Remembering 1912 royal visit to South Yorkshire as Downton Abbey movie fever builds

Royal party at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1912Royal party at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1912
Royal party at Wentworth Woodhouse in 1912
It was thought to be the first charm offensive between the Royals and the general public when King George V and Queen Mary visited Wentworth Woodhouse near Rotherham for four days, in the summer of 1912.

On the eve of the release of the Julian Fellowes-penned Downton Abbey Movie on September 13, set against the backdrop of Wentworth Woodhouse, we take a look back at that visit with the help of the Grade I listed country house’s historian David Allott.

The Downton movie is set in 1927 and a visit to the Crawley family – when King George V, the grandson of Queen Victoria and grandfather of our present Queen Elizabeth II – was still on the throne.

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There was lots of social unrest in 1912 and Fellowes believes that a royal tour and visit to the Fitzwilliams in a place like Wentworth Woodhouse would still have been appropriate in the inter-war years, when many of the European royal families were uncomfortable with social unrest and revolution threatened the royals’ future. As David Allott said, the royals came with an entourage of 76.

King George V at Elsecar Colliery in 1912King George V at Elsecar Colliery in 1912
King George V at Elsecar Colliery in 1912

He added: “The main Downton sequence is set in the opulent marble saloon, the main reception room set up as a ballroom. This is where the most famous ballerina of the age, Anna Pavlova, performed for the royals.” The royals had been considering spending the summer of 1912 visiting cousins in Europe, but as David said: “I believe the king was persuaded to undertake a tour of the Yorkshire coalfields instead by the Archbishop of York, in an effort to connect with the industrial working class. It was a tour where the royals reinvented themselves.” After visits to Clifton Park, Elsecar and Cadeby Collieries – when the pit disaster happened there – there was a grand concert at Wentworth Woodhouse and, in a touching tribute, colliers paraded and carried flaming torches in front of the King and Queen.