Part Eleven: Highclere Castle, continued
Highclere Castle, continued
We pass through the drawing room and into the smoking room, where, along side paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds and Dutch masters, we see family photographs. “We have to remove these when they are filming Downton,” the Earl says. I ask what other adjustments the film crews make. “Well, for example, they replace the entry lights by the front door. They’re glass globes and I guess they don’t look Edwardian enough. They put up carriage lights.”
The cream-colored walls of the morning room are covered with portraits of “the ladies of Highclere,” as the Earl puts it, including the Earl’s mother, who is originally from Wyoming, and the present countess. There is a small painting of Almina, the 5th Countess and the present Earl’s great grandmother. She is something of a family legend. Only five feet tall, she was indomitable, energetic, and persuasive. She developed an interest in medical causes in 1911 and, after World War One began, convinced Field Marshall Lord Kitchener and Major General Sir John Cowans, Quarter-Master General of the British Army, to convert Highclere into a hospital, overcoming her husband’s hesitation along the way. Drawing upon two years of training as a nurse, she was personally involved in the care of wounded soldiers and earned their affection as “another Florence Nightingale.”
We enter the dinning room, and I am transported to the scene in Downton Abbey where Lord Grantham is taking his breakfast when he receives the telegram announcing that his heir has perished on the Titanic. The walls of the room are covered with portraits, the largest of which is a Van Dyck depicting King Charles I on horseback. It is positioned at the end of the room and looms over the head of the table, where it served as backdrop to the telegram scene.
We go to the center of the castle and enter the grandest room of all – the saloon – which opens to the second story gallery. The vaulted ceiling has skylights, which, together with the light-colored stonework, makes the room bright and airy. We pause in front of the stone fireplace, where the Earl points out the embossed and gilt leather wall covering that surrounds it. He tells us it was made in seventeenth century Spain and is very rare. It is protected with a Plexiglas covering, which the Downton crews wanted to remove during filming. The Earl refused. “You have to draw the line somewhere,” he says.
He describes how the film crews re-arranged the room’s furniture to accommodate an amateur theatrical performance featured in a second season episode. The Earl says he has seen several forthcoming episodes and observes that they are well done. We want to know more, but he is cagey about giving away details.
Coming up next: The real downstairs at Highclere