The Downton Abbey Exhibition

Everyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am a hardcore Downton Abbey fan. So when I heard that there was a Downton Abbey limited time exhibition going on at 218 W. 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan, I bought tickets and dragged my mother and a friend to the city. 

I’m not sure what that building was originally, because it’s not a museum, but it was more than adequate to house this exhbition, which is only in New York City until the end of January, I think. It features original set pieces, costumes, and props from the show with some historical context to guide you along the way.

We walked into a very busy lobby area, our e-tickets were scanned, and we were ushered into a small introduction room with a video introduction by a beloved Downton character. The first floor was about the servant characters.

The kitchen set!!

The servants’ hall set with the bell board!
More servant’s hall

There were objects and props from the show which the servant characters would have handled. Each room had an explanation of what would have gone in that room–the kitchen being the busiest place in the house, the butler’s pantry and what tasks Carson was doing in there.

Then we went up to the second floor, which was about the family. The first thing we saw on the second floor were a few evening gowns. They were all on mannequins, so they looked much smaller than they seemed on screen. We kept saying, “Wow, those actresses must be really skinny.”

But seeing the clothes in front of you means you get all the detail that maybe gets lost on camera. There’s embroidery, beading, hemlines…

So. Beautiful. I’d heard that many of the upstairs costumes were made from authentic pieces of antique lace or beading and then a dress was built around that piece. You could tell in person when something was older than the rest of the material.

Then came the cool part–upstairs sets!

First, there was the famous dining room where the Crawleys had so much drama over the years. There were clips of some of those dining room scenes playing as you went into the dining room space. Of course, they can’t transport the dining room from Highclere Castle to New York, but they did a pretty decent recreation of it.

My mom: “The dining room looked much bigger on TV.”

I got a kick out of the table settings. I mean, look at them!

So many forks!

From there, we proceeded through Lady Mary’s bedroom set to displays about aspects of the characters–from hunting to society to the Jazz Age to World War One, from pregnancy to women’s rights. There were clips of Maggie Smith’s inimitable Dowager Lady Grantham.

There were displays with some props pertaining to each major character–like the books Daisy would have read to recipe books Mrs. Patmore would have consulted. There was an estate map, which Branson as the estate agent would have known very well.

The third level was all costume gallery. There were two costumes I was particularly excited to see:

The “Beadith”–Edith’s beaded gown

Sybil’s “new frock” from Season 1

But among everything in the exhibition, these humble props were SO exciting to see. The top one is the telegram Lord Grantham reads at the end of Season 1, when WWI is declared.

The second one is the telegram that kicks off the entire series–when the Crawleys’ relatives drown when the Titanic sinks.

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