Fans of the hit TV series Downton Abbey have flocked to cinemas across the UK to see the new film which features the king and queen visiting the Crawley family. And if the film has left you wanting more of the upstairs lives of Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham and her husband Lord Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham and their staff downstairs, led by butler Mr Carson and housekeeper Mrs Hughes, there’s only one place to go – Highclere Castle in Hampshire.
Highclere, the real-life Downton Abbey, is just a 40-minute drive from Southampton Airport so you’ll be gliding down the grand oak staircase like Lady Mary on her wedding day and checking out Mrs Patmore’s kitchen in no time.
Sit in the state dining room and channel your inner Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham – famous for her sharp wit and acerbic one-liners. Or maybe you want to get more insight into the lives of the Earl’s valet John Bates and his wife, Anna, Lady Mary’s maid?
The film, which came out in the middle of September, has received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and is a continuation of the TV series created by Julian Fellowes which last aired in 2015 and kept the nation glued to their television on Sunday nights.
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt and the irrepressible Dame Maggie Smith among many others, Downton Abbey has become a national treasure.
The popularity of the TV series – and now Downton Abbey: The Movie – has understandably boosted the profile of Highclere, meaning more people than ever before want to visit.
So, who are the real-life occupants of this rather grand stately home? Highclere is the home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and was first opened to the public in 1988.
Highclere – and its owners over the years – have a fascinating story to tell. It was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II and James II and grandfather of the current Earl, in 1679. The landscape architect Capability Brown played a key role in creating the stunning grounds in which Highclere sits, creating the plans in 1771 for the 1st Earl of Carnarvon.
In 1842, Sir Charles Barry – who was the architect behind the Houses of Parliament – completed designs for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon that would see Highclere Place House transform into Highclere Castle.
And did you know that Highclere plays a key role in the history of aviation? Geoffrey de Havilland, whose company designed and made many iconic planes, made his first flight from the estate in 1910.
Another interesting fact is that in 1922, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb with his colleague and friend, Howard Carter. During the First World War, Highclere Castle was converted into a hospital for wounded soldiers run by the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. And throughout the Second World War, Highclere was home to evacuees.
The current Earl’s father, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, was the Queen’s racing manager from 1969 until his death in 2001. Highclere isn’t open to the public all year round – July to September are the main opening dates – but there are special events including Christmas at Highclere and a series of winter tours during January and February 2020.