Posts Tagged ‘Highclere Castle’

(Hint: for quicker download, click on title of this article.) As viewers of Downton Abbey, we think we have gotten to know Highclere Castle and its setting well.  Sir Barry remodelled Highclere Castle for the third earl of Carnarvon from 1839 to 1842. The architect had just finished building the Houses of Parliament. The house once looked quite different and was Georgian in feature, as this image shows.


Extensive renovations were made during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the mid-19th century, Henry, the 3rd earl of Carnarvon, transformed the house into a grand mansion with 60- 80 bedrooms (the sum varies according to the source) and over 120,000 square feet. The staircase, also designed by Thomas Allom, sits in the tower designed by Charles Barry.

Highclere Castle after renovation

Highclere Castle after renovation. Sir Charles Barry’s renovation was in the “High Elizabethan” style. The building was faced in Bath stone.

The Architectural Design

Architectural design for the tower of Downton Abbey by Sir Charles Barry, 1842. Image@Christie’s

The BBC said about Barry’s Houses of Parliament:

A good example of the period’s confused love affair with the past, it was summed up earlier this century as classic in inspiration, Gothic in detailing, and carried out with scrupulous adherence to the architectural detail of the Tudor period. – BBC, A British History of Architecture

This description can easily be applied to Highclere Castle with its whimsical look back to Tudor times.

The term “Jacobethan” refers to the Victorian revival of English architecture of the late 16th century and early 17th century, when Tudor architecture was being challenged by newly arrived Renaissance influences. During the 19th century there was a huge Renaissance revival movement, of which Sir Charles Barry was a great exponent – Barry described the style of Highclere as “Anglo-Italian”.[3] – Wikipedia

The Facade and Front Door

The front door

Many visitors come to this blog looking for a floor plan of Highclere Castle. This one depicted below sits on the Highclere Castle website and is a bit hard to read. Not all the rooms are currently in use, and a number, such as the music room, are available to be rented as conference rooms.

The House Plan

In the television series, the servant quarters and kitchens were not filmed at the Castle, but were constructed at Ealing studios in West London.

From The Victorian Country House by Mark Girouard.

Entrance Hall and Saloon

stairs and hall

Stairs and hall

Red stairs birds eye view

Red stairs birds eye view



Passage above saloon leading to the bedrooms

Interior of Highclere Castle

Saloon from gallery above. The room was designed by Thomas Allom and completed in the 1860s.

Saloon seating space Picture by Paul Hilton ©

Saloon seating space Picture by Paul Hilton ©



Detail of saloon ceiling

Detail of saloon ceiling

The Music Room

Music room

Music room

Music room

These days the music room is available as a conference room.*

The Library

Double library

Double library with coffered celings holds over 5,000 books.

Comfortable seating within the library

Comfortable seating within the library

The library is unusual in that it consists of a two part room. The opening between the two areas is featured by columns. This room is also available to rent as a conference room.*

The Drawing Room

The drawing room image @Boston Globe. The drawing room was designed by Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon,  in the "rococo revival" style .

The drawing room image @Boston Globe. The drawing room was designed by Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, in the “rococo revival” style .

The Dining Room

Much drama is centered in the dining room. The actors often took days to film a scene, and it was quite a feat to keep the food looking fresh and to maintain continuity in both the drinking glasses and on the plates. Read Downton Abbey: Dining in Splendor for more information.

The dining room

The dining room


Image @Conferences UK


Modern bedroom

Renovated bedroom

One of the bedrooms in need of renovation. Image @Daily Mail

One of the bedrooms in need of renovation. Image @Daily Mail

This image on Huffington Post shows more details about Downton Abbey/Highclere Castle and values the mansion:


More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

Lady Almina

Lady Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon, who lived at Highclere Castle during the turn of the century and through World War 1, had many qualities in common with the fictional Cora, Countes of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Upon Lady Almina’s marriage, her fortune staved off financial ruin for the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and helped to renovate the mansion.

Like Lady Cora, she allowed her house to be turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers, running it at her own expense.

WW1 soldier recuperating at Highclere Castle

On her orders, each wounded officer had the luxury of his own room, with down pillows and linen sheets. She  made beds and dressed wounds” (The Daily Mail).

Lady Almina put together a skilled orthopedic operation at Highclere Castle and she had very good nursing skills, so good that she was often sent some of the hardest cases.

Soldiers were nursed back to health on fresh linen sheets, propped up on fat down pillows so they could gaze out over a beautiful country park. Silver service dinners were followed by a game of cards in the library while sipping a glass of beer, naturally from the house’s very own brewery. A butler was even on hand to pour the convalescents a nip of whisky before dinner. – The Real Downton Abbey: How Highclere Castle Became a World War 1 Hospital (includes a video).

Playing games at Highclere Castle and enjoying home brewed beer

In this matter, Almina showed one of her kinder sides, for she was reportedly a terrible mother and lived largely a selfish and extravagant life until her fortune ran out. The war touched all lives and all class stratas, and not a family was left standing at its end that did not experience a loss:

“All their young men are gone,” lamented the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens of the sons of  Mells Manor, one super-romantic house in Somerset. That was in 1919 when he went to help choose the site of the village war memorial – a figure of St George on a column. The pain of the Horner family at the loss of their son Edward, the last of the male line, can be seen from his monument in the church: a moving statue of the young cavalry officer by Munnings. – The Telegraph, What Next For Downton Abbey?

For several centuries during wars and conflict, great country houses had been conscripted for medical services. One of the earliest country houses to be used as a hospital was Greenwich Palace, which was converted to a navel hospital in 1694.

During World War One:

A genuine sense of wanting to help led to many owners voluntarily turning over their houses as hospitals including the Earl of Harewood offering Harewood House, Lord Howard of Glossop Carlton Towers, Lady Baillie lent Leeds Castle and the 4th Marquess of Salisbury offering Hatfield House as he had done during WWI. – Houses as Hospital: the country house in medical service

The numbers of wounded soldiers who were returned from the battlefields of northern France and Belgium were unprecedented. It was enormously difficulty to remove wounded men from battlefields riddled with shell pocks and guarded by staggered rows of  barbed wire barriers that were miles long. Scores of soldiers who could have survived under immediate medical attention were left to die unattended.  Medics practiced triage, making instant decisions and leaving behind those who stood little chance of surviving or who could not withstand the rigors of being carried to safety. Even when soldiers were successfully brought back to camp, many had to suffer a long wait, for doctors and nurses were overwhelmed, supplies were short, and field hospital conditions were ghastly. A large number died behind the front waiting to be transported.

The soldiers who were brought back to England overwhelmed the hospitals and medical staff that were available. Auxiliary hospitals exploded around England,  many of them the country homes of aristocrats. These houses were not ideally suited for their new positions. During the late 19th century, Florence Nightingale influenced the design of hospitals, noting the importance of separating unsanitary scullery sinks from patient beds, for example, and improving cleanliness and introducing hygiene. While country houses did not provide antiseptic conditions, they became ideal havens for convalescents and for those who suffered from tuberculosis, for these patients required clean country air.

In the second episode of Series 2, the less seriously wounded soldiers or those whose injuries were healing and who needed convalescence were sent to Downton Abbey.  In real life, hospitals and convalescent houses were staffed by a commandant in charge, a quartermaster in charge of provisions, a matron in charge of the nursing staff, and the local voluntary aids, who were trained in first aid and home nursing.

To accommodate the soldiers, family members were confined and restricted to certain rooms in their own home. One would assume this would not be a hardship, since the houses were so large, but the labor shortage and the need for injured soldiers to be housed in large rooms without going up the stairs would most likely necessitate some appropriation of a family’s favorite rooms.  Lord Grantham’s library was divided, so that most of the room became a recreational space and a small section was left to him. Downton Abbey’s central hall became a dining area. Such changes must have grated on the privileged class, who, while wanting to perform their patriotic duty, could not escape encountering the hoi polloi in their daily routine.

With so many men serving as soldiers, servants were stretched thin and forced to perform duties that normally were outside of their scope and that stepped over the boundaries of etiquette. Anna helped to serve at dinner, which would have been totally unacceptable during peace time. Carson, in an effort to maintain the status quo, ruins his health and thus worsens the situation when he is laid low in bed.

Due to the war and its many effects, society was in turmoil. Social change happened on many fronts and class barriers began to blur. As men fought and died in France, women, including those who formerly worked as servants, filled their positions in factories, corporations, and farms. Great houses began to feel the pinch of being short staffed, and genteel ladies who were accustomed to being served had to cook and sew for themselves.

To feed the army, country estates converted their flower gardens to grow fruits and vegetables. At Hatfield House, the Cecil family’s “fields and private golf course were filled with trenches and a man-made swamp to create a maneuvering ground for an experimental weapon under development, the tank.”*

Isobel Crawley, once a working middle class wife – until her son, Matthew, was suddenly propelled into the position of heir to the Earl of Grantham –  finds her true calling in ministering to injured soldiers. She was trained as a nurse and had performed charity work in caring for the sick. The need for her professional services made her feel like a valued woman again. Isobel’s zealousness in converting Downton Abbey into a convalescent home placed her in direct conflict with Cora, Lady Grantham, and continued her battle of wills with Violet, the dowager Countess. Isobel’s situation was not unusual, for during this war many people of the working classes who were professionally trained found themselves in positions of superiority over gently bred women who volunteered as nurses aids.  One Indian soldier remarked with some awe that a noble British lady had ministered to his wounds and treated him as an equal.*

It was only because of the war that a former footman like Thomas would dare enter through the front door or that a doctor could serve as head of the hospital and make decisions that overrode those of the owners of the house. Lady Sybil, whose support of the suffragettes was revealed in the first series, became a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse), for there simply weren’t enough professional nurses to go around.

VAD Poster

In many cases, women in the neighbourhood volunteered on a part-time basis, although they often needed to supplement voluntary work with paid labour, such as in the case of cooks. Medical attendance was provided locally and voluntarily, despite the extra strain that the medical profession was already under at that time. – History of British Red Cross

VADs were trained for only a few weeks before working under professional nurses.

Only the middle and upper classes could afford to work for free, and to pay for the courses and exams that were required to become a VAD. Growing up with servants, many of these young women had never had to wash a plate or boil an egg. One girl related how amusing it was to serve tea at the hospital and then return home to have her own tea served by the parlour maid. – The Great War As You May Not Know It

VADs changed linens, sterilized equipment, and served meals, but many were also exposed to the rawer side of war and at times, when the influx of casualties overwhelmed the staff, VADs were expected to perform the duties of a professional nurse.

Red Cross VADs

VADs were generally from genteel, sheltered, and chaperoned backgrounds. Some were aristocrats, like Lady Diana Manners – the “Princess Di” of her day – reputedly the most beautiful woman in England and expected to marry the Prince of Wales. Her mother was very much against Diana becoming a VAD, as Diana states in her memoir, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. “She explained in words suitable to my innocent ears that wounded soldiers, so long starved of women, inflamed with wine and battle, ravish and leave half-dead the young nurses who wish only to tend them,” The Duchess gave in, but “… knew, as I did, that my emancipation was at hand,” Diana says, and goes on to admit, “I seemed to have done nothing practical in all my twenty years.” Nursing plunged her and other young women into a life-altering adventure. – The Great War As You May Not Know It

Serving as a VAD changes Lady Sybil, giving her a direction and purpose. Lady Edith, too, finds new meaning in an otherwise predictable life consisting of dinners, parties, and long stretches of boredom. Lady Sybil advised her sister to find her talent and pursue it, which Edith did. One wonders if Lady Mary will  find a similar passion before she throws her life away and marries a man she does not love or (we suspect) respects.

The strength of Downton Abbey’s plot threads this year is how they incorporate the roiling changes in class structure during a complex political time in which the necessities of war, the dissatisfaction of the working classes, and the continued growth of the women’s movement influenced the lives of the series’ characters. More on this topic later.

If you missed Episodes 1 & 2, they can be viewed on PBS’s site through March, 2012 at this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/watch/index.html

Please note: You can watch Downton Abbey Season 1 on Netflix as a DVD or streaming.

Other links and references:

Read Full Post »

A charming 4-bedroom cottage called Maple Farm House can be rented on the Highclere Estate. Highclere Castle, as every Downton Abbey fan knows, is the setting for this mini-series, which is currently being shown on PBS on Sunday nights.

I imagine this house as a perfect setting for Barton Cottage and the Dashwood ladies. Or as a cousin to Steventon Cottage, where Jane Austen grew up. The surroundings are magnificent and bucolic, to say the least.

Beacon Hill, Highclere Estate

Visits to to Highclere Estate and the mansion resume in April. But one lucky family can choose to live nearby year round.

Read Full Post »

Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey’s connection to Jane Austen is through Lord Carnarvon, whose descendents still own Highclere Castle, where the PBS Masterpiece Classic mini-series’ interior and exterior shots of the fictional country house were filmed. (Read about Andrew Lloyd Weber’s recent attempt to purchase the castle.) In Jane’s day, Lord Carnarvon was Henry, the 1st Earl. Jane wrote in a letter to Cassandra Austen, Saturday25 – Monday 27 th,  October 1800 :

“This morning we called at the Harwood’s & in their dining room found Heathcote & Chute for ever – Mrs Wm Heathcote & Mrs Chute – the first of whom took a long ride in to Lord Carnarvons Park and fainted away in the evening…”

Highclere Castle as it looked in Jane Austen's day

The 5th Earl

Lord Carnarvon’s park, which Jane writes of, is the grounds to Highclere Castle. The Carnarvon family has lived at Highclere since 1679, although the Castle as we see it today sits on the site of an earlier house. (Click here to view a short film about the Castle’s history.) A beautiful 6,000 acre park designed by Capability Brown between 1774-7 surrounds the Castle.

In 1842, the 3rd Earl commissioned architect Sir Charles Barry (also responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster) to redesign the Castle.

One of the most interesting fact about Highclere Castle is that the golden death mask of King Tutankhamun is featured in its gallery today.

Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in Egypt

Lord Carnarvon of Tutankhamun fame (George, the 5th Earl) was an Egyptologist who sponsored Howard Carter,  the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. It is said that when Canarvon and Carter broke into Tut’s tomb, they unleashed the mummy’s curse. But the story goes more like this:


Howard Carter cleans the second coffin. Image @Harry Burton

This popular legend was born when Lord Carnarvon, the English Earl who funded the Tutankhamun expedition, died less than six months after the opening of the tomb. Despite the fact that Lord Carnarvon was a sickly individual, and that no such “hieroglyphic curse” was found inscribed on the tomb, this legend persists today. . . Lord Carnarvon had been in a car accident many years earlier and had never fully recovered. About a month after entering the tomb, he cut open a mosquito bite while shaving and infection set in. Blood poisoning and pneumonia quickly followed, and within a few weeks, he passed away. Newspapers reported that mysterious forces unleashed from the mummy and its trappings had caused his death. – King Tut

This image of Howard Carter’s grave was taken by Tony Grant, who lives near the cemetery in London. (Thank you, Tony, for the photo and for the quote from Jane Austen’s letter!)

Howard's grave. Image @Tony Grant

Watch Downton Abbey at your local PBS station Sundays, January 9, 16, 23, and 30, 2011 at 9 PM. Read my other posts:

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,075 other followers