserve honor.

My parents lived in three different apartments in the first phase of their life together. Three times they shared living quarters with in-laws. In the second half of life, they bought or built four different houses.

The places they built had unique features. The one tract house was so unspecial that they called their subdivision "North Manure" instead of the developer's more elegant designation, "North Manor."

Only their final house became so memory filled and was so beautifully situated that it took on a life of its own. Surrounded by mountainous national forest land, it featured beautiful vistas, an amazing variety of wildlife (12 species of hummingbird alone), and a babbling brook. As a teenager, I helped develop the property. My children visited their grandparents there every summer, and later they brought their own spouses and children to visit. It was a magnet for generations of cousins, uncles, and aunts. Visitors made its capacious veranda their own. For our family, the place almost became what Hyannisport was to the Kennedys or Kennebunkport to the Bushes.

When my parents moved, no one felt the need to preserve any of their other houses. But when they died, we scrambled to keep their mountain home in the family.

Houses like that have names. My parents' house was Hummingbird Hill. Masterpiece fans have fallen in love with Downton Abbey, the setting for the most popular costume drama since the 1981 television adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.

The fictional abbey and my parents' mountain home are more than the sum of their walls and windows. On my summer vacation, I read Lady Fiona Carnarvon's Lady Almina ...

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Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
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Downton Abbey's Real Legacy
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October 2012

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