Highclere Castle in Masterpiece’s “Downton Abbey” Series

Downton Abbey cast photo

Have you been watching the addictive period drama “Downton Abbey” on PBS? It was written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) about a grand English house in the early 1900s and the people who live in it–both the Grantham family that owns it and the servants who run it.

I am love-love-loving this series! So I had to find out more about Highclere Castle, the estate it takes place in.

Highclere Castle-front facade

The “great and splendid house” is a 1,000-acre estate in Hampshire that has (in real life) been the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679.

Lord and Lady Carnarvon of Highclere Castle

Julian Fellowes says the house is “A statement of Victorian confidence.” The present-day building was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect responsible for building the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

It took a large and devoted staff to run a place of this magnitude, and we get to know the servants in “Downton Abbey” as well as the Grantham family they work for.

servants lining up at entrance

The series stars Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess of Grantham (who steals every scene she’s in), Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham and Elizabeth McGovern as his American wife, Cora.

The Great Hall:

Highclere Castle hall

The story opens in 1912, just after the Titanic has sunk, taking the estate’s two male heirs down with it. The Earl has three daughters, none of whom can legally inherit Downton Abbey.

Highclere Castle-staircase

Highclere Castle skylights

Dining Room:

Downton Abbey dining room

Drawing Room:

Downton Abbey-drawing room

The Earl married Cora, a wealthy American heiress, because he needed her money to keep the estate running. A house like this is expensive to maintain!

She put all of her inheritance into the place and now faces losing it all, simply because they have no sons to leave it to. Cora and her mother-in-law (Maggie Smith) have joined forces in an attempt to find a way around it.

Highclere Castle drawing room 2

The Library:

Downton Abbey-library

It set a record for being the most expensive television series ever filmed in England, costing about a million pounds per episode!

Highclere Castle library

The Castle’s history also includes a fascinating connection with ancient Egypt. In 1922, the 5th Earl discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. The Castle houses an exhibition that commemorates the event. You can learn more about Highclere and see the rest of the photos on their website.

Maggie Smith-Elizabeth McGovern-Downton Abbey

The servants’ quarters in the series had to be built as separate sets in Ealing because they have changed so much since 1912. Any other “Downton” fans out there?

Julia-simple-teal-signature2

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, this is like a dream, Julia!

    I haven’t seen it yet but just seeing this picture I feel like starting to watch. I love seeing these pictures and I find this post to be very interesting.

    Thank you for sharing it!

    Have a fantastic week!

    Luciane at HomeBunch.com
    http://www.homebunch.com/

  2. says

    YES. Huge fan. Was expecting the usual drivel.

    When can you come visit & we have wine/canapés in the conservatory & talk EVERYTHING Downton Abbey?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. says

    Love, love, love this series. I was lucky enough to watch the UK version and so was treated to all 6 episodes. Slightly disappointed that they cut it to four for the American audience. I used to live in Berkshire and so was fortunate enough to visit this castle… I really miss the stately homes of England… There was another period drama shown in the UK over the Christmas period, called Upstairs, Downstairs (a remake of an old series). It also had some amazing house eye candy. Hopefully, this will make it to the States. Thank heavens for PBS!! Lx
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..The circus that is life =-.

  4. cbean says

    Thank you, Julia.

    I caught an in-progress episode of this late one night and watched as long as I could keep my eyes open.

    Not knowing the title, I did some research on IMDb thinking it was a old program. Thanks to you I now know the title and that it’s a current production.

    Did the leading man play “Mr. Andrews” in ‘Titanic’?

    • hookedonhouses says

      You’re thinking of Victor Garber who played Thomas Andrews in “Titanic.” They do look a little alike! :)

  5. says

    I love this series and have been DVRing it. I am not one to wish my day away but I cannot wait for the 3rd installment tonight! And I had heard about the 2nd installment, but not the Christmas special – fantastic news!
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..But watch your back- Seymour… =-.

  6. Shelly says

    I caught this series by accident on the first night and was totally hooked. I’m looking forward to the 3rd portion tonight! Thanks for the background on the castle. I was wondering where exactly in England it is located. We have been to England and my daughter studied for a semester in the Harry Potter castle and said she’s been in every castle in England! LOL!

  7. Asger Wille-Jørgensen says

    “Highclere” was also featured in several episodes of the wonderful series “Jeeves & Wooster”, based on the Wodehouse novels. It filled the role of Totleigh Towers, and is definitely worth a viewing, as is the entire series for its wonderful period setting of the 1910-20’s

    • says

      “Jeeves & Wooster” was a must watch for me; totally loved the characters. Funny to think that the actor who played ‘Wooster’ is now playing the lead in ‘House’ on American television with no sign of a British accent at all.

      Julia, I was so hoping you would do a post on this marvellously produced series. From beginning to end, it has me completely enthralled. Everything about this production is superb; the acting, writing, location…simply superb. I realize because of the great cost of filming, they need to limit the number of episodes but I would be thrilled if it became a continuing series. Thanks again, Julia.
      .-= Beverly from Montreal´s last blog ..Pest =-.

  8. says

    I’ve been watching! I’VE BEEN WATCHING!!!! What a treat! Someday I hope to tour these wonderful old-English estates in person. Someday….
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog ..pucker up- buttercup =-.

  9. says

    Thank you for taking the time to mention that the show is on PBS! T is out of town for a conference, and I was wondering what I’d watch tonight. Now I have something! :) The show looks fascinating, and the scenery sure doesn’t hurt the eyes. 😉 The plot sounds fascinating!
    .-= Amanda @ Serenity Now´s last blog ..Weekend Bloggy Reading- Highlighted Links! =-.

  10. says

    I’m DVRing the series too. I am soooo disappointed to read that we, here in the USA, are seeing a shortened version. I want to see all 7 of the episodes not just 4. Why…oh, why…don’t make any sense at all to shortened it.
    .-= Teacup Lane´s last blog ..Ms Guinevere in the PINK! =-.

  11. says

    I haven’t heard of this series, so glad it can be ordered on Netflix.
    I love the picture of the beautiful couple on the lawn in front of their beautiful castle with their beautiful dogs…England does make us dream.
    .-= Pat´s last blog ..Sunday Scripture =-.

  12. says

    I haven’t heard about it but it sounds right up my alley. Love visiting castles when I’m in Europe – we don’t have anything like that here in Canada (well, we do have one castle in Toronto.)
    .-= Vanessa@Decor Happy´s last blog ..Giveaway with Homesav =-.

  13. says

    Me! Me!! My husband and I are LOVING Downton Abbey. Jack heard about it on NPR, I think, so he tuned in to the first episode. . . and of course we were both hooked! I’m such an Anglophile that it didn’t take much to make me want to watch. What a fascinating look at early-20th-century Britain, particularly the glimpse into the lives of the folks who lived and worked beyond the baize door. So glad to know I’m not the only fan! :)
    .-= Richella at Imparting Grace´s last blog ..A decorating dilemma =-.

  14. Jenny - Australia says

    Absolutely gorgeous, I hope we get this series soon in AUS. Thank you for including this estate, I love the big British castles/estates – they are like a another world.

  15. nanne says

    thank you for posting this!!!

    i’m loving this series, but i keep falling asleep (not b/c it’s boring…i can’t get used to living in the eastern time zone).

    i don’t know what is better…the cast or the castle…elizabeth mcgovern is a a revelation & maggie smith is, as always, perfection…..i think i slept through the rest..

    wow..it’s almost time for it to start!

    nanne

  16. Susan S says

    Thank you so much for reminding me of this series! I had wanted to watch it, but have been too busy. Once upon a time, my husband and I watched Masterpiece Theater religiously, but after we had kids, there was never time. Now, I’ll be playing catch-up online! I actually prefer watching online because it’s more convenient.

    Thanks a bunch, Julia!

  17. says

    I hadn’t seen that show before, but I just watched it on the link you provided. I really like it. I’m going to watch the other episodes later! thanks for sharing it.
    .-= Loribeth´s last blog ..What do you think of these =-.

  18. Donna Hobkirk says

    Hi Julia! I am a HUGE fan of this series! I wish PBS was airing all seven episodes; but I am looking forward to the next series. Thanks for featuring it and the beautiful estate where it was filmed. :o)

  19. says

    I am loving Downton Abby too! I am so glad I found out about it before it started…otherwise, I would have been bummed to have missed even the first episode.

    The closest thing I’ve seen to anything like that house would be Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA. And it’s not even really as large.

    Blessings!
    .-= Susan @ pinkportugueseroses´s last blog .. =-.

  20. says

    Just finished watching tonight’s episode… Oh, it was so good! Riveting. And I adore the clothes! Best line of the night – Maggie Smith replying, “Then I must have said it wrong.” Squeals of laughter – she is priceless. Enjoy, everyone!

  21. Carolyn says

    Absolutely love it – I just finished the third installment. I read that it was not shortened from the English version. It has a longer running time here with no commercials, so it is the same as shown in the UK. Thanks for this post.

  22. says

    Hello,

    I love it too! I don’t know why the have to cut it short in the U.S. It’s such a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing this post.
    Have a good week.
    Claudia
    .-= Claudia´s last blog ..Our Kitchen =-.

  23. Brenda says

    Such an interesting site, thank you, Julia. I have just watched the third episode of Downton Abbey and am loving it so much! We are seeing combined episodes in North America. In Britain, each episode was only thirty minutes long with commercials. Thank goodness for PBS’s commercial free airings, it makes the series more enjoyable.

  24. mslewis says

    Just wanted to post (for the first time) to say that I am thoroughly enjoying “Downton Abbey”!! It’s amazing. I’m old enough to remember “Upstairs/Downstairs” and this is even better. Can’t wait to watch tonight’s episode.

    I have to correct something however: We in American ARE NOT getting a shorter version of the series. We are getting the version WITHOUT commercials. That is why there are not as many episodes. The PBS versions are also 90 minutes long. There was a write up concerning this in the NYTimes but I was not able to find it to post the link here.

    • hookedonhouses says

      Thanks to you and the other readers who explained this for us! Glad to know we’re not missing anything. :-)

  25. says

    I’ve been LOVING this! Does our 4 episodes mean that we’re not seeing everything? Or just that ours are longer? I’m definitely going to have to get DVDs if this isn’t everything!!!
    .-= Nichole´s last blog ..7 Quick Takes Friday =-.

  26. says

    I am loving it as well. I love everything on Masterpiece. It is so fascinating to see how estates were run back in the day. It is much like running a small business.
    .-= Shannon´s last blog ..Too Many Pictures of Tile =-.

  27. Kim says

    I have never seen this show, but it looks good. From the pictures, it seems to have that “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” look to it. I might just have to watch a couple of episodes of this show here and there.

  28. Myra says

    I just watched it tonite n I’m hooked. Luv it! Luv the costumes, luv the acting, luv the accent, everything. DIdn’t want it to end.

  29. says

    I love this series, too. I didn’t know we were getting a condensed version, either; I wondered last night at references to Mary’s having refused a proposal by Matthew Crowley when I didn’t remember that happening. Perhaps that was one of the cuts. Now I’m annoyed–what was PBS thinking–that we Yanks have short attention spans?
    .-= Rowena Cross-Najafi´s last blog ..Pea Soup Memories =-.

  30. says

    Mmm…Hugh Bonneville! I missed tonight (last night’s) episode, so I need to catch up before next week. I do believe that the presumed heir, Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens, has Hugh Grant’s mouth. Have you noticed? He played Edward Ferrars in PBS’s “Sense & Sensibility.”

    : )

    Julie M.

    ps My Irish American grandfather was born the day before the Titanic set sail.

  31. Judy says

    This show is desperately fabulous! I watch it closely from beginning to end on Sunday night, & do the same on Monday night when it is repeated on another station. The house! The CLOTHES! The characters! They are all incredibly wonderful. Hugh Bonneville is my new heart throb!

  32. says

    Ooooooh, this looks absolutely wonderful. I hadn’t heard of this series before, I’m so glad you brought it to everyone’s attention! Thank you~

  33. says

    I am so happy to see this post this morning! I, too, am in love with Downton Abbey. It makes my Sunday nights feel like a big event. Now I am so excited to hear that there will be more episodes to come! Thanks, Julia!
    .-= foo´s last blog ..Happy New Year and a week =-.

  34. says

    Oh heck yes I’m watching. Frankly, I’m pretty convinced that THIS is the way I was meant to live – with a staff of people bringing me cocktails and always telling me “you must rest, my lady…” :) Thanks for this post!! Love it!
    .-= PJ´s last blog ..A Bumpy Road =-.

  35. Lauren (in PA) says

    I love love love this series! I would LOVE to live in that time period!

  36. laney says

    …while i have not yet become involved in the intrigue of this series…i must confess to being hopelessly addicted to monarch of the glen…and the delightful character kilwillie brought to life by julian fellowes was one of the many reasons i so loved that series…monarch was decidedly quirky..while downton seems far more serious…yet who will be able to resist those sets…those clothes… those accents…those characters?…not me!

  37. says

    Just now I realized that this is so my style. I love those old paintings. Rugs. Tapestry. Pattern pattern pattern. Love it!

  38. Cindy says

    Oh, I’s so glad you posted this. I bought the DVD on an Amazon recommendation and got it last week. I didn’t really know anything about it and now I want to start it ASAP!

  39. Cindy says

    Thank you so much for posting about this series and a BIG thank you for the link to watch the previous episodes!

    I just heard about it last night and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t find episodes 1 – 3 to DVR. You’ve saved me!

    As always, reading your blog is a pleasure. Keep up the great work!

    Cindy

    • Cindy says

      Just wanted to add, for anyone searching for episodes to DVR, I had to type in Masterpiece Classic and not Downton Abbey to find them.

      Hope that helps.

  40. HollyM says

    Hubby and I love this show! The house is magnificent, the story is well written and brilliantly acted, and the Edwardian costumes – – oh, my! I was so curious about this series, I’d already looked up quite a bit of info on the series myself, but not on the house itself. I knew they were using the actual house for interiors, which is unusual and wonderful.

    Now, if I could only find a blogger who’s done an in-depth look at the gowns worn by the women!

  41. bonniek says

    Well, I know exactly what I’m doing tonight! Glass of wine: check, hot bath in the clawfoot tub: check, laptop set up with Downton Abbey ready to go: double check! Thanks for posting this!

  42. Amy says

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this program. I can hardly wait to get the kids in bed so I can watch without interruption. I especially love seeing how the staff lives/works etc. Wish I had a bell that I could ring and have people come running.

  43. says

    This series has been such a bright spot in the bleakness of midwinter and I so appreciate your taking us inside the house like this. Thank you.

    Isn’t Maggie Smith wonderful. I nearly missed a whole set of lines in her scene in the swivel chair. Her timing is perfect and there are moments when she is so ascerbic, then, almost a schoolgirl.

    The sets are so lavish and I actually am somewhat fascinated by the downstairs quarters as well.
    .-= Penny´s last blog ..Dumplings and Bears =-.

  44. Ali says

    It’s a wonderful series – the beauty, elegance of times gone by and a sharpness that makes it feel so modern. We look so forward to Sundays, and hang on every word and every scene…… but –
    ONE IMPORTANT THING: Everyone needs to please, for heaven’s sake, read the original article above about the series – the US version is THE EXACT SAME ONE, THE SAME LENGTH AS THE UK VERSION:
    England’s 7 episodes w/ commercials (minus) commercials (equals) 4 commercial-free episodes. Period. The same. Not condensed. Not abridged. THE SAME.
    Goodness, people, READ before you start randomly complaining that we aren’t getting the full series!!!!! *Sorry – maybe I’m just irritable because there’s only one more left* 😉

    • hookedonhouses says

      There’s a lot of confusion about this. I’ve heard from some more readers today who are saying that it’s actually 35 minutes shorter than the original. I’ve been hearing so many different things that I don’t even know what to believe any more. I think we’re getting most of it, at least!

  45. says

    Wow! What a truly magnificent “house!” Unbelievable details, thank you for sharing this! I’ve never heard of the show, and I still need to acquire Netflix… I’ll definitely investigate this series. This estate is spectacular, and I’d like to see how the women get around having to have “male” heirs to inherit the estate. Girl power English style!
    .-= Bre´s last blog ..Double Time =-.

  46. says

    My sister called on Sunday night and I told my son to tell her I’d call her back in the morning since I was watching “my show”. Don’t you just love it?! This week is dragging. I need it to be Sunday so I can find out what is going to happen! Thanks so much for this post. I was so excited when I pulled it up. BTW, Julian Fellows also stars in Monarch of the Glen (another wonderful BBC production). It is filmed entirely on location in an amazing Scottish Castle. I watched the DVD cast extras just to find out about the home in that one! You might enjoy it too!

  47. says

    Yes…fell upon(literally) this series recently and am so hooked…The British are experts at this genre….now waiting for the next episode…Aunt Amelia sent me… wink wink!

  48. says

    Julia – Aunt Amelia sent me over to gawk at this beautiful castle! It IS truly amazing, and I’m afraid I’ve missed this TV series. Will have to find out more cuz I LOVE all those old period movies, etc. Thanks for sharing this castle! I’ll have to look around some more at all your wonderful houses!
    .-= Vickie´s last blog ..Gardening 2011 and the FIRE at Janayes Grannys House =-.

  49. Shirley says

    Can’t wait until Sunday night to catch this series….one of the best

  50. Elisha says

    I may have to start watching the show just for the estate! It is really stunning. That huge drawing room with the stone pillars reminds me of my church in Chicago which was founded not long after this home was built. Tudor at it’s finest! http://www.fourthchurch.org

  51. Marline says

    I’m completely addicted to this series and am so glad to hear that we are not being shortchanged. That said, I see there are DVDs with “more footage”…which I’ll be buying. Wonderful fun and the costumes are to die for.
    The other thing I’m addicted to is your blog! When you get that CT farmhouse, let us know (several of us will want to move in). Did you ever “do” the pretty house from “Leave Her to Heaven?” or the renovated “barn” in the Jane Wyman weeper: “All That Heaven Allows”? (Heavens, I seem to be stuck in a theme..)
    Warmly, Marline

  52. says

    Yes, I just discovered this show last night! I immediately started recording. I am glad to hear that it will be available soon on DVD. Even though I saw the ending, I want to see the beginning! Beautiful scenery, costumes and superior acting. I remember Elizabeth McGovern from Little House on the Prairie days!

    • Hale says

      Was Melissa Sue Anderson in Little House on the Prairie, I made the same mistake!

  53. says

    Love your site and yes, I’m hooked on Downton Abbey as well. Just watching the costumes and you know why it’s the most expensive series made in England. Thanks for your updates. I love them all.

  54. T. says

    Julia, have you ever watched the series Monarch of the Glen? Jullian Fellowes is an actor in the series, and the houses are pretty cool.

  55. Terry says

    To settle the “shortened version” kerfuffle, Google Downton Abbey and read all about it. We are not being shortchanged and the series has not been dumbed down for us Yanks. Mr. Fellows was Kilwillie in Monarch of the Glen and one of the writers and producers of Gosford Park and is presently writing/producing another season of Downton. Thank the gods for Julian Fellows. There are several interviews with him at IMBD and YouTube. You can also see scenes with Maggie Smith. Too delicious for words. The sets in all Mr. Fellows productions are beyond beautiful. He really knows what he is talking about and sets just the right tone/mood. I especially appreciate that he is not at all stuffy and allows quite a bit of humor in the dialog and lets Maggie Smith run with it. Also, the lord of the manor at Downton was the cute guy who didn’t recognize Anna Scott in Notting Hill. I fell in love with him then and am thrilled he’s just as adorable now. Castles aren’t really my thing (cold, drafty, rats, mice) but are wonderful to look at and I just love any movie or TV show set in them. The kitchens!! I LOVE the kitchens. I could live in one of those kitchens. When not cooking I would sit and stare lovingly at the copper pots, the bowls, the looooong wooden work table, the fireplace. Is my obsession showing?

  56. Cari Skuse says

    I absolutely love this series and have watched the episodes couple of times each. You can also instant download these if you have Netflix. They were just added on 2/9.

  57. says

    I have become hooked to this show now thanks to you! I am going to post about it on my blog today and link back to your site, I hope that okay!

    Lindsay

  58. Barbara says

    I have watched all episodes twice and once on the internet for a total of 3 times. I do enjoy the series. I am trying to find when Mary turned Matthew down the first time. I have not found it. Was it edited out? I don’t believe I fell asleep. This reference to a first proposal is frustrating me.

    Does anyone else out there wonder when Matthew proposed the first time? If you can help me out I’d appreciate it. Thank you.

  59. says

    I am a big fan of the series! So big, in fact, that I couldn’t wait for January to locate and watch Series 3 at the same time the Brits got it!! It did not disappoint (the Christmas special was another matter, but I won’t get into that). Expect some epic twists and turns!!!

  60. Amy says

    I am fairly obsessed with this show. I too found season 3 online and then stayed up most of the night to watch it. So many good characters, it is just wonderful

  61. Sarah says

    Actually, Netflix has the first series available through streaming and HuluPlus has the second series available. And then the “third” was supposed to air last night (DVR caught it). I know this because after going through the entire first series in the matter of a week and a half, I had to get more of it so I found out HuluPlus offers the second series on-line. Captivating show…

  62. michelle says

    Time for an update! Maybe some pics of the kitchen areas or other sets, like Crawley house-it’s very nice.