Highclere Castle, in Newbury England (70 miles from London), is the setting for the fictional Masterpiece Theatre series and newly released movie, Downton Abbey.
I, like millions of others, watched every episode (six seasons 2011-2016) of the Masterpiece Theatre series of Downton Abbey. To say, “I loved it”, would be the ultimate understatement! Julian Fellows, the creator of the series, wove a captivating storyline giving us a glimpse into a world that does not exist for most of us!
The history of Highclere Castle is similar to that of Downton Abbey. Like many of the British aristocratic families of the past, the owners of Highclere found the upkeep of the castle overwhelming. In a win-win arrangement, a wealthy American heiress, Almina Wombwell (illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild) married the 5th Earl of Carnavon. The heiress acquired a much-coveted title, and the aristocratic family gained much-needed funds to maintain the property. The same storyline (wealthy American marries the Earl of the Manor) is used in Downton Abbey.
***The popularity of Downton Abbey has brought many visitors to the castle. The proceeds from public visits, which is only open for several months of the year, has enabled the current family to replace the roof and manage other costly repairs.
In 2015 I had the opportunity to visit Highclere Castle. From the parking lot, you walk up to the castle along that long roadway that is featured in the opening credits of the Masterpiece Theatre series. Although not all the rooms in the castle are open to the public, many rooms used in the scenes of Downton Abbey are. The library, shown here, with its 6000 books is my favourite room. You can almost visualize the Dowager Countess Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith, the real jewel of the crown!) seated in front of the fireplace plotting something… Other rooms open for viewing are the dining room, sitting rooms, several bedrooms, and the front hall. Unfortunately, scenes of the kitchen and servant quarters were not filmed at Highclere, so you are not privy to the hustle, bustle, and scheming that takes place downstairs!
The view of this sitting room from above is breathtaking.
The gardens around Highclere Castle are sprawling and beautifully manicured. We found a small secret garden in a walled area (shown here) that became the inspiration for my front garden. My garden is a combination of a whimsical English garden style with an assortment of white flowering trees and shrubs and a formal French style with a clipped boxwood garden in the foreground.
I went to the Downton Abbey movie with friends who are also diehard fans, so we are not unbiased in our critique of the movie. Needless to say, we all loved it. In this complicated, crazy, unpredictable world we live in…dettering on the edge of who knows what… spending a couple of hours wrapped in beauty and grace is the welcome escape!
PS. If you enjoyed the screenplay for Downton Abbey, you might also enjoy reading these books by Julian Fellows…Past Imperfect and Snobs.