Highclere Castle, front façade
|Status||Grade I listed|
|Architectural style||Jacobethan ("Jacobean Revival")|
|Owner||George Herbert, 8th Earl of Carnarvon|
Highclere Castle // is a country house in the Jacobethan style by the architect Charles Barry, with a park designed by Capability Brown. The 5,000-acre (2,000 ha) estate is in Hampshire, England, about 5 miles (8 km) south of Newbury, Berkshire. It is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, a branch of the Anglo-Welsh Herbert family.
Highclere Castle was a filming location for the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooster, which starred comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. It was also used as the main filming location for the award-winning period drama Downton Abbey. The great hall and some of the bedrooms located inside the building were also used for filming.
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.
An itinerary of King Edward II lists him as spending 2 September 1320 with Rigaud of Assier, the Bishop of Winchester, at Bishop's Clere, alias Highclere. The same tour has him on 31 August 1320 at Sandleford Priory, where he apparently stayed for the night, and on 29 and 30 August he was at Crookham, Berkshire.
Since 1679 Highclere has been home to the Earls of Carnarvon and their forebears. In 1692, Sir Robert Sawyer, a lawyer, MP, Speaker, and college friend of Samuel Pepys, bequeathed a mansion at Highclere to his only daughter, Margaret, the first wife of the 8th Earl of Pembroke. Their second son, Robert Sawyer Herbert, inherited Highclere, began its portrait collection and created the garden temples. His nephew and heir Henry Herbert was created Baron Porchester and later Earl of Carnarvon by George III.
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).
I came from Berghclere this morning, and through the park of Lord Caernarvon, at Highclere. It is a fine season to look at woods. The oaks are still covered, the beeches in their best dress, the elms yet pretty green, and the beautiful ashes only beginning to turn off. This is, according to my fancy, the prettiest park that I have ever seen. A great variety of hill and dell. A good deal of water, and this, in one part, only wants the colours of American trees to make it look like a creek; for the water runs along at the foot of a steepish hill, thickly covered with trees, and the branches of the lowermost trees hang down into the water and hide the bank completely.
I like this place better than Fonthill, Blenheim, Stowe, or any other gentleman's grounds that I have seen. The house I did not care about, though it appears to be large enough to hold half a village. The trees are very good, and the woods would be handsomer if the larches and firs were burnt, for which only they are fit. The great beauty of the place is, the lofty downs, as steep, in some places, as the roof of a house, which form a sort of boundary, in the form of a part of a crescent, to about a third part of the park, and then slope off and get more distant, for about half another third part. A part of these downs is covered with trees, chiefly beech, the colour of which, at this season, forms a most beautiful contrast with that of the down itself, which is so green and so smooth! From the vale in the park, along which we rode, we looked apparently almost perpendicularly up at the downs, where the trees have extended themselves by seed more in some places than others, and thereby formed numerous salient parts of various forms, and, of course, as many and as variously formed glades. These, which are always so beautiful in forests and parks, are peculiarly beautiful in this lofty situation and with verdure so smooth as that of these chalky downs.
Our horses beat up a score or two of hares as we crossed the park; and, though we met with no gothic arches made of Scotch-fir, we saw something a great deal better; namely, about forty cows, the most beautiful that I ever saw, as to colour at least. They appear to be of the Galway-breed. They are called, in this country, Lord Caernarvon's breed. They have no horns, and their colour is a ground of white with black or red spots, these spots being from the size of a plate to that of a crown-piece; and some of them have no small spots. These cattle were lying down together in the space of about an acre of ground: they were in excellent condition, and so fine a sight of the kind I never saw.'
The house was then a square, classical mansion, but it was remodelled and largely rebuilt for the third Earl following a design by Sir Charles Barry in 1839–1842, during his construction of the Houses of Parliament. It is in the Jacobethan style and faced in Bath stone, reflecting the Victorian revival of English architecture of the late 16th century and early 17th century, when Tudor architecture was being challenged by newly arrived Renaissance architecture influences.
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.
In the 1860s, the 4th Earl drafted the British North America Act of 1867 which led to the foundation of the present-day nation of Canada in 1867 at the castle, after the discovery of documents between him and the first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. Macdonald.
The castle became home to Egyptian artifacts after the 5th Earl, an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, sponsored the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahari (Thebes) in 1907. He later accompanied archaeologist Howard Carter during the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
During World War II the castle provided a home for dozens of evacuee children. The estate was the location of several crashes of allied aircraft, including a B-17 Flying Fortress parts of which are now in the possession of Highclere.
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 just for 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.
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