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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Downton Abbey: behind the scenes - The Telegraph
- Village is the star of the show – Oxford Mail
- The history of St Mary’s, Brampton
- Highclere Castle website
- Visit the Downton Abbey web site at Masterpiece Classic
Text © 2011 Abby Stambach, image of Highclere Castle © 2012 PBS