‘There are round 200 to 300 rooms and between 50 to 80 bedrooms,’ says Fiona, eighth Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle, the ancestral dwelling propelled to fame as the placement for Downton Abbey within the in style TV sequence. ‘I’m by no means fairly positive why we’re unsure, however I feel it’s as a result of we don’t know whether or not to depend dressing rooms as bedrooms.’
Highclere has belonged to the household ever since Sir Robert Sawyer, the king’s legal professional basic, purchased the property in 1679. ‘He needed to retain proximity to the king, Charles II, who, reasonably controversially, was residing in Winchester along with his mistresses,’ explains Lady Carnarvon, including that the first Earl additionally paid £150 for his title. The home in its current type dates largely from the late 18th and nineteenth centuries. ‘The third Earl determined to create one thing fully inspiring and exuberant,’ says Woman Carnarvon.
Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Homes of Parliament, upgraded the sooner Georgian mansion with a Victorian makeover. Inside, a few of the rooms got an opulent Victorian remedy, whereas others, which had been altered much less dramatically, nonetheless retain a chic Georgian atmosphere.
Even so, restraint isn’t a phrase that springs to thoughts whenever you stroll round Highclere. There’s an inescapable sense of theatre as you step into the Entrance Corridor, designed by George Gilbert Scott, and presided over by two scaly tailed wyverns (winged dragons) crouching beneath hovering columns and a vaulted ceiling.
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Eye-catching gilded mahogany bookcases, full of greater than 5,000 leather-bound volumes, grace the Library subsequent door. The room was typically used as a gents’s withdrawing room, a spot the place politics and issues of state had been subjects of dialog.
The 4th Earl was a member of Disraeli’s Cupboard. ‘How scenical, how scenical!’ Disraeli is alleged to have exclaimed in delight as he caught his first glimpse of Highclere in 1866.
A secret door lined with fake books leads you on to the Music Room, the place Francis Hayman is assumed to have painted the gods and cherubs cavorting throughout the ceiling. The partitions are lined with beautiful panels of Sixteenth-century Italian silk embroidery from the Malatesta Palace in Rimini.
Now generally used for household lunch events, the room has served as an area for ping pong and an exhibition of Egyptian artefacts. A writing desk by Jacob Frères, believed to have belonged to Napoleon, has a particular place in Woman Carnarvon’s affections.
‘It was attributed to George Bullock, however I regarded beneath and noticed the G Jacob stamp. Afterwards I spent numerous time mendacity beneath different items,’ she remembers.
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In contrast to the earlier technology, Lord and Woman Carnarvon determined to make use of Highclere as their household dwelling, in addition to open it to the general public. ‘We needed the home to really feel alive. It’s a stately home, and each phrases are equally vital. However to be a house a home must be beloved, by the individuals who dwell in it and the individuals who come.’
Eminent friends have by no means been briefly provide. The home has hosted members of royalty, politicians and main lights from the humanities, akin to Henry James and Sir Malcolm Sargent. A few of their visits are detailed in Lady Carnarvon’s book At Home at Highclere.
Since shifting in, the Carnarvons have launched into an bold programme of renovation. Dilapidated rooms, piled excessive with furnishings, had been redecorated with finds from cellars and attics, and the Gallery hung with framed paperwork from the archives.
In 2004, the primary Christmas after they moved in, Woman Carnarvon requested her 5 sisters to remain. ‘I knew they’d inform me if the beds had been uncomfortable,’ she says.
Though she is fascinated by the traditions of Highclere, Woman Carnarvon has no qualms in rearranging the furnishings and shopping for new work at London auctions. She additionally works with inside designer Sarah Morris of McWhirter Morris on new schemes. But she is aware of the conventions of the home.
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‘There’s a legend that if the portrait of Margaret Sawyer, eighth Countess of Pembroke, is moved from its place within the Eating Room, catastrophe will strike. So after we redecorated, the portray was held out from the wall and we papered behind it.’
Regardless of enhancements, some issues haven’t modified. There isn’t any central heating on the citadel – open fires are supplemented by storage heaters downstairs and the odd panel radiator within the bedrooms. ‘Individuals managed for hundreds of years with out heating and we all the time shut the shutters at evening,’ she says.
‘When Downton Abbey was being filmed they all the time took out the storage heaters. Generally the actors had been freezing and sat across the desk in fur boots. However the Christmas special was all the time filmed in July, and normally on the most well liked day of the yr!’
The presence of earlier countesses is marked in lots of rooms of the home. The Drawing Room partitions are coated in inexperienced silk that replicates a wedding reward given to Almina, fifth Countess, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild. The lamps within the Mercia Bed room had been comprised of a pair of brass candlesticks.
‘I discovered a mass within the attic. An earlier countess will need to have purchased a job lot. I simply added fairly shades,’ says Woman Carnarvon. In deference to her predecessors she has hung the Morning Room partitions with portraits of earlier countesses. ‘I feel all of us work exhausting and have earned our place,’ she says. Whether or not she has 200 or 300 rooms to take care of, it’s not possible to disagree.
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