For fans of ITV’s Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle is the home to the iconic Grantham family, but for the current Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, this stunning location has long been called home. Fans from all over the world will be used to seeing this grand backdrop on TV screens, but there’s much more to discover at this grand stately home. Thanks to the great success of Downtown Abbey, Highclere Castle is now one of Britain’s top tourist attractions, which opens its doors to the public throughout the summer. So to get you ready for your Downton Abbey tour, here are a few facts about this famous Jacobethan mansion.
1. Highclere was destined to become Downton Abbey
The magnificent Highclere estate has belonged to the Carnarvon family since 1679. But while another house once stood where Highclere is today, the current house was built in 1839 and was designed by Sir Charles Barry who was also an architect of the Houses of Parliament.
Downtown Abbey’s writer and creator, Julian Fellowes, had Highclere castle in mind as he wrote the series and claimed Highclere was always destined to be the backdrop for the show.
2. Many of the props have a unique history at Highclere
Any Downton fan will be aware of the bells in the servant’s kitchen. These are in fact a replica of the ones still present in Highclere today. Each bell has a different pitch so that the servants would know which room to attend without having to look at the bells themselves.
Additionally, in the music room at Highclere, you’ll find a mahogany desk and chair that was once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. The Third Earl purchased them in 1821 after the Emperor’s death. Fans will recognise this desk as Lord Grantham’s writing station in the living room of the Abbey.
3. Highclere was a home for wounded soldiers during WW1
In series two of the show, Lord Grantham opened up Downton Abbey as a convalescence hospital for soldiers during World War I. It could be that the writers took inspiration for the script from the events that took place at Highclere when Lady Almina, the Fifth Countess of Carnarvon, transformed the castle into a military hospital for soldiers arriving from Flanders. A bedroom and dressing room were used as an operating theatre and recovery room, while the countess became a skilled head nurse.
If you are visiting Highclere on a Downtown Abbey tour you can view many of the letters on display from soldiers and their parents thanking the countess for her hospitality.
4. Highclere houses an Egyptian antiquities collection
Lord and Lady Carnarvon often spent their winters in Egypt, where they brought back antiquities for their collection at Highclere. Much of this collection is still on display at the family home.
As an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon became the financial backer for the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, along with archaeologist Howard Carter. Accompanied by Lord Carnarvon’s daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, all three entered the tomb and were the first people in modern times to do so. Rumours of a ‘mummy’s curse’ surround the Earl’s death as he drew his last breath in Cairo just five months later.
5. Highclere’s other claims to fame
Although Highclere Castle was brought to many people’s attention through Downton Abbey, this grand setting has also featured in a number of other TV programmes and films. Highclere was also a location for Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 thriller Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, as well as the 1987 film adaptation of The Secret Garden, and the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooster, which starred comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.
Highclere Castle, along with the Egyptian exhibition and gardens, are open to the public during the summer months and for other special events throughout the year. Join Wilson’s Chauffeurs for an unforgettable Downton Abbey tour and travel in luxury with expert, private guides in our quest to witness some of the most unforgettable locations and scenes from the show.
Most importantly we guarantee entrance to the Castle when it is open to the public despite entrance tickets to Highclere advertised as sold out. This is one tour you won’t want to miss.