Blue Badge Tourist Guides need to know about television series and films because these do so much to encourage visitors to come to London and the United Kingdom. The most popular series on mainstream television in recent years has been Downton Abbey which was filmed at the home of the Earl of Carnarvon in Hampshire, Highclere Castle. A new feature film is released this month based on an imagined royal visit by King George the Fifth and Queen Mary to Downton Abbey in 1927. With that in mind, below are 10 facts about Highclere Castle which is once again seeing an increase in visitors.
1. Highclere Castle was designed by Sir Charles Barry, whose best-known work was the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament with the famous bell Big Ben which strikes from inside the Elizabeth Tower.
2. The story in Downton Abbey revolves around the Crawley family, hereditary Earls of Grantham. Robert Grantham (portrayed by Hugh Bonneville) marries the American heiress Cora Levinson (Elizabeth McGovern) partly to solve his family’s financial problems.
3. The Downton Abbey series was written by Julian Fellowes who incorporated historic events into the storyline beginning with the sinking of the ship Titanic in 1912 which claimed the lives of two of the Crawley family. The first series of Downton Abbey ends with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the subsequent outbreak of the First World War.
4. The Downton Abbey story is set in Yorkshire, although Highclere is in Hampshire. Many of the scenes set outside the house were filmed in the Oxfordshire village of Brampton which has created a walk called ‘The Downton Mile’.
5. The Earl of Carnarvon, owner of Highclere Castle, has used funds from the television series, film and the resulting increased visitor numbers to finance much-needed repairs to the house, which was built by Barry between 1842 and 1849.
6. Highclere Castle has 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) of grounds laid out by the landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in the eighteenth century. Brown moved the village of Highclere in the process. The remains of the village church can be seen in the corner of the castle and the trees planted are Lebanon Cedars.
7. Canadian visitors to Highclere Castle may also be interested in a maple tree planted in the grounds which recognises the role played by the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon in drafting the British North America Act of 1867 and the subsequent creation of Canada.
8. The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon supported Howard Carter’s excavations in the Valley of the Kings which led to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. Highclere has an Egyptian Exhibition which displays some of the finds discovered by Carter’s team.
9. The Seventh Earl of Carnarvon was a close friend of the Queen until his death in 2001. He served as her racing master and some of her family hoped that she would marry him – until she made her preference for Philip clear. The relationship between the Queen and ‘Porchy’ was portrayed in the popular television series The Crown.
10. The second wife of the current Earl, Fiona Carnarvon, is very involved in the running of Highclere. She has her own website and writes a blog about what goes on at the house. She has also written a book about Highclere in the First World War and the role played by her husband’s great grandmother Almina.
For information on visiting or staying at Highclere Castle visit their website highclerecastle.co.uk.