December 22, 2016

The Real Star of Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

Do you miss Downton Abbey? Have your re-watched the entire series just to take the edge off your withdrawal symptoms? I understand. Me too. The good news is that you can visit the magnificent home of the fictitious Lord and Lady Grantham in England. It’s called Highclere Castle and its every bit as incredible as you imagine it to be. As it turns out, the house has always been a super star!

The (real) history

In real life, Highclere is the home of the Earls of Carnarvon. The property was purchased by the Carnarvon family in 1679 from the Bishops of Winchester. Major rebuilding of a red brick Tudor house that sat on the property was carried out in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The old red brick house was converted to a classical Georgian mansion that sat beautifully in a pastoral setting.

In 1838, the house underwent another major transformation when the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon transformed it into the castle we know today. The changes were completed in 1878 and the magnificent palace won the hearts of all who saw it. It even became a centre of political life during the Victorian era. One could say this was the castle’s first of many starring roles.

Highclere in the 20th Century

Over the course of its history, the house hosted many events. Politicians, inventors, aviators, soldiers and even Egypotologists enjoyed time there. In 1914, during World War I, the Castle was transformed into a hospital for wounded soldiers by Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. She became a very dedicated nurse who was remembered fondly by her patients.

In 1922, when the Castle was restored to being a private residence, the 5th Earl was once again free to pursue his passion for Egyptology. He sponsored the archaeological excavations of Howard Carter and accompanied him when he discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This finding drew worldwide media attention, but the Earl did not live to enjoy his fame. He was in poor health and died of infection shortly after opening the tomb. Today, a part of what was once his home contains an Egyptian exhibit.

During World War II, the house played another role in alleviating the suffering of victims of war. This time, it hosted evacuee children from north London. In 1969, the 7th Earl of Carnarvon, who had a passion for horses, became racing manager for Queen Elizabeth II. The two were friends and she visited Highclere frequently until the Earl died in 2001.

Highclere in the 21st Century

The Castle is now inhabited by the 8th Earl and his family. By now, it needs extensive repairs as years of water damage has rendered at least 50 rooms unusable and only the ground floor and first floor inhabitable. Before Highclere took its starring roll in Downton Abbey, the Earl and his family were in desperate need of the funds to make the castle livable again. Thanks to the on-site filming of the television series and the resulting increased tourist interest, the family is now able to restore their home to its former glory.

Not only is the castle itself an impressive sight, but its surrounding gardens and woods are an incredible treat. The 1st Earl took landscaping very seriously and saw to it that his park was laid out with great care for many generations to enjoy.

Come away with me on a Highclere Castle tour and let me show you this stunning castle!

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