Highclere Castle is a country house in the Jacobethan style (a cross between the Jacobean and Elizabethan styles), with a park designed by Capability Brown. The 5,000-acre estate is in Hampshire, about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Newbury, Berkshire. It is the county seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, a branch of the Anglo-Welsh Herbert family. Highclere Castle was a filming location for the British comedy series Jeeves and Wooster, which starred comedians Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. It was also used as the main filming location for the award-winning period drama Downton Abbey. The great hall and some of the bedrooms located inside the building, were also used for filming. It features a magnificent collection of Egyptian artifacts collected by the 5th Earl.
The castle stands on the site of an earlier house, which was built on the foundations of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester, who owned this estate from the 8th century. The original site was recorded in the Domesday Book. An itinerary of King Edward II, Edward of Carnarvon, lists him as spending September 2, 1320 with Rigaud of Assier, the bishop of Winchester, at Bishop's Clere, aka Highclere. The same tour has him on 31 August 1320 at Sandleford Priory, where he apparently tarried for the night, and on 29 and 30 August he was at Crookham, Berkshire.
Since 1679 Highclere has been home to the Earls of Carnarvon and their forebears. In 1692, Sir Robert Sawyer, a lawyer, MP, Speaker, and college friend of Samuel Pepys, bequeathed a mansion at Highclere to his only daughter, Margaret, the first wife of the 8th Earl of Pembroke. Their second son, Robert Sawyer Herbert, inherited Highclere, began its portrait collection and created the garden temples. His nephew and heir Henry Herbert was created Baron Porchester and later Earl of Carnarvon by George III. In 1680 Sir Robert Sawyer presented the living of Highclere to Rev. Isaac Milles (1638-1720), the elder, who remained there till his death. White Oak was the parsonage where Milles took pupils, including the many children of Thomas Herbert, 8th Earl of Pembroke, by marriage the new proprietor of Highclere. Rev. Isaac Milles (fl. 1701-1727), the younger, carried on his father’s school at Highclere.
The house was then a square, classical mansion, but it was remodelled and largely rebuilt for the third Earl following a design by Sir Charles Barry in 1839–1842, after he had finished with the construction of the Houses of Parliament. It is in the Jacobethan style and faced in Bath stone, reflecting the Victorian revival of English architecture of the late 16th century and early 17th century, when Tudor architecture was being challenged by newly arrived Renaissance architecture influences. During the 19th century there was a huge Renaissance Revival movement, of which Sir Charles Barry was a great exponent—Barry described the style of Highclere as Anglo-Italian. Barry had been inspired to become an architect by the Renaissance architecture of Italy and was very proficient at working in the Renaissance-based style that became known in the 19th century as Italianate architecture. At Highclere, however, he worked in the Jacobethan style, but added to it some of the motifs of the Italianate style. This is particularly noticeable in the towers, which are slimmer and more refined than those of Mentmore Towers, the other great Jacobethan house built in the same era. Barry produced an alternative design in a more purely Italian Renaissance style, which was rejected by Lord Carnarvon. The external walls are decorated with strapwork designs typical of Northern European Renaissance architecture. The Italian Renaissance theme is more evident in the interiors. In the saloon, in an attempt to resemble a medieval English great hall, Barry's assistant Thomas Allom introduced a Gothic influence evident in the points rather than curves of the arches, and the mock-hammerbeam roof.[
Although the exterior of the north, east and south sides were completed before the 3rd Earl died in 1849 and Sir Charles Barry died in 1860, the interior and the west wing (designated as servants' quarters) were far from complete. The 4th Earl turned to the architect Thomas Allom, who had worked with Barry, to supervise work on the interior of the castle, which was completed in 1878. The 1st Earl had his park laid out according to a design by Capability Brown in 1774–1777, moving the village in the process—the remains of the church of 1689 are at the south-west corner of the castle. The Lebanon Cedars are believed to be descended from seed brought to England from Lebanon by the 17th century seed collector Edward Pococke. The castle became home to Egyptian artifacts after the 5th Earl, an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, sponsored the excavation of nobles' tombs in Deir el-Bahari (Thebes) in 1907. He later accompanied archaeologist Howard Carter during the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.
The 5th Earl of Carnarvon first travelled to Egypt in 1898. From 1906 he spent many winters in Egypt, and not merely as a traveller. He acquired concessions to excavate over 16 years near Luxor in the Valley of the Queen’s, the Valley of the Nobles, the Valley of the Kings, and in the Nile Delta near Alexandria. Lord Carnarvon both discovered and purchased Egyptian artefacts. He created one of the most extraordinary Egyptian collections in the world, with unique and exquisite works of art. Following his death in 1923, the collection was sold by his widow to the Metropolitan Museum of New York in order to pay death duties. Howard Carter had catalogued it and commented that he had left a few unimportant items at Highclere. Perhaps by comparison with some of the works of art sent to New York, the remainder seemed less significant. They were all tucked away in cupboards in Highclere Castle, until re-discovered by the family in 1987. The British Museum and Newbury Museum have kindly lent back further statues and antiquities, which had originally been lent to them by the Carnarvon family. The Antiquities Room is explained and illustrated so visitors can observe the jewellery, the faces and figures, the beautifully crafted jars and a coffin of a noble woman from 3,500 years ago.
By 2009, the castle was in dire need of major repair, with only the ground and first floors remaining usable. Water damage had caused stonework to crumble and ceilings to collapse; at least 50 rooms were uninhabitable. The 8th Earl and his family were living in a "modest cottage in the grounds"; he said his ancestors were responsible for the castle's long term problems. As of 2009, repairs needed for the entire estate were estimated to cost around £12 million, £1.8 million of which was urgently needed for just the castle. As of late 2012, Lord and Lady Carnarvon have stated that a dramatic increase in the number of paying visitors has allowed them to begin major repairs on both Highclere's turrets and its interior. The family attributes this increase in interest to the on-site filming of Downton Abbey. The family now live in Highclere during the winter months, but return to their cottage in the summer, when the castle is open to the public. There are various follies on the estate. To the east of the house is the Temple of Diana, erected before 1743 with Ionic order columns from Devonshire House in Piccadilly. "Heaven's Gate" is a folly about 60 feet high on Sidown Hill, built in 1749 by Hon. Robert Sawyer Herbert (d. 1769). Other 18th century follies that can be found on the grounds of the estate include Jackdaw's Castle and the Etruscan Temple. The hybrid holly Ilex x altaclerensis (Highclere holly) was developed here in about 1835 by hybridising the Madeiran Ilex perado (grown in a greenhouse) with the local native Ilex aquifolium.
Pushchairs are not permitted in the Castle, but can be left in the front hall, space permitting (at your own risk). Dogs are not permitted in the Castle and Gardens with the exception of guide dogs. They are welcome on the public footpath which runs through the Park but please do ensure they are kept on a lead at all times. Highclere Castle is a historic building but disabled access is possible for most areas. There is no lift, however they provide photographic albums to enable visitors to look at some of the bedrooms on the first floor. Wheelchairs are welcome around the Castle and in the Egyptian Exhibition (access to this is via the Courtyard at the back of the Castle). It is not possible to bring motorised wheelchairs into the Castle but they are welcome on the paths around the lawns. A limited number of manual wheelchairs are available for use by disabled members of the public within the Castle. They would advise pre-booking due to limited supply.
Location : Highclere Castle, Newbury RG20 9RN
Transport : Newbury OR Whitchurch (National Rail) then taxi. Bus Routes : No bus service.
Opening Times : Daily July through Mid September and Spring Bank Holiday 10:00 to 16:00
Tickets Castle, Exhibition and Gardens: Adults £22.00; Concessions £20.00; Children (4 - 16) £13.50
Tickets Castle and Gardens: Adults £15.00; Concessions £13.50; Children (4 - 16) £10.00
Tickets Exhibition and Gardens: Adults £15.00; Concessions £13.50; Children (4 - 16) £10.00
Tickets Gardens Only: Adults £7.00; Concessions £7.00; Children (4 - 16) £2.00
Tel. : 01635 253210