Downton Abbey has brought unexpected fortune to the cash-strapped owners of Highclere Castle, where the series was filmed, with the public flocking to view the antique cabinets, Open Bookcases and artworks they see on TV.
Standing on the foundations of a mediaeval palace, Highclere has been home to the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679. The original house has been remodelled several times and exists today as an imposing Victorian masterpiece, rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry in an Italianate ‘Jacobethan’ castle.
Just as with stately homes in the Ribble Valley, antique dining chairs and Renaissance wall-hangings take a lot of upkeep, as do the walls themselves, and until recently the Carnarvons’ were battling to make ends meet. Despite opening the castle and grounds to the public, and hiring rooms for private functions and conferences, Highclere was simply not paying its way – that was until family friend Julian Fellowes decided to use it as the setting for his fictional Downton Abbey. He felt the castle truly epitomised the soaring confidence of Edwardian England, giving the state rooms and their furniture a central role in the production.
Downton has been an unprecedented success, not least for the Carnarvons. Suddenly, people are clamouring to see the rococo Victorian dining chairs of the State Drawing Room and antique bookcases of the double library for real; so much so that a timed ticketing system was introduced to cope with the numbers.
Those interested can create the Downton Effect in their own home – by buying an antique dining table and matching Victorian balloon backed dining chairs from a Lancashire antique dealer.
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