The Real Downton Abbey - Life - Stylist Magazine

Highclere Castle

The Real Downton Abbey

Fascinating facts about TV’s most popular home

ITV’s record-breaking period drama has influenced everything from fashion to sherry sales since it aired in autumn 2010, and unsurprisingly Highclere Castle, the plush stately home where much of the action takes place, has experienced a dramatic rise in visitors.

With the third series of the hugely popular show in sight, Fiona Carnarvon, the current lady of the castle, will host the Real Downton Abbey lunch at Berkshire's The Vineyard hotel, in Stockross, on May 14, where she will reveal the true history of the "real Downton Abbey" and her early predecessor Lady Almina, whose extraordinary life inspired the show.

Fans who can’t make the lunch - and who can’t wait until September for their next dose of Downton - can satiate themselves with charming trivia Stylist has unearthed about the 320-year-old Berkshire property, which is used for both the exterior shots and interior scenes of the Grantham family home.

Let us know your favourite fact about the "real Downton Abbey" on Twitter or in the comments section below.

Words: Anna Pollitt. Pictures: Rex Features

  • 17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Dow…

    The castle's intriguing former resident Lady… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    The castle's intriguing former resident Lady Almina was a rich heiress who married the cash-strapped lord of the castle, George Herbert, in 1895, to become the 5th Countess of Carnarvon – a scenario that clearly parallels that of Downton’s Lady Cora Crawley and Lord Robert Grantham.

    Pictured: Downton Abbey's Elizabeth McGovern inbetween shooting scenes as Cora Crawley

  • 17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Lady Almina famously converted the imposing… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Lady Almina famously converted the imposing property into a fully functioning hospital during World War I - an act that was echoed in the show - and in doing so transcended social barriers of the period, as well as pioneering an holistic approach to nursing that was ahead of it's time.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Lady Almina’s lavish wedding dress was created… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Lady Almina’s lavish wedding dress was created by Charles Worth, known as the father of Haute Couture. The Paris-based designer, originally from Lincoln, was known for his use of fine fabrics and rich embroidery and made Almina’s dress from duchess satin with a full court train and draped in a veil of lace caught up on one shoulder.

    Pictured: Lady Almina's daughter, Lady Evelyn Leonora Almina Herbert, on her wedding day.

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    Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Sir… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Sir Alfred de Rothschild, the wealthiest banker of the time, who had an affair with Almina's married mother, Marie Wombwell, the daughter of a Parisian banker.

    Rothschild showered his daughter with expensive wedding gifts, including an emerald necklace and tiara and pearl necklaces. He also gave a cash dowry of £500,000 (the equivalent of £30 million today) for her marriage.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    George Herbert's best man for his marriage to… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    George Herbert's best man for his marriage to Almina was Prince Victor Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria's godson.

    A senstational biography by William Cross, The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon, suggested last year that Almina's son Henry, the 6th Earl, was the product of a fling with her husband's friend.

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    Lady Almina tried to atone for her dubious… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Lady Almina tried to atone for her dubious heritage by mixing with high society - a privilege made possible by her father's wealth.

    When Rothschild arranged for his friend the Prince of Wales to visit Highclere in 1912, the eccentric heiress threw herself into preparations for his three-day visit - spending the equivalent of £36,000 in today's money on decorations, food and servants.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Highclere Castle staff always knock twice – a… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Highclere Castle staff always knock twice – a superstitious tradition that has developed over time.

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    The castle is home to a priceless 5,000-year-old… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    The castle is home to a priceless 5,000-year-old Egyptian Schist dish brought to the UK by George Herbert, an amateur Egyptologist who famously helped discover Tutankhamun's tomb.

    In ancient Egypt noblemen were buried with food so they would have something to eat in the afterlife. The dish is displayed in a special air controlled unit at the castle, alongside Highclere's other Egyptian treasures.

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    Highclere Castle has more than 350 windows, in… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Highclere Castle has more than 350 windows, in excess of 30 fireplaces, and is home to 16,000 sheep, 2,200 lambs and 50 rams.

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    In Lady Almina's day the caste was served by… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    In Lady Almina's day the caste was served by around 60 members of staff, but today there are less than 10 employees - and the oldest staff member is 88-years-old.

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    The castle is believed to have more than 100… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    The castle is believed to have more than 100 bedrooms but it has so many “it’s hard to count accurately.”

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    Lady Carnarvon is a business brain with… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Lady Carnarvon is a business brain with accountancy training under her belt, as well as a degree in English and German – which she’s fluent in.

    With personal access to historical records dating from 1679, including diaries, letters, and photographs, she was inspired to write Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    It’s a far cry from laced-up Downton, but the… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    It’s a far cry from laced-up Downton, but the Castle was also the setting for Stanley Kubrick’s erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut, as well as the less incongruous Jeeves and Wooster and The Secret Garden.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Even Lord Grantham’s dog appears to have been… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Even Lord Grantham’s dog appears to have been inspired by the real life events in the castle - Percy, a golden Labrador who is currently the master of the house, is nearly identical to Lord Grantham’s four-legged friend Pharoah.

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    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Audrey Herbert, George Herbert's brother, had a… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Audrey Herbert, George Herbert's brother, had a uniform made for him so he could sneak into the army after he was not accepted on medical grounds.

    His extraordinary life as a soldier was chronicled in a 2009 book by Edward Melotte.

  • 17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Even more shocking than its link to the racy Eyes… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Even more shocking than its link to the racy Eyes Wide Shut is the "real Downton Abbey's" affiliation with Katie Price, whose 2005 wedding to Peter Andre was held at Highclere.

    Pictured: One of the bride's pink carriages on the castle's grounds.

  • 17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Dow…

    Lady Fiona makes quince and crab apple jelly from… More details

    17 facts about the real Downton

    17 facts about the real Downton

    Lady Fiona makes quince and crab apple jelly from fruit grown on the grounds - and made with a secret recipe handed down from Lady Almina's time.

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