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Does Downton Abbey Really Exist? Highclere Castle Filming Location

Updated on February 18, 2013

Does Downton Abbey Really Exist?

Hugh Bonneville heads up the cast of Downton Abbey
Hugh Bonneville heads up the cast of Downton Abbey | Source

Just Where is Downton Abbey Filmed?

Downton Abbey has been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Since it was first shown on British television back in September 2010 the show has gained huge audiences, won awards and even found its way into the Guinness Book of World Records. The show's success rests not only on its fine cast, excellent writing and lavish costumes, but also upon its magnificent backdrop: Downton Abbey itself.

In the series, Downton Abbey is located in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Fans may be disappointed to learn that you cannot find Downton Abbey anywhere in Yorkshire. Don't be disheartened though; Downton Abbey really does exist, just far away from its fictional location. Further south, in Hampshire, is Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey.

Downton Abbey's Real Owners: Lord and Lady Carnarvon

The Carnarvons outside their ancestral home, Highclere Castle
The Carnarvons outside their ancestral home, Highclere Castle | Source

Downton and Titles

Having trouble telling a Marchioness from a Duchess? Not sure who's royal and who's not? Not sure of what a Dowager Countess actually is? Find some helpful pointers in AustinStar's hub What is a Dowager Countess?

Highclere Castle, Ancient Home of the Carnarvon Family

The present house at Highclere was largely remodelled in the mid nineteenth century, but the site had been occupied by important buildings to before the time of the Conquest, after which it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The original owners, the Bishops of Winchester, sold the estate and by the late seventeenth century it was in the hands of the Herbert family. George III raised Henry Herbert, a politician, to the peerage in 1780, creating him Baron Porchester and then granted him the title of Earl of Carnarvon in 1793.

The Carnarvon family still own Highclere Castle. George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon, now lives in the Castle with his wife Fiona. The Carnarvons are no doubt delighted with the success of Downton Abbey and the part their home has played in its success. The cost of maintaining their massive mansion is enormous and there were reports a few years ago that they faced financial ruin. Around 50 of the Castle's rooms remain unusable and rain seeps through the roof.

There have been plans to sell off parts of the estate for development, which has met with anger from local residents. Andrew Lloyd-Webber, a near neighbour of the Carnarvons, was so dismayed that he offered to buy Highclere Castle outright. His offer has not been accepted.

However, perhaps with determination and clever marketing, together with the attention of an army of Downton Abbey fans, the Carnarvons may just save Highclere Castle for future generations.

Downton Abbey Filming Location: Highclere Castle

The East Front of Highclere Castle
The East Front of Highclere Castle | Source

Lady Carnarvon Shows off Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle: The House that Became Downton Abbey

Julian Fellowes, the main writer of Downton Abbey, is a long time friend of the Carnarvons. Casting Highclere Castle as Downton Abbey wasn't an afterthought on his part, he actually wrote the screenplay with Highclere Castle in mind. He felt that the splendour of Highclere spoke of the confidence that he wanted his Edwardian family, the Crawleys, to exude.

In fact, this wasn't the first time that Fellowes had wanted Highclere to have a part in one of his period dramas; he would have like Gosford Park to have been filmed at Highclere too (in the event, Gosford Park was filmed at Wrotham Park in Herfordshire).

Highclere Castle doesn't just provide the exterior shots for Downton Abbey; many of the interior scenes were filmed at the Castle too. One area you won't find at Highclere Castle are the servants' living quarters. These were constructed at Ealing Studios. You also won't recognise the local area around Highclere, since many outdoor scenes in the series were filmed in Oxfordshire.

Downton Abbey Plot Mirrors Highclere Castle Reality

The present Lady Carnarvon, the 8th Countess, has recently researched her predecessor Lady Almina, the 5th Countess and produced a book about this remarkable lady. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Albert de Rothschild, but was able to marry into the aristocracy thanks to a staggeringly huge dowry. Despite her wealth and privilege Lady Almina rose to the challenge of World War One by turning Highclere Castle into a hospital and helping nurse returning troops back to health. This aspect of her story is echoed in Downton Abbey's convalescent home of series two.

So far, Downton Abbey has not recreated the life of Lady Almina's husband, the 5th Earl. He was fascinated by Egypt and financed Howard Carter's expedition to find Tutankhamun's tomb. The Earl was on hand when the tomb was opened in 1922 and died the following year, allegedly due to the "Mummy's Curse". His own tomb is set on the side of Beacon Hill, overlooking Highclere Castle.

Highclere Castle Location

A
Highclere Castle, Highclere Park, Hampshire, RG20 9RN:
Newbury, Hampshire RG20 9RN, UK

get directions

Visit "Downton Abbey" at Highclere Castle!

Highclere Castle is privately owned, but opens its doors to the public during the Easter and Summer holidays, Bank Holidays and occasionally for special events. Guided tours take in the State rooms, some of the bedrooms, the Gallery and Saloon. There is an Egyptian Exhibition, as a nod to the 5th Earl, in the Castle cellars. Outside visitors can explore the parkland and trails through the woods. There are also tearooms for refreshments.

The Castle is available for weddings (prices start at around £10,000), corporate events and group tours.

Comments

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  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    5 years ago from UK

    Hi TickledGreen - it's a fantastic place, isn't it? I've only seen it from a distance, but even then it was an imposing sight. Too bad you have to wait so long!

    Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them.

  • TickledGreen profile image

    Tracey 

    5 years ago from Pennsylvania

    Thank you for shedding light on the "real" Downton Abbey! I enjoyed discovering that the Highclere Castle is in the same family for generations. Would love to see this beautiful home in person one day! Too bad those of us in the U.S. have to wait a year for another fix of our Sunday night addiction!

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    5 years ago from UK

    Hi Austinstar - Downton Abbey's not on the in UK at the moment - not sure if you're a bit behind us, or what. Awwh - you softy, crying :) Don't know when the next season will start, or what it will bring. Now, must link your hub to this one.

  • Austinstar profile image

    Lela 

    5 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    Whoa! Did you watch last night's season ending. I just cried real tears, I tell you. I wonder if they are doing things just for dramatic effect. The show doesn't need all the tragedy to be good. Here's to hoping for a kinder season four!

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    5 years ago from UK

    Hi Austinstar - I would love to live in Highclere Castle, but I don't know that I'd want to be the one who had to worry about where the money was coming from to pay for its upkeep. Don't know if they'd tie in with Tutenkhamen - people get really odd about curses! Glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks very much for commenting, always great to hear from you.

  • Austinstar profile image

    Lela 

    5 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    I wonder if they are going to do a spell on the Tutankhamen tie in with Downton Abbey? I think it would be quite interesting. The show is just so lavish and beautiful, who can resist the charm of living in a castle and being 'noble'.

    Somehow I missed the episode of Lady Marys Marriage. I hope they do a repeat, so I can see it. I should go look on Hulu or on PBS.

    Thanks for the information on the castle. It's just so fascinating.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi theraggededge - thanks very much, it's got a great history, although I find the whole Lord Carnarvon/Egypt thing a little bit spooky!

    As always, thanks for reading and commenting, you know I appreciate it :-)

  • theraggededge profile image

    Bev G 

    6 years ago from Wales, UK

    This is a lovely read. Lots of fascinating Highclere/Downton Abbey facts.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi NMLady - glad you enjoyed reading this hub and I hope the new series arrives soon for you. It would be great to take some tours of famous movie houses. I've been to Oak Alley in Louisiana which features in a few films - it's very recognisable.

    Thanks very much for commenting, much appreciated.

  • NMLady profile image

    NMLady 

    6 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

    Most excellent. Love Downton Abbey. So, looking forward to the new season.

    I once had a book on all the castles/big houses etc. that are featured in movies and that may be toured. Would love to tour them!

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Susan - yes, I would love to live in a castle too! Sadly, no princes were available to make that dream come true! Making do (very happily) with room with a sea view!

    Thanks for your comments, great to hear from you.

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 

    6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I haven't had a chance to see this show yet but I will have a look for it. I love old castles and would love to live in one. Not that that will ever happen though.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Janis - we are lucky in the UK to have so many great buildings and to be able to visit many of them. My nearest old house is Tudor - it's not massive, but it's very beautiful.

    Great to hear from you, thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Janis Goad profile image

    Janis Goad 

    6 years ago

    I love these historical sites. In Canada, we think something is really old if it is one hundred years old--these settings that go back several centuries capture the imagination, even if they are falling down. And the gardens and estates are beautiful. It's not wonder the local residents don't want it torn down.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Carmen - I think it's great that Highclere has had a few interesting characters living within its walls - better than drama at times!

    Thanks for your comments, much appreciated :-)

  • Carmen H profile image

    Carmen Beth 

    6 years ago

    Highclere Castle...so enchanting and so true to its core - so much drama. Thanks, Judi, for this juicy background dose of Downton Abbey.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Goodlady - I'm not sure why the title Carnarvon is spelt differently from the name of the town. Perhaps that is the Anglicised version and we have now become familiar with the more Welsh version?

    Glad to be on the team too!

    Thanks so much for your comments, always glad to hear from you :-)

  • GoodLady profile image

    Penelope Hart 

    6 years ago from Rome, Italy

    Making the set for Downtown Abbey come alive with historical facts is totally fun. Thanks for all the information and details, Lady Elmina, the Earl and Egyptology (stories in themselves!), the millions. Just surprised to see the spelling of Carnarvon...I thought it was Caernarvon? Is the name nothing to do with Caernarvon in North Wales...where Caernarvon Castle is? (or Caernarfon as the Welsh themselves would have it?)

    Voting etc.

    So glad we're on the same team.

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Angie - surely every girl's dream is to live in a castle - it can be someone else's nightmare as to how to pay for it all! And yes, Hugh has a certain something.

    Thanks for your comments, always appreciated :-)

  • Angie Jardine profile image

    Angie Jardine 

    6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

    Hi Judi - interesting hub. Thanks for all the background info.

    I often think I would love a home like this but the running/repair costs must be a constant nightmare - they're bad enough at Michaelmas Cottage!

    I love Downton Abbey especially the delicious Hugh ...

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Tina - I've only managed to see Highclere Castle from afar, and I wasn't even looking for it! I had gone for a walk in the countryside with friends years and years ago and we found Lord Carnarvon's grave on the hillside and could see Highclere in the distance. I had no idea what it was called then, but we all thought it strange to find his grave in such an odd place.

    As you say, hope the present Earl (who is no doubt suffering from the extravagance of the Egyptologist Earl) makes some cash from the series.

    Thanks for your kind comments, appreciated as always :-)

  • thougtforce profile image

    Christina Lornemark 

    6 years ago from Sweden

    This was a very interesting read about this magnificent castle. It looks so majestic in Downton Abbey and it must be amazing to visit and be able to get a tour in some parts of the castle. The costs to run a castle like that must be enormous and the cost to repair the castle is unbelievable! I hope they can get some money from the show and from visitors but it sounds difficult. I followed every episode of the downtown Abbey and I loved it. Voted up, up, interesting and shared

    Tina

  • Judi Bee profile imageAUTHOR

    Judi Brown 

    6 years ago from UK

    Hi Jools - I read that the Carnarvons were looking for a figure of around £11 million to repair the Castle. They had better hope that Homebase has a 10% discount day soon!

    Glad you enjoyed this hub, thanks for commenting, appreciated as always!

  • Jools99 profile image

    Jools Hogg 

    6 years ago from North-East UK

    Judi, what an interesting hub about one of my favourite shows. The Carnarvons must be making some money from the show but I imagine, it's not enough to keep it up to the standards required of such a house, repairs alone must cost an arm and a leg.

    Voted up and shared.

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