Downton Abbey is the most successful British period drama since Brideshead Revisited and not just on BBC where its exceeded ten million viewers, but also in America where it regularly draws over six million viewers per episode. Thanks to the popularity of the show, the Carnarvon’s Highclere Estate now hosts tours for over 1,200 guests a day per season allowing for an unprecedented historic preservation of a families estate.
Downton Abbey Season 5 was released in the fall of 2014 in Great Britain on BBC. However, the American PBS audience is excitedly looking forward to the critically acclaimed 5th season of Downton Abbey. With its scores of critical and industry recognition and its Season 4 premiere with 15 million viewers, lovers of the Emmy®-, Golden Globe®-, and SAG Award®-winning series can once again begin to revel in the splendor of Downton’s “history”, romance, and intrigue.
Lady Carnarvon, wife to the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, wrote recently in her blog about the redecoration of the Mercia Room, which is the bedroom of Lord and Lady Grantham of the Downton Abbey Series. “The curtains in Mercia were, however, disintegrating; they were well past the moth-eaten, charmingly worn stage.” She also stated that the room used to have sort of a shiny cold blue paint color, which worked for television but not so well in real life.
The walls are now an oyster color, “pulled from the silks”, while the curtains have been replaced and are “a new blue”. Pictures, a chintz arm chair, and re-wired lamps along with a new rug provide a stunning re-vamped back drop for the now famous 18th Century 4-poster bed belonging to the fabled monarchs of Downton Abbey.
According to Lady Carnavon’s blog, “It was named Mercia for the Anglo Saxon kingdom. (The 4th Earl was a keen historian of this time). It is also nicknamed the “No Mercy” bedroom by Geordie (my husband) and family because Porchey, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon used to put any prospective girlfriend, married or not, in there. He would then leap out from behind a door hoping to get lucky.”
Bloomsburg Carpet Combinations: Perfect for Historic Recreation & Preservation
Three carpets were suggested by our designer to re-create the look and feel of the newly remodeled Mercia at the real Downton Abbey including a clean oyster colored wall to wall carpet. Marl Weave – Pearl Marl is the perfect foundation for re-creating the warmth and simplicity displayed by Highclere designers in the large bedroom.
The main gallery at Downton Abbey is a spectacular space requiring the use of decadent flooring. Granoble – Rust by Bloomsburg offers a pattern reminiscent of sword hilts and family crests. Interior Designer Aaron Duke finds BCI’s Granoble – Rust “easily imaginable in the formal sitting area, reminiscent of the hand-knotted area rugs of the period.” He feels that the wool Axminster carpet “lends it’s self to a more formal and traditional space.”
Lady Mary Crawley’s room has seen all the drama that the life of a 20th century aristocrat can manage. Life, death, loss of fortune and lovers have all been discovered by a young woman in the room of Mary Crawley. Yet this Downton Abbey heiress maintains a light femininity in her boudoir. The aptly named Contessa in Sand by Bloomsburg Carpet with matching border features climbing roses perfect for any budding business woman.
The Drawing Room, perfect for formal evening gatherings or light afternoon lunches with its high ceilings and large windows, requires a large rug to maintain warmth and dampen sound to maintain intimacy required during gatherings. Downton fans can re-create the feel of the parlor by pairing Bloomsburg Carpet’s Penn Tex in Eggshell with a BW Border in Tobacco creating a traditional, classically styled carpet for a large formal room. The clean lines of the simple Wilton Weave border can easily be paired with any number of styles, including those found at the Highclere Estate, featured in Downton’s Abbey’s Drawing Room.
Of course, the real success story is not the success of the show, but it is the saving of Britain’s Highclere Castle. Highclere was the site of a medieval palace owned by the Bishop of Winchester starting from the eighth century. The Carnarvaon family has lived on the estate since 1679, when a brick and stone mansion was built on the foundation of the palace.
175 year timeline The Real Downton: Highclere Estate
- 1839: the third Earl of Carnarvaon brought in Sir Charles Barry (architect of the Houses of Parliament) to transform the home into a grand mansion. Facing it in Bath stone, he built in the High Elizabethan style, adding Italian influences like the slender towers.
- The fourth Earl was an active Tory in Parliament, a member of Disraeli’s Cabinet in the 1860s and 1870s. He often discussed politics with friends in the library, which he used as a withdrawing room.
- 1902: the fifth Earl established Highclere stud to breed thoroughbred racehorses. During World War I Highclere was a hospital while during World War II it served as a home for evacuee children.
- The house went into disrepair under the sixth Earl who only lived in a small part of it. The roof was in dire need of replacement of the entire top floor of bedrooms have become uninhabitable.
- The seventh Earl preferred to live in the lake house elsewhere on the property.
- It was up to the eighth Earl and his wife to bring Highclere back to life as a family home.
When in 2010, still struggling with collapsing roofs and millions of pounds of debt, the 5,000-acre family estate, with its 6,000 book library, towers, tapestries and heraldic shields became the home for prime time British histo-drama Downton Abbey and making the Highclere Estate more secure today than at any other point in its 450 years.
“We hoped we would increase our profile and we have succeeded quite brilliantly,” says Lady Carnarvon about the decision to allow the BBC to film on the estate. “We see ourselves as stewards of this house and the estate. It’s quite an altruistic life in a way. We look after the land and the gardens, planting trees for future generations to enjoy. It’s about continuity, about passing the estate on in even better condition than when we inherited it.”
If that line sounds familiar, it’s because you’ll have heard the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) saying something remarkably similar in Downton Abbey. And the its not the only time reality and story-lines have crossed for Highclere and Downton.
The Season 5 Trailer alludes to a fire at Downton. In her blog Lady Carnarvon shares stories of several fires at Highclere and the blog provides a great historical Easter Egg for Fans to watch for….Hint: Compare the ceiling in the north library with the ceilings in the main library, you’ll note that one is much less ornate, this is due to a fire in the room 150 years ago.
While the Downton fire may not follow exactly the same story, the real life cook was sent to have his eyes taken care of after a stroke by the Earl and his wife, real life benefactors of the people who care for their family!
Downton Creator/Writer Julian Fellowes and his wife Emma are great friends of the Eighth Earl and Countess, and regular guests at the Real Downton Abbey – Highclere so we’re sure these aren’t the only stories that will intermingle as we follow this richly decorated dramatic tale of British Aristocracy trying to preserve their history and home by any means necessary.