Before there was The Crown, there was Downton Abbey. The period drama centered around aristocratic life in early 20th century England. To keep it as authentic as possible, the show (and it subsequent movie) filmed at a castle in the English countryside. But not every sequence was filmed there.
Downton Abbey wasn’t a real place
Even though the world of Downton Abbey takes place through real-life events such as World War I, the actual story is entirely fictional. In the Downton Abbey, universe, Downton Abbey and the surrounding Downton Estate is located in the county of York. But no such place ever existed in UK history.
One other key component of the Crawleys’ residence was their specific nobility status. The patriarch, Robert Crawley, is the 7th Earl of Grantham on the show, and Downton Abbey has always been the home of the Earls of Grantham throughout history.
The title “Earl of Grantham” was created in 1698 and used by one person in history named Henry de Nassau d’Auverquerque. After his death in 1754, the title “Earl of Grantham” was retired.
Fans can visit where ‘Downton Abbey’ is filmed
Downton Abbey may not be a real place, but it looks like a stately residence for a rich family that one would be lucky enough just to visit. It turns out you can.
Most of the interior and exterior shots in Downton Abbey are filmed at Highclere Castle, located near the town of Newbury. In the summer months, the grounds and gardens are open to the public for self-guided tours, and the Egyptian exhibition remains a popular attraction. And while the Earl of Grantham may be something created for entertainment, Highclere Castle is in fact home to nobility: it has been the home of the Earls of Carnarvon for over two centuries.
One part of Downton Abbey isn’t filmed at Highclere Castle
Most of the filming of Downton Abbey happens at Highclere Castle, but that doesn’t mean the entire production is contained within the castle walls. The staff quarters at Highclere Castle have been modernized, despite it being a huge development on the show when the kitchen staff got their first refrigerator.
To remedy this, the downstairs kitchen and attic living quarters where the staff lived and worked were built at Ealing Studios in London, the oldest continuously working filming studio. The scenes involving Downton Abbey‘s hardworking staff were filmed on soundstages here, rather than at Highclere Castle some 60 miles away.
Having to go between two filming locations meant that the show’s producers needed to pay particularly close attention to continuity. Jessica Fellowes, The World of Downton Abbey author (and niece of the show’s creator), explained this obstacle. “For example,” she said, “Thomas might be filmed leaving the kitchen with a plate of food for upstairs and would then appear two weeks later in the dining room!”
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