Arts & Culture

15 Stunning Photos of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey

Ahead of the new film, take a look at Highclere Castle, where all the off-camera drama unfolds.
IMAGE NICK BRIGGS/TV FOR MASTERPIECE
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In honor of the upcoming Downton Abbey movie, we're resurfacing this 2016 story about Highclere Castle.

Highclere Castle, the ancestral seat of the Carnarvon family, has hosted kings, queens, and prime ministers. And thanks to Downtown Abbey, the Victorian-era house became a full-blown prime-time star.

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Downtown Abbey's Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) mounts up on the grounds of Highclere Castle
Photo by NICK BRIGGS/TV FOR MASTERPIECE.
The drawing room
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

Downton Abbey, whose series finale on PBS drew 9.6 million viewers, may have centered on the loves and losses of the Grantham family and their loyal retinue of servants, but above all else, the beloved show was about one great big house—and the effort to save it from ruin.

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Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and Cora, the American Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth Mcgovern)
Photo by NICK BRIGGS/TV FOR MASTERPIECE.
The smoking room with a glimpse of the drawing room
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

"The house is the central fulcrum of the series," the blonde, elegant Lady Carnarvon told me during a drive around the Hampshire countryside. She is the wife of the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, and they are the current residents of Highclere Castle.

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The eighth Earl and Lady Carnarvon with their dogs outside Highclere castle, which is open to visitors on a limited schedule
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.
Jackdaws Castle, a folly on the property, was built in 1743.
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.
The Mercia Bedroom
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

"It's what unifies the cast, upstairs or downstairs." The 1,000-acre property the house governs has been a home of one kind or another for 1,300 years, though the current iteration, a fairy-tale golden Renaissance-style Jacobethan castle, was constructed for the current earl's great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 1830s.

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A drawing of the fifth earl of Carnarvon
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

The music room's ceiling was painted by Francis Hayman.
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

Part of the reason for renting the house out for Downton Abbey was financial: The place is in desperate need of maintenance. Reports have put Highclere's repair bill at nearly 12 million pounds, with 50 of its more than 200 rooms described as uninhabitable, leaky, or moldy. In 2010, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns a 3,000-acre estate nearby, made a hostile bid for Highclere. The Carnarvons stated, rather frostily, "We are not selling up to some rich man."

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The library houses nearly 6,000 volumes
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.
A Joshua Reynolds painting on the stairs
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

Lady Carnarvon understands that the battle to keep the house going is not unlike the struggle faced by the fictional Granthams. But is the upkeep too much in this day and age? "We have a core domestic staff," she says, listing the entire roster required to keep Highclere afloat: "Two housekeepers, two chefs, one kitchen porter, two in banqueting, one butler"—part-time— "three gardeners, six in the castle office, three additional staff, 40 guides. Then there's the estate staff and the farm staff, electricians—who are here nearly every day—painters I adore and who have been here 50-odd years, so around 60 to 80 people in total."

As keeper of the house, Lady Carnarvon is at the top of the staff list as well as being the estate's owner. She has also written a book about Highclere, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey.

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A statue of the second earl of Carnarvon welcomes visitors to the entrance hall
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

"We are just tenants here for our lifetime," she says, opening her doors for a tour. For now, life at Highclere will go on.

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The saloon is the heart of the house
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.
A sign pointing to the monk's garden
Photo by JAMES MERRELL.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com

<>*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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