Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Saving Downton Abbey

How many of you are counting down to Downton? Will you be tuning into PBS on Sunday night for the long-awaited second installment of the award winning series? I certainly will be popping a bottle of Champagne to toast the return of Matthew, Mary, Mr. Carson, Anna, Lady Violet... and even Edith. 

Vanity Fair

Keeping us glued to the screen with almost as much force as Lady Violet's droll quips and the will-they-or-won't-they romance of Lady Mary and Cousin Matthew are the grand exteriors and stately interior shots of Downton Abbey itself, and it's true-life stand in, Highclere Castle.

Daily Mail

Seeing the estate in it's Edwardian splendor on television and looking at photos of Highclere, it's hard to believe that the historic building is actually in danger. 

 Daily Mail

Home to the Carnarvon family since 1679, the castle itself dates back to the 14th century and was transformed to it's current state in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Daily Mail

 Daily Mail

 Daily Mail

Beyond the stately entry and saloon, the grand music room and library lie closed-off sections of the castle that have succumbed to damp and rot, leaving it in need of some £12 million pounds to restore and preserve for future generations. A 2009 article in the Daily Mail includes painful photos of the decay and details damage to over 50 rooms, describing how "seeping water has caused stonework to crumble and ceilings to collapse."

 Daily Mail

In 2010, Andrew Lloyd Weber made a "painfully rude" bid to buy the castle out from under it's owners, siting his offer as an alternative to a controversial request submitted by the current Earl of Carnarvon for permission to sell of parts of the estate for development to fund the repairs. The story of upstart wealth seeking to buy the heritage of an ancient family sounds like something out of a novel - or a TV series (in Downton, Robert, Earl of Grantham, openly admits that he married Cora so that her money could preserve the estate, only to fall in love with her after the fact). 

 No. 10 Weddings

To generate dollars for repairs, the house has been hired out for weddings. And with the good fortune of a star turn in the wildly popular Downton Abbey, one can hardly believe that the curse that supposedly fell on the 5th Earl of Carnarvon when he discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922 still lingers on the castle. (Although a Daily Mail article quotes Dan Stevens on accidents that have "plagued" the cast.)

No. 10 Weddings

Daily Mail

But according to the Mail article on the Andrew Lloyd Webber ruckus, the funds from Highclere's starring role won't be enough to settle her future. Meanwhile, the status of the Earl's development request remains unresolved. The Highclere Society website says that there has been little activity in 2011 as further proposals are awaited. So we'll just have to wait to see how this story of family history and ownership of a storied estate ends, too.

Daily Mail

I'm not sure why I find these tales of grand piles in peril - true or fictional - so fascinating. Too many readings of Jane Eyre and imaginary glimpses of Thornfield after the fire or dreams of Pemberley, perhaps?

2 comments:

  1. Well I have heard so much about this show that I have been trying (rather unsuccessfully I might add) to download it into my faithful MacBook Air for the last two days. I thought the series would make the perfect companion during an upcoming trip. After reading your post, I am determined to make it work! Going back to iTunes now. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

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