February 28, 2022|Reports

“Highclere Castle and its Archives” – David Rymill

Perhaps ‘Downton Abbey’ sounds more familiar but Hampshire’s Highclere Castle was where much of the, officially Yorkshire-based, Downton Abbey was filmed.  On Tuesday 22nd February David Rymill, archivist for the Herbert family who own Highclere, joined Wickham History Society on Zoom for a look behind the scenes at this beautiful stately home.

Nearly fifty members and visitors heard how William of Wykeham developed a bishop’s palace here in the fourteenth century, complete with fishponds and deer parks.  That palace has not survived, and the house built in 1679, most probably on the palace’s site, has been rebuilt and remodelled several times. Today’s stately home owes most to Sir Charles Barry, best known for designing the Houses of Parliament.  The magnificent 5000-acre grounds were transformed by the 1st Earl of Carnarvon using a Capability Brown design, converting the fishponds into the lake.

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon is best known for sponsoring the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter, and the family have an exhibition of his Egyptian artefacts.  David told us the family believed these had all been sold until one day the collection was found untouched in a cupboard.  The archives are very extensive since the Herbert family acquired the house in the seventeenth century and, as well as estate records, they were also very involved in the literary world and in politics.  David gets many enquiries about previous staff who worked there and has been able to help identify them through careful detective work.

This has certainly got to be one of the best archivist’s jobs going – having your lunchtime sandwich in the magnificent grounds and once even having the door opened for you by a member of the Downton ‘nobility’ on their way to filming. Downton fan or not, Highclere Castle and grounds are definitely worth a visit.

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