Highclere Castle was a filming location for the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooster, which starred Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, and award-winning period drama Downton Abbey. The castle and gardens are open to the public during July and August and at times during the rest of the year.
The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Domesday Book.
In 1680 Sir Robert Sawyer presented the living of Highclere to Rev. Isaac Milles (1638-1720), the elder, who remained there till his death. White Oak was the parsonage where Milles took pupils, including the many children of Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, by marriage the new proprietor of Highclere. Rev. Isaac Milles (fl. 1701-1727), the younger, carried on his father’s school at Highclere. Milles the younger's daughter Elizabeth married Reverend Richard Pococke, LL.B. (1660–1710) and had the Rt. Rev. Richard Pococke (1704–1765), who having been educated by his grandfather Milles, at his school at Highclere rectory, went on to become domestic chaplain to the Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, and then Bishop of Ossory and Meath, and a renowned travel writer and orientalist. Bishop Pococke was one of the first to collect seeds of the Cedar of Lebanon which he did during his tour of Lebanon in 1738. Some of these seeds germinated and grew at Highclere and Wilton House, but probably also at nearby Sandleford and his family's own Newtown House, Hampshire.
Coincidently, the seemingly unrelated and earlier Rev. Edward Pococke (1604–1691), another orientalist, was sometime vicar of Chieveley, and then rector of Childrey both nearby in Berkshire, was an even earlier importer of the cedar. And of his six sons, the eldest, Edward Pococke (1648–1727) was chaplain to the Earl of Pembroke, and rector of Minall or Mildenhall, Wiltshire (1692), and canon of Salisbury (1675).
During the 19th century there was a huge Renaissance Revival movement, of which Sir Charles Barry was a great exponent—Barry described the style of Highclere as Anglo-Italian. Barry had been inspired to become an architect by the Renaissance architecture of Italy and was very proficient at working in the Renaissance-based style that became known in the 19th century as Italianate architecture. At Highclere, however, he worked in the Jacobethan style, but added to it some of the motifs of the Italianate style. This is particularly noticeable in the towers, which are slimmer and more refined than those of Mentmore Towers, the other great Jacobethan house built in the same era. Barry produced an alternative design in a more purely Italian Renaissance style, which was rejected by Lord Carnarvon. The external walls are decorated with strapwork designs typical of Northern European Renaissance architecture. The Italian Renaissance theme is more evident in the interiors. In the saloon, in an attempt to resemble a medieval English great hall, Barry's assistant Thomas Allom introduced a Gothic influence evident in the points rather than curves of the arches, and the mock-hammerbeam roof.
Although the exterior of the north, east and south sides were completed before the 3rd Earl died in 1849 and Sir Charles Barry died in 1860, the interior and the west wing (designated as servants' quarters) were far from complete. The 4th Earl turned to the architect Thomas Allom, who had worked with Barry, to supervise work on the interior of the castle, which was completed in 1878.
The 1st Earl had his park laid out according to a design by Capability Brown in 1774–1777, moving the village in the process—the remains of the church of 1689 are at the south-west corner of the castle. The Lebanon Cedars are believed to be descended from seed brought to England from Lebanon by the 17th century seed collector Edward Pococke.
By 2009, the castle was in dire need of major repair, with only the ground and first floors remaining usable. Water damage had caused stonework to crumble and ceilings to collapse; at least 50 rooms were uninhabitable. The 8th Earl and his family were living in a "modest cottage in the grounds"; he said his ancestors were responsible for the castle's long term problems." As of 2009, repairs needed for the entire estate were estimated to cost around £12 million, £1.8 million of which was urgently needed for just the castle. As of late 2012, Lord and Lady Carnarvon have stated that a dramatic increase in the number of paying visitors has allowed them to begin major repairs on both Highclere's turrets and its interior. The family attributes this increase in interest to the on-site filming of Downton Abbey. The family now live in Highclere during the winter months, but return to their cottage in the summer, when the castle is open to the public.
There are various follies on the estate. To the east of the house is the Temple of Diana, erected before 1743 with Ionic order columns from Devonshire House in Piccadilly. "Heaven's Gate" is a folly about 60 feet high on Sidown Hill, built in 1749 by Hon. Robert Sawyer Herbert (d. 1769). Other 18th century follies that can be found on the grounds of the estate include Jackdaw's Castle and the Etruscan Temple.
2010–2015: It is the main setting for the British television period drama Downton Abbey, as a result of which The Tatler referred to the area around Highclere as "Downtonia". The castle's great hall and several bedrooms are used for filming while the rest of the sets are built in a studio in London for ease of transporting filming equipment.
^Headmaster of the King Edward VI Free Grammar School, and curate, under sequestration, of All Saints' Church in Southampton. Son of another Richard Pococke, LL.B., rector of Colmer, Hampshire, from 1660 to his death in 1719.
^History of Newtown by Doug Ellis, Newtown Parish Council, 2015.
^F. Nigel Hepper, in Arboricultural Journal: The International Journal of Urban Forestry, Volume 25, Issue 3, 2001 : THE CULTIVATION OF THE CEDAR OF LEBANON IN WESTERN EUROPEAN PARKS AND GARDENS FROM THE 17TH TO THE 19TH CENTURY.
^Nigel Hepper in the abstract to his 2001 article (ibid): 'The earliest extant cedar in England is Edward Pocock's at Childrey. Oxfordshire (c. 1642).'
^Cobbett's Rural Rides, published London, June 1853.
^Cobbett continues: '...I want to do away with that infernal system, which, after having beggared and pauperised the labour- ing classes, has now, according to the report, made by the ministers themselves to the House of Commons, plunged the owners of the land themselves into a state of distress, for which those ministers themselves can hold out no remedy! To be sure I labour most assiduously to destroy a system of distress and misery; but is that any reason why a lord should dislike my politics? However, dislike, or like them, to them, to those very politics, the lords themselves must come at last. And that I should exult in this thought, and take little pains to disguise my exultation, can surprise nobody who reflects on what has passed within these last twelve years. If the landlords be well; if things be going right with them; if they have fair prospects of happy days; then what need they care about me and my politics ; but if they find themselves in " distress," and do not know how to get out of it; and if they have been plunged into this distress by those who " dislike my politics; ' is there not some reason for men of sense to hesitate a little before they condemn those politics? If no great change be wanted; if things could remain even; then men may, with some show of reason, say that I am disturbing that which ought to be let alone. But if things cannot remain as they are; if there must be a great change ; is it not folly, and, indeed, is it not a species of idiotic perverseness, for men to set their faces, without rhyme or reason, against what is said as to this change by me, who have, for nearly twenty years, been warning the country of its danger, and foretelling that which has now come to pass and is coming to pass ? However, I make no complaint on this score. People disliking my politics " neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg," as Jefferson said by the writings of the Atheists. If they be pleased in disliking my politics, I am pleased in liking them ; and so we are both enjoying ourselves. If the country want no assistance from me, I am quite sure that I want none from it.'
^Henry Russell Hitchcock (1958) Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Pelican History of Art), London, Peguin Books, p.73.
^Roger Dixon and Stefan Muthesius. Victorian Architecture. Thames and Hudson 1978, pp.39–40
^A letter from Gaston Maspero dated 14 October 1907, contained in the archives of Maspero in the library of the Institut de France says, "You have been kind enough to say to me that you could find a man who knows Egyptology to survey my works. Have you thought to anybody? I will leave the question of payment in your hands but I think I would prefer a compatriot" (Manuscripts 4009, folios 292–293). On 16 January 1909, Carter wrote to Maspero, "Just a word to tell you that Lord Carnarvon has accepted my conditions. He will be there (in Egypt) from 12 February to 20 March. I have to thank you again..." (Manuscripts 4009, folio 527) - from Elisabeth David.