It’s become commonplace here in the Governor’s House to step back 200 years and welcome Jane Austen enthusiasts dressed in long gowns for country weekends á la the Regency period. But with the first Downton Abbey dinner, we have just experienced a new time travel destination, back to the early 20th Century, the time when the house was occupied by then Senator Page and his family. In a dining room equipped with a button on the floor under the table so the lady of the house could call the servants, the table was laid for a four-course dinner. The curious thing was that all the place settings did not exactly match although Carson, the Crawley’s ever-proper butler, would have approved the placement of everything just one inch in from the edge of the table. One place might been set with a rim soup, another a bouillon cup. One setting might have dessert cutlery, another none. And the table decoration was not just flowers, but an odd collection of silver serving pieces. It wasn’t just dinner; it was a lesson in dining etiquette that started when we gathered in the library and ended with decanting and pouring the sherry. In between we served ourselves from the platter with two spoons, passed the bread with the correct hand, and learned what foods should be eaten with the fingers. Everyone had a chance to take a turn at being a footman to clear the salad (from the right, of course), serve the sauce (from the left), or remove unused silverware (without a sound). And everyone came away full not just with dinner, but perhaps with a bit more confidence in the off chance that an invitation to come for dinner should arrive from Highclere Castle.
Downton Abbey dinners and etiquette talks are scheduled for February 5, 9 and 27 and March 2. Reservations are required in advance. Room rates are discounted for guests attending the dinner and a proper English breakfast is included.