As the latest series of Downton Abbey draws to a close, millions hang their heads in despair, envisaging months of emptiness until their beloved family of aristocrats return.
But this time, all is not lost.
Though the Crawley family and their servants are packing up a fourth series, viewers can now replace their upstairs-downstairs fix with a visit to the real-life manor.
The set – Highclere Castle in Newbury, Berkshire – is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon when the cameras clear off.
But with fans clamouring for more, the family have decided to open their doors to share the space with the world.
Magnificent: The 50-foot-tall main hall has acoustics ideal for performances from choirs or minstrel groups to entertain guests at Highclere in Newbury, West Berkshire
Party venue: Highclere, home to the Carnarvons since the 17th century, was the centre of 1800s political life. Benjamin Disraeli exclaimed ‘How scenical!’ when he visited
Visitors of the magnificent country house have free reign to explore the 1,000-acre grounds – from the grandiose entrance hall to the luxurious sitting room – that have been brought to life on their TV screen.
The main hall’s ceiling is 50 feet tall, providing perfect acoustics for performances from a choir or a group of minstrels to entertain the Carnarvons’ many guests. Servants would have to throw themselves down makeshift chutes during fire alarms as the stairs were too many to run down.
Priceless paintings lather the walls – including a portrait of Charles I, commissioned by the king himself, hanging in the dining room behind where Hugh Bonneville sits in the series as he plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.
The gold leaf-adorned sitting room – used in the show by Cora Crawley, the lady of the manor – glimmers with light pouring in through the windows onto Napoleon’s desk, which sits discreetly in the corner.
Hit: Downton Abbey has reigned in millions of viewers to ITV every Sunday night for four series as the aristocrats and servants cavort around Highclere Castle
History: The mansion was built by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Palace of Westminster, in 1838 over a Georgian manor. It now spans more than 1,000 acres
Upstairs-Downstairs: Visitors will be able to examine everything from the grand staircases to priceless paintings or the servants’ bells which have courted ITV viewers
From the epic to the minuscule, visitors will get a glimpse into the fine details that come together to create the timely programme.
The bells – lined up in a row downstairs to summon servants – are each slightly different, though seemingly identical. With time, workers would know exactly which room they were being summoned to without even looking at the bells.
Every book in the living room has been read and readers have left their own thoughts and perceptions scrawled along the pages.
And in the cabinets, a plethora of high quality china stands on display.
In the grounds, there is a monk garden, created during Henry VIII’s battle with the church as a retreat for the bishops of Winchester – and gave the inspiration for the hit show’s name.
Originally a hill fort, Highclere dates back to the Iron Age and has housed people for around 1300 years, according to an early Anglo-Saxon census.
Dancing: There are plenty of halls for banquets and dancing. According to Lady Carnarvon, the family now play games like charades in these quarters
Minute detail: The bedrooms – all 80 of them – each have their own design quirks, including cornice-moulded ceilings, gold leaf walls, or floor-to-floor windows
Many uses: During WWI, the manor was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers in Flanders. The 5th Countess of Carnarvon, inspiration for Cora, nursed them herself
Lived in: Current owners, Earl Geordie and Countess Fiona, live in the manor most of the year with their son. They have photos all over of ancestors or them with royals
Documentation from the late 1700s show the first signs of the Carnarvon family, who started with some major rebuilding works.
They converted the old brick and freestone house into a classical Georgian mansion.
But a couple of decades later, they went a step further.
In 1848, the third Earl of Carnarvon commissioned Sir Charles Barry, who built the Palace of Westminster, to transform his estate into a mansion.
It was a project that would last 30 years and, once built, the manor became the centre of 19th century political life.
On screen: The library makes for a dimly-lit setting for heart-wrenching talks as the characters wade through emotional battles and financial deals
Grand: Every exquisitely-bound book on the shelves has been read – with thoughts and perceptions left scrawled on the dusty pages
Gold: The columns of the library – like much of the castle – are decorated in gold. The Carnarvons have admitted they needed to get some parts repainted after filming
Peek inside: People can pay to see the entire castle, grounds and gardens with the top band ticket. Cheaper tickets – £5 – are offered for garden-only tours
House parties beckoned leading politicians, innovators, aviators, soldiers, and explorers.
Benjamin Disraeli exclaimed ‘How scenical! How scenical!’ on first seeing the re-named and re-modelled ‘Highclere Castle’.
But the party venue would soon become a makeshift hospital as the First World War took over the nation.
Patients began to arrive from Flanders from September 1914 – and the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, Almina (the inspiration for the character, Cora), nursed the wounded herself.
The Abbey: The name for Julian Fellowes’ show stems from the creation of a monk garden in the grounds during Henry VIII’s battle with the church
Full: During filming, at least 90 crew members and the entire cast take over the manor, using every opulent room for their day-to-day work, including this drawing room
Inspired: Cora Crawley, the lady of the manor, is based on Almina Carnarvon, the 5th Countess who welcomed in soldiers and nursed them during WW2
During the Second World War, a few evacuee children from north London were taken in, but by and large it returned to being a private home.
The limelight then turned to the inhabitants: in 1923, the 5th Earl – a leading Egyptologist – rewrote history by discovering Tutankahmun’s grave.
His premature death six weeks later at the age of 56 shook the nation, filled headlines – and left the family in thousands of pounds of debt.
But, like Matthew Crawley’s death in Downton, the family struggled through and managed to keep hold of their grand home and out of the newspapers.
Decoration: Crests adorn the walls of the saloon, which is a focal point of the show. Servants had to jump down chutes during fire alarms to escape the giant hall
Home: Geordie, the 8th Earl of Highclere Castle, pictured at his home (left), and wife Fiona (right). His great-grandfather, the 5th Earl, discovered Tutankhamun’s grave
Almost 100 years later, Downton Abbey put Highclere on the map again.
Fiona Carnarvon, now the 7th Countess of the manor, wrote a book about the history using their extensive archives.
Scriptwriter Julian Fellowes, a close friend of the Carnarvons’, used it as both the inspiration and the setting for his award-winning ITV drama.
Four series in, film crews and costume designers take over the castle for months at a time, creating the heady world of butlers and balls and upstairs-downstairs shenanigans presided over by Hugh Bonneville and Dame Maggie Smith.
Outdoors: The Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) is fond of a cricket match or drinks event on the lawn of the West Berkshire estate
‘Initially we thought it would be a bit of fun and might help our marketing,’ says 49-year-old Lady Carnarvon. (After all, the house has ‘between 50 and 80’ bedrooms to maintain.) ‘We had no idea it would be so successful.’
She and Geordie Carnarvon live at Highclere with their 14-year-old son Edward (Earl Carnarvon also has two grown-up children from his first marriage) while filming continues around them.
But they share the national – and now, worldwide – obsession with the fictional family that inhabits their historic house on Sunday evenings.
‘We always sit down at 9 o’clock for Downton,’ says Lady Carnarvon.
‘It’s very odd seeing them on the television in a particular part of the castle when you’re sitting ten yards away.’
They will welcome visitors into their home from December, offering tickets from £5 to £55 for a tour of the notorious grounds.
Original Article on : DailyMail