Pocket Britain
Britain > Hampshire > Highclere Castle

The real Downton Abbey


Art and Furnishings
Monks Garden
Egyptology Exhibition
Highclere Castle is Hampshire's largest country house, home to the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679. The current structure is mostly the result of a 19th century remodelling. Its style is "Jacobethan", a mix of Jacobean and Elizabethan architecture that was popular in the Victorian era.
The architect, Sir Charles Barry, was also a big fan of the Italian Renaissance style, so he snuck lots of those details in. More than one person has noted the finished building's resemblance to the Houses of Parliament, in London. This is no wonder - Barry did that design too, at around the same time. The two structures are similar, but he it's said that he much preferred Highclere.
The furnishings and artworks on display inside the house are nearly as impressive as they were in their Victorian heyday. Some of them have been passed down from Earl to Earl; you can certainly tell that the building has been in the possession of a single family for quite some time. The library has over 5,500 books, collected over two centuries ago. The dining table is watched over by a gigantic portrait of Charles I on horseback. Even Highclere's owners aren't sure how many rooms there are altogether - but it's certainly not less than forty.
Outside the castle are 1000 acres of lush parkland. Much of it was designed in the 18th century by Capability Brown, the most famous English gardener who ever lived. It's a mix of dense trees, open lawns and enclosed gardens. There's the Monks' Garden, with its carefully-organised rows of lavender and roses. Then there's the Secret Garden, if you can find it. Its curving paths and bursts of colour are worth tracking down.
Back inside, in the basement, is a new Museum about Egyptology. It might seem a bit unusual to have such an exhibition in the middle of rural England, but there's a surprising connection. George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon, actually helped to discover the tomb of Tutankhamun, in 1922. He was one of the very first people to see the collection of treasures that is now recognised as the greatest find in the history of archaeology. Unfortunately he didn't have too long to bask in glory; Herbert died just a few months later. Historians speculate that it was blood poisoning that struck him down, but more imaginative people blame it on the evil curse of Tutankhamun, who took revenge for the trespass into his tomb.
Highclere is still visited regularly by the current Earl and his family, so you can only go inside on certain days. Even if it's closed, you can get a good look at the place by just turning on the TV. The building's design obviously appeals to film makers, as they've used it more than once. By far the most well-known of these occasions is the filming of Downton Abbey, arguably the most successful British period drama of the last thirty years. It has broken all sorts of records, and looks set to continue to do so.
It's not just the TV crews that have fallen in love with Highclere - celebrities have too. It has been the venue for some high-profile weddings, including Katie Price and Peter Andre in 2005.
Visitor Information
Highclere Castle is open for a week at Easter, early May, early June and daily during July to mid September. Open 11am to 6pm. Entry costs around £15 for adults, £7 children. Highclere Castle, Newbury RG20 9RN. Tel: 01635 253210

Back ~ Top ~ Home ~ Index

Pocket Britain is optimised for use on a smartphone or tablet with internet access. All content is subject to copyright. All reasonable methods have been used to ensure information supplied is accurate at the time of publication. However, it is advisable to check information before relying on it. Privacy Policy