This has to be one of the grandest Through the Keyhole’s we have had at A Residence. Highclere Castle, location of Downton Abbey, is also a home that is open to the public should this tour pique your interest!
The castle’s history is fascinating, the current Earl’s great Grandmother turned Highclere into a war hospital with Kitchner’s permission. His great grandfather discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb, so the house also has an Egyptian exhibition which tells the story and includes many incredible replica objects.
Highclere Castle was the location of Downton Abbey for over 6 years, with filming occupying 13 hour days from February to July. Two members of castle staff were always on hand to supervise the use of the property and it’s delicate contents during filming, one of their tasks involved continually resetting the castle’s clocks to maintain continuity.
Visitors increased 4 fold to the castle thanks to Downton Abbey fame, which is brilliant news for the owners, who have been able to carry out much needed restoration work. It is set in a stunning landscape designed by Capability Brown.
The entrance hall is where you can encounter the Wyvern, the Carnarvon family’s embolic beast.
The very centre of Highclere is this hall with it’s huge fireplace and balconies overlooking the seating area. It feels much smaller inside that it looks on the outside, the balconies and archways lend a wonderful cosiness to this central hall, which when I visited easily seated over 50 journalists, yet could equally feel like a snug family room.
The dining room is large, but still has an intimate feel, perhaps it is all the family portraits looking down over the banquet table.
The stunning library was used regularly in Downton Abbey filming, it has a book clad door, and a ‘Rent Desk’ a table specially designed for the collection of estate rents, with drawers initialled like a filing cabinet.
The south facing drawing room has green silk walls which really enhance the views over the gardens. This silk and the chandelier were a wedding present from the 5th Countess, married to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. It also has intricate and amazing shell frames to the far right of this picture, which were once in the shell grotto in the garden.
You can also see Lady Edith and Sybil’s bedrooms.
Outside the Capability Brown gardens are beautiful and fascinating to explore, with a number of follies and sweeping driveways, tower and lake.
Lady Carnarvon says they also love to picnic in the grounds, that one of the incredible aspects of living at Highclere, which she sees as a huge privilege, is being able to experiment, with settings, dining especially. Lunch might be in the music room, drinks in the tower, a picnic at Heaven’s Gate, there is always fun in trying new things. Although she confesses the family have managed lunch in the temple only once in ten years.
Lady Carnavon’s style is a calming palette of blues and greens, she explains ‘shades of green are so fragile, we take nature’s palette for granted’. She aims to bring out the grandeur in the house, but relax the landscape outdoors, this is very much in keeping with Capability Brown’s intentions when he drew up his plans for Highclere’s landscape in 1770.
You can read more about my tour of the outside with Lady Carnarvon here and find out more about what goes into keeping up a house and gardens of this age, or read the Q and A with Lord and Lady Carnarvon here. Downton fans must check out this fabulous guide to filming locations too!
Pictures thanks to Highclere Castle.