4 July 2017

Downton Abbey

I hope the ambivalence I have been feeling towards my blog has passed.  I lost interest, wanting to do lots of other things instead - outings, crafts, hobbies, gardening, all of which I hope to tell you about. And now I have Wimbledon to add to my list of distractions!!
Anyway lets make a start with Downton Abbey, it must be one of the most loved series worldwide. A recent visit to Highclere Castle where most if it was filmed was a real treat. 
Before Downton Highclere Castle was just another struggling English family home with the usual 5,000-acre estate, 50-plus bedrooms, portraits by Van Dyck, Victorian gothic design, towers, follies, tapestries, heraldic shields, a museum of Egyptian artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb, and the usual collapsing roofs and debts. Today it is probably the most famous stately home in the world with a future that is probably more secure than at any other time in its existence.

It is a beautiful country house designed in the Jacobean style by architect Charles Barry, surrounded by a park designed by Capability Brown. It is currently home to the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon and the seat of the Carnarvon family for over 300 years. It has a varied and interesting history beginning with an Iron Age Hill Fort. Then came a medieval palace built during the 12th and 13th century and later succeeded by a much admired red brick Tudor house. 
Major rebuilding works were carried out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the old red brick and freestone house was converted to a classical Georgian mansion. In 1838, the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon brought in Sir Charles Barry to transform his home into a grand mansion which would impress the world. It was a time of energy and change. The young Queen Victoria had just come to the throne, and the whole decade witnessed innovation in politics and cultural life. 
The structural work on the interior of the Castle was finally completed in 1878. Once built, the Castle became a centre of political life during the late Victorian era, and in many ways Highclere epitomised the confidence and glamour of the Edwardian era. Visitors books record house parties attended by politicians, technological innovators, Egyptologists, aviators and soldiers.
During the First World War, Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon transformed the Castle into a hospital, and patients began to arrive from Flanders in September 1914. She became an adept nurse and a skilled healer and hundreds of letters from patients and their families bear testament to her untiring work and spirit of generosity. In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. There is a very interesting Egyptian exhibition in the castle.
During the Second World War, the Castle briefly became a home for evacuee children from north London.
Following the death of the 5th Earl, his son, who then became the 6th Earl, returned to Highclere where he lived until 1986. The current Earl and Countess of live partly in the Castle and partly nearby but remain closely involved in the Castle's day to day life and future.

Visitors are greeted by a magnificent pair of gothic doors leading into an impressive hall with marble columns and a vaulted ceiling
Photography wasn't allowed. I get that flash is bad for furnishings and fabrics, but many places just ask people not to use it. I have  theory - I think it's a ruse to get us to buy their books!
I followed my usual MO and bought some postcards. 
The rooms are beautiful and sumptuously decorated.

The Saloon

The State Dining Room

The Library

The Smoking Room

The Drawing Room

My visit was in April, another overcast day. 
Most of my time was spent indoors but I dodged the light showers to admire the gardens.

Universal Sundial, John Singleton inventor 

This border is lavender and climbing roses, it probably looks spectacular now.

Jackdaws folly was built in 1743 by Robert Herbert who had inherited the Highclere estate from his mother, Margaret, 8th Countess of Pembroke and daughter of Sire Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II and James II. It was built using Corinthian columns salvaged from Berkeley House in London, which burned down in 1733. 

Lunch and snack options are quite good with a cafe serving sandwiches, toasties and cream teas. I was quite hungry so I opted for the restaurant, the quiche and new potatoes were very good but I wasn't impressed with the frozen mixed veg, I don't like frozen mixed veg, frozen peas are good, and sweetcorn but not mixed veg.

The gift shop had lots of lovely items from that era - clothes, handbags, hats, slippers, petticoats and nightdresses. Most of which was very expensive.

Apart from the frozen mixed veg I give it a 10 out of 10 Visitor Satisfaction score.

Polly x 


  1. Looks like a wonderful place to visit. I am not a fan of frozen mixed veg either. A medley of vegetables (fresh) but not frozen.

    1. Hello mama. Now that I'm back in blog mode I must pop over to your blog to see how you're settling into your new home x

  2. Hello Polly,
    Thank you for sharing your pictures and postcards. It looks like a magnificent building. Great to see you blogging.
    Big hug

    1. Thank you Giac, I hope my blogging mojo is back :-) x

  3. Wonderful pictures...
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. That's somewhere I'd like to visit.

    1. Hello Jenny, it's well worth a visit but too far from you for a day trip!

  5. Nice, insightful, post Polly - and not a place ABAB has visited yet (the list just gets longer). I'm with you on the photos - it's a ruse. Another excuse is that photography isn't allowed 'for copyright reasons'. I kind of understand if it's someone's home - but if that's the case, don't sell guidebooks and postcards.

    1. Thank you Mike. I hadn't thought about the copyright angle, but as you say they sell the books and postcards, and Lady Carnarvan has a blog.

  6. I enjoyed this so much Polly. Just the sort of place I love to visit. And I'm enjoying Wimbledon as well.

    1. Thank you Amalia. I've just watched the excellent match between Murray and Fognini, it was very exciting. x

  7. Thank you for sharing your pictures and postcards. It looks like a magnificent building. Great to see you blogging.


  8. I'm so glad you enjoyed your tour. Yes, I think you're right about the photos and buying books and cards. I'd do as you did. (Although I do have a few Downton books and Almina's bio and the one of the Countess Catherine after her!). It is so beautiful and I appreciate your history and backstory. That adds so much here!

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