The real Downton Abbey

Every fan of ITV’s Downton Abbey will know that is filmed at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon. The third Earl built the present Castle, but it was his son, the fourth Earl (1831 – 90), who in his second term as a Tory Secretary of State for the Colonies achieved notoriety as the man who, through his policies of the enforced confederation of South Africa, indirectly caused the Boer Wars.

Earl of Carnarvon ('Twitters')

Carnarvon was clearly not a man to be trifled with. In January 1864 he had a number of fliers printed and circulated to his neighbours, informing them that 'the want of definite regulations for  admission to or through' his park had obliged him to revise the 'rules'. One of those who received a flier* was the Rector of Highclere, Philip Menzies Sankey, a graduate of Oxford who claimed among his friends, the influential proto-aesthete, Walter Pater. Presumably Rev. Sankey had been obliged to traverse the park in order to get to his church and so a copy of the new 'rules' that governed access would have been useful. Unfortunately, Sankey’s copy of the amended rules, together with his pass-card, which were originally included with the flier, are now missing, which means that we don’t know what these new rules were. However,  I’m sure that 'Twitters', Carnarvon’s nickname on account of his various nervous tics, was scrupulously fair to his neighbours.

Today, of course, the impecunious current Earl of Carnarvon has the well known musical composer Baron Lloyd-Webber of nearby Sydmonton House as his very wealthy neighbour. And it was Lord Sydmonton who, not long ago, offered to buy Highclere Castle and its land to prevent the Earl from building houses between the Castle and his home. Not surprisingly, the Earl stoutly refused the offer and ever since relations between the aristo and the arriviste have remained strained. [RMH]

* Dear Mr. Sankey. So much inconvenience has of late been experienced that the want of definite regulations for admission to or through the Park, that I have found it necessary to revise the existing rules.

I have endeavoured so to frame them, that whilst henceforward preventing all confusion and irregularity, they shall at the same time not interfere with any of the facilities which may contribute to the personal convenience of my Neighbours, and which it has always given me so much satisfaction to afford them.

I have enclosed a copy of the revised rules, and it will give me much pleasure, in accordance with No. 5, to place a pass-card at your disposal, if you will bc good enough to let me know your wishes.

I enclose you at once a card [?]--- [Believe me?] Yrs truly Carnarvon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *