In the 19th century, the castle was remodeled in its present Jacobethan style (a fusion of Jacobean and Elizabethan architectural forms, also known as Jacobean Revival Architecture), under the instructions of Sir Charles Barry, who was also the architect of the Houses of Parliament.
The house which operates as the proverbial “upstairs” of the Grantham family in the very popular period drama series, Downton Abbey (2010-15; dir Julian Fellowes) is actually the Highclere Castle, which has a history of over 1200 years. The castle today occupies the ground on which stood the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester. It has been recorded in the Domesday Book, an account of the “Great Survey” of England and Wales, which was compiled in 1086, during the reign of King William the Conqueror.
On September 2, 1320, King Edward II spent the night at the Highclere, also known then as Bishop’s Clere, with Rigaud of Assier, the bishop of Winchester. The event finds mention in the recorded itineraries of Edward of Carnarvon. Later, in the 17th century, the college friend of Samuel Pepys (famous English diarist), and Member of the Parliament, Robert Sawyer inherited the castle. He bequeathed a mansion to his daughter, and the rest to Rev. Isaac Milles. Since then it has changed the hands of several earls.
In the 19th century, the castle was remodeled in its present Jacobethan style (a fusion of Jacobean and Elizabethan architectural forms, also known as Jacobean Revival Architecture), under the instructions of Sir Charles Barry, who was also the architect of the Houses of Parliament. He described the architecture of Highclere as Anglo-Italian or Italianate, as inspired by Renaissance forms.
Besides Downton Abbey, the Highclere Castle has been the shooting location for the television adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, into the Hugh Laurie-and-Stephen Fry-starrer Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93; dir. Clive Exton). In the show, the castle was known as Totleigh Towers. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) was also shot here, as well as the facade of it being used to depict the Raichand Mansion in Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001).
Meanwhile, the location for shooting the Downton “downstairs” was at a studio in London, and the Downton Abbey’s bedrooms were served by country manor called West Wycombe House in Buckinghamshire, for in the actual Downton–which is the Highclere–there is only one bedroom, in use. The mahogany desk and chair in the Donwton music room were once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Much of commodities, manners, cutlery, hosiery and costumes have come a long way across times and spaces due to Downton Abbey. Not just that, in a Christmas spoof that the Downtoners made of themselves in Downton Abbey for Santa Text, we find George Clooney penetrate the Atlantic back into time, and takeover as the seventh Earl of Grantham, now called Lord Hollywood. Another time-space-traveller is Jeremy Piven from Mr Selfridge (2013–), yet another Masterpiece Theatre production, who appears at Downton Abbey with lingerie. In the ballroom, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) faints after being kissed by the new Lord Hollywood, but not before she has managed to deliver in her very characteristic style: “Tell me, does your family have a coat of arms, or indeed…a coat?”
Also, we can now watch Lord Grantham losing his estate and inheritance all over again, and regaining it, as he so incorrigibly does well.