Downton Abbey’s Stunning Film Locations

Image of Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England

Season one of Downton Abbey on Masterpiece Classic PBS concludes this Sunday, January 30th. This new Edwardian-era period drama was incredibly popular when it first aired in the UK last Fall, and now is also a huge hit with North American audiences. Many viewers will be happy to know that a second season and Christmas special are in the works for Fall and December in the UK, and will probably air in the US in 2012.

Not only has screenwriter Julian Fellowes given us a brilliant script, the costumes and film locations are stunning. Please welcome guest blogger Abby Stambach, whose lovely blog Nooks, Towers and Turrets features information and commentary on historic homes and stately architectural highlights. She has graciously offered a tour of film locations used in Downton Abbey.

As someone who loves historic places, I am always curious about the locations used in historic films or mini-series. I always want to believe that the homes used in my favorite films are real and not some creation on a studio’s back lot. I had high hopes for the locations used in Downton Abbey when I first saw the trailer. I was not disappointed when I found that the series was filmed at the historic Highclere Castle and the village of Bampton.

Highclere Castle circa Georgian-era

The Crawley estate was brought to life at Highclere Castle in the county of Hampshire. It sits on 1,000 acres of parkland and it has been the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Henry Herbert, the 1st Earl of Carnarvon made many improvements to the building transforming it to a Georgian mansion. I was surprised to find that Highclere Castle is only about 30 miles from Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon. It appears as if the Austen and Carnarvon families’ social circles crossed paths since Jane mentioned the Carnarvon family in a letter she wrote to her sister, Cassandra between October 25 and 27, 1800. Jane wrote:

This morning we called at the Harwood’s & in their dining room found Heathcote & Chute forever – Mrs. Wm. Heathcote & Mrs. Chute – the first of whom took a long ride in to LordCarnarvons Park and fainted away in the evening…

In the mid-nineteenth century, Highclere Castle was remodeled again into the Elizabethan Castle that is seen in Downton Abbey. Sir Charles Barry is responsible for the design and it was completed in 1878.

Design for Highclere Castle, study of Elizabethan style by Sir Charles Barry (1842)Design for Highclere Castle, study of Elizabethan style
by Sir Charles Barry (1842) from Christie’s

The re-modeled home is in the Elizabethan style. This style was dominant in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It takes many elements from the Dutch and Italian Renaissance styles and is known for its symmetrical layouts, curved gables and long galleries. When Highclere was remodeled in the 19th-century, there was a Renaissance revival and Elizabethan architecture became fashionable once again.

The grounds and several rooms of Highclere Castle are featured throughout Downton Abbey. The salon, library, dining room and entrance hall are seen frequently. The scenes taking place in the servants’ living quarters were not filmed at Highclere but rather at Ealing Studios. It was necessary to build the servants quarters from scratch because the quarters used by servants in the early 20th-century are either gone, or greatly changed. The production crew took great care in making the transitions from the rooms of Highclere to the servants’ quarters look real.

The Secret Garden at Highclere Castle

The castle sits on 1,000 acres of parkland designed in the 18th-century by the famous landscape gardener, Lancelot Brown. The gardens closest to the castle are called the Monks’ Garden. This name comes from the Bishops of Winchester who owned the land for 800 years before the Carnarvon family. There is even a Secret Garden with an arboretum within the Monks’ Garden.

The scenes taking place in Downton village were filmed in the town of Bampton in the county of Oxfordshire. Bampton was chosen because it “provided an authentic backdrop close to London.” Producer Nigel Marchant also said that “Bampton is perfect because it is so well preserved, and you hardly need to do anything in terms of alterations.” It is one of the oldest villages in England and its history can be traced to the Iron Age. The village also appears in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Aerial view of Brampton, Oxfordshire

During the 18th-century, Bampton flourished and many buildings throughout the village were built during the course of the century. There were also a many shops by the middle of the 18th-century making the village self-sufficient even though roads and bridges were built in order to connect it to the surrounding towns and villages. Bampton continued to flourish and by the early 19th-century, Bampton was a village of contrasts with wealthy landowners, middle class farmers, shopkeepers and people living in poverty.

Brampton Library used for the hospital in Downton Abbey (2010)

Several buildings in Bampton were used for filming. Lord Grantham patrons the hospital in Downton and the series has many scenes taking place in the hospital. The exterior of the Bampton Library became the entrance of the hospital and the interior scenes were filmed elsewhere.

Brampton house used as the Crawley's home in Downton Abbey (2010)

Another building served as the exterior of Matthew Crawley and his mother’s Downton home. Once again, the interior scenes were filmed on another location in Buckinghamshire.

Brampton residence used as the Dower House in Downton Abbey (2010)

This is the Dower House, residence of Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It is in the Georgian style and could easily be used in a Jane Austen adaptation.

In episode two, we see Matthew Crawley and Lady Edith tour a local church. These scenes were filmed at St. Mary’s Church in Bampton. This church was a part of an ancient parish within an Anglo-Saxon royal estate and there is archeological evidence that suggests a church was on the site before the Norman Conquest. However, the earliest surviving document records the gift of the church to Leofric, Bishop of Exeter and the Church of Peter by William the Conqueror. It is likely that the original church was destroyed by fire in 1142 and the present day building was built beginning in 1153.  The church was remodeled in 1270 when the spire and aisles were added.

St. Mary's Church in Brampton, Oxfordshire used in the filming of Downton Abbey (2010)

The production crew did a magnificent job in choosing sites that make Downton Abbey and the village of Downton come to life. They are simply gorgeous and help create the perfect atmosphere for the story.

Abby is the creator/editor of Nooks, Towers and Turrets, a blog honoring historic architecture. She fell in love with old houses when she was a little girl going to house museums with her family. She then worked as a tour guide at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site for many summers. When she isn’t blogging or visiting house museums, she working to finish her masters degree.

Downton Abbey continues on Sunday, January 30th at 9:00 pm ET (check local listings). Don’t miss the final episode.

Links/sources/further reading

Image of Highclere Castle courtsey of ©MASTERPIECE and CARNIVAL FILMS; text © 2011 Abby Stambach, Austenprose.com

19 thoughts on “Downton Abbey’s Stunning Film Locations

  1. It’s fascinating to find a connection between Jane Austen and the Carnavorn estate. What a shame that we don’t get to see how it looked in the Georgian times, as Jane would have seen the house!

    Thanks for showing us the lovely photos of Highclere Castle and the village of Bampton.

    Matthew Crawley’s Downton home reminds me of the Dashwoods’ home in the 1981 version of Sense and Sensibility.

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  2. One can always count on the vast network of Jane Austen enthusiasts to supply expert supplemental information. Thanks for enhancing my enjoyment and appreciation of “Downton Abbey”!

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  3. This is a great post! I started watching Downton Abbey this weekend online, and I could not get over how beautiful the scenery was. I’m really glad that you shared this information with us!

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  4. I love the series Downton Abbey and was fascinated by the details you shared here. Can’t wait to see episode 4. My husband and I have toured many dozens of fabulous manor homes in England but have never seen this one. Thanks so much!!

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  5. So cool. Some day I swear I will get over to the UK and get to spend some time visiting beautiful locations like this! The mini-series has been fun so far, but I definitely need to get caught up ASAP! Thanks for sharing these locations with us!

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    • Hi Lorie, the 2nd season of DA will air in the UK next Fall and then the Christmas special in December. No dates have been announced, nor has PBS announced that they will broadcast season 2. But it is very highly likely they will. You might have to wait a year. A long time I know.

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  6. Thank you for the great post. Not only do I look forward to seeing this series, I also look forward to getting to Highclere Castle this spring.

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  7. Pingback: Downton Abbey: Episode Four on Masterpiece Classic PBS – A Recap & Review « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

  8. t’all brings me back to my ancestral home completed in 1810, namely, Castle Ellen there in County Galway, in west Ireland. ‘Castle Ellen’ can be visited and is one of several mansions still standing. Castle Ellen was built and lived in by Walter and Ellen LAMBERT ( nee Tubbs )…who lived in and at, Castle Lambert nearby. The lands were given to John Lambert around 1639. The heir to Castle Ellen, elder son Peter Lambert jnr, 1828 – 1897 had his grandmother Ellen, now a widow, ousted from the home. Ellen died during the legal bickering about her right to remain resident in part of the mansion.

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  9. Pingback: Highclere Castle Floor Plan: The Real Downton Abbey « Jane Austen's World

  10. This is really and good source.

    Are you thinking of doing on for the second season?

    The trenches of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Amiens were shot near ipswich, Suffolk
    http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/04/10/2011/129375/Farm-plays-starring-role-in-Downton-Abbey.htm

    In the first episode, the training college in York where Branson drops Lady Sybil off at after she decides to be an auxiliary nurse is actually Charterhouse Square, London which is oddly enough the same location used for the political rallies in Ripon scenes in the first season.

    In Episode 6 (UK)/Episode 5 (USA), Haxby Park (which always seemed to me like it ought to be just called Skelton Park to match up with the one mentioned earlier) is Waddresdon Manor near Waddresdon, Buckinghamshire for the exterior and Halton House near Halton, Buckinghamshire
    for the interior http://www.waddesdonnews.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=274:september-news&catid=18:waddesdon-manor&Itemid=15

    Another is the Swan Inn is Swinbrook, Oxfordshire was used for the Gretna Green seen in Episode 7 (UK)/Episode 6 (USA)
    http://www.theswanswinbrook.co.uk/downton-abbey

    In the Christmas Special (UK)/Episode 7 (USA), Hall Barn, near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire is used. Trivia Hall Barn can also be seen in ‘Gosford Park’ as the Countess of Trentham’s home in the opening shot and its grounds were also used as the scene for lunch after the hunt.

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  11. Hope you find this interesting. The Dower House isn’t in Oxfordshire, but West Sussex. http://www.byfleetmanor.com

    And this is kind of interesting too. In the last scene of the first episode of the first series, we see Matthew and Isobel’s home in Manchester from both the outside and inside when they are having breakfast. That was filmed in London at the Benjamin Franklin House, the real Benjamin Franklin’s home for 16 years while he lived in London. It’s the only one of Franklin’s known home to still exist today. http://www.benjaminfranklinhouse.org/site/sections/default.htm

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