Early 20th Century England was an interesting time to be alive. It was an era of elegance and excess, of duty and obedience and of romance and conflict. Life was dictated by a centuries-old class system comprised of aristocrats, middle class and working class. Holding the positions of highest power and status in post-Edwardian England, aristocrats often lived on beautiful English country estates, hosted elaborate weekend parties and enjoyed the services of butlers and chambermaids. In today’s world, these extravagant lifestyles hold a special fascination in our imaginations, which is partly why the Carnival Films and Masterpiece award-winning series, Downton Abbey, was such a roaring success.
Set between 1912 and 1925, the hit series depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants. The plot integrates great events of the time, such as the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the outbreak of the First World War and the Spanish influenza pandemic, and how these in turn affected the lives of the characters and the British social hierarchy at large. So successful was Downton Abbey that it sparked a significant increase in demand for professional butlers in countries such as China and Russia and an even greater interest in the beautiful filming locations featured in the series. Downton Abbey’s producers worked closely with historical advisors and researchers to ensure that the film locations were as true to the period as possible. A number of authentic aristocratic mansions and historical locations were used as settings. Here are a few must-see Downton Abbey filming locations to visit.
Highclere Castle truly brings Downton Abbey to life. Situated west of London in Hampshire and dating back to the 8th Century, Highclere Castle was used for most of the exterior and interior filming of the series. It is easy to imagine greeting Carson the butler as you step into the grand hallway or catching a glimpse of the Crawley family having a drink in the drawing room before dinner. Wander on through the magnificent main hall, dining room, library and reception rooms and explore the special collection of ancient artefacts in the Egyptian Exhibition Hall. Take some time to admire the grand Victorian Gothic style of the sand-colored castle from the estate’s expansive gardens, before opting for a leisurely stroll through the beautiful estate looking out over forests and farmlands. You may want to conclude your visit with afternoon high tea, the most quintessential of English traditions.
The picturesque village of Bampton will seem oddly familiar to Downton Abbey fans. Most of the outdoor scenes featured during the series were filmed in this ancient market-town, which goes by the name of ‘Downton’ in the series. Some of the locations of interest include St Mary’s Church (where weddings, funerals and christenings were filmed), the village pub and library, the old rectory (Matthew Crawley’s home) and the Bampton Community Archive, which served as the hospital during filming. You can also visit the Yew Tree Farm, which first appeared in series four with Mr. Drewe as the tenant farmer. While in the area visit Oxford, England’s oldest university town, stroll around Bath and explore its ancient Roman bath complex, and marvel at Salisbury’s 750-year-old Cathedral and the mysterious Stonehenge.
In those days it was the norm for aristocratic families to have a second home in London, and so, of course, the Crawleys had to have a home in London as well. Built in the 17th Century, the Bridgehouse in the St James area of London was used as the location for the family’s London home. Other landmarks of interest used during filming include Lancaster House, The Ritz Hotel, the old Criterion Restaurant, the National Gallery and St James’s Park. No visit to London would be complete without stopping by Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, all sights that would have been well-known among the aristocracy. Take some time to explore the Tower of London, which was once the long-dreaded prison of the monarchs, but is now a fascinating museum housing the Crown Jewels.
Journey through southern England and discover the world of Downton Abbey on an 8-day exclusive special interest tour, London and Southern England featuring Downton Abbey.