Tour TV’s grandest English manors
True, it isn’t hard to find a grand country estate in England — and each one seems to be more opulent than the next. Rich in both history as well as furnishings, many famous homes are gaining attention around the world thanks to the growing popularity of period dramas.
Wouldn’t it be fun to step into the set of your favourite shows and movies, back in time to a more elegant era? Here are a six famous homes from film and television to add to your must-do list.
While you won’t find the Crawley family or their servants walking the halls, you can tour the grand estate now dubbed “The Real Downton Abbey”. Though a busy set and the private home of the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon, the castle and grounds are open for special events and tours during the Easter and summer holidays. Tour the luxurious state rooms you’ve seen on TV and learn some of the facts that inspired the fiction. For instance, did you know Highclere Castle was turned into a military hospital during World War I?
And if you recognize the name Carnarvon, you won’t be surprised to hear the castle now hosts an exhibition of Egyptian antiquities. While most famous for discovering Tutankhamen’s tomb, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon amassed a private collection of artifacts from Egypt. Most of his collection was sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York after his death, but a few items remained forgotten in cupboards for decades. Among the private collection you’ll find jewelry, figures and the impressive 3,500-year-old coffin of a noble woman.
Of course, there is as much to see outdoors as inside: the 1,000 acre estate boasts impressive parklands, woods and formal gardens too. (You can download walking guides from the castle’s website.)
For more information, visit www.highclerecastle.co.uk.
NEXT: See the real Gosford Park.
You may recognize it as the interior of Gosford Park, but this London home of the Duke of Northumberland has been featured in many historical TV dramas including Byron, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and Wives and Daughters. From the Roman Basilica-inspired Great Hall to the Private Dining Room, every room in this opulent home is full of history and rich detail. The bedrooms that once belonged to Princess Victoria (before she was queen) and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, still retain their original décor, not to mention the original beds.
Of course, the gardens are as fine as any stately manor possesses — they were even designed by the same landscape gardener, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, who worked on many now-famous homes such as Highclere Castle. However, experts say the jewel of the grounds is the Great Conservatory. An ambitious project of glass, gunmetal and Bath stone, it’s rumoured to be the inspiration for London’s Crystal Palace.
While you can’t stay in the home itself, you can indulge in a night at the nearby London Syon Park (Part of the Waldorf Astoria family).
For more information, visit www.syonpark.co.uk.
The home certain looks imposing as Rosings Park in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but the atmosphere is far more welcoming than Lady Catherine de Bergh. (Think picnics on the grounds and family-friendly activities all year round.) Built in the late 17th century, Belton House was home to the Brownlow and Cust family for centuries. As happened with many great estates following World War I, the family struggled to keep Belton House going and eventually donated the home to the National Trust in the 1980s.
Belton House is more than just another grand home with lush grounds. The family and the National Trust have added many amenities to attract visitors including an adventure playground, restaurants and gift shop. It’s also been the scene of many weddings and events, and a setting for popular shows like Moondial. Annual events such as the Christmas Food and Craft Market and Christmas Carols in the Marble Hall also bring in the crowds.
If you’re interested in a behind-the-scenes look, the National Trust recently introduced a “Below stairs tour” which focuses on the lives of the “army of servants” needed to run the place.
For more information see The National Trust website.
If you’re interested in other BBC Pride and Prejudice locations, you’ll see famous view of Pemberly visiting Lyme Park and Pemberly’s interior at nearby Sudbury Hall. To see the comparatively modest Longbourne, head to Luckington Court in Wiltshire.
Jane Austen fans know this estate as the place rumoured to have inspired Pemberly — after all, Austen was in nearby Bakewell when she penned the classic tale. It seems only fitting that Chatsworth played Pemberly in the most recent film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but it was also the settings of The Duchess and The Wolfman. Austen even mentions Chatsworth as one of the places Elizabeth Bennet tours with her aunt and uncle.
While touring the home and grounds are a given, there are more things to see and do. Themed days look at a specific aspect of life at Chatsworth, from entertaining to housekeeping. Learn how to care for chickens or pigs on the farm, or master floral arranging for the holiday season. The home also boasts an impressive collection of art and textiles, not to mention its library and archives.
Can’t see it all in one day? Spend the night in one of the holiday cottages or hotels on the estate grounds. Don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of dining options on site too — including one of the country’s best Farm Shops.
For more information, see the Chatsworth House official website.
NEXT: Brideshead times two .
Whether you’ve seen the 1981 British serial or the 2008 film adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel, you know this home as the titular estate of Brideshead Revisited. However, the home’s literary roots go even deeper: its architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, was also a famous Restoration dramatist. The Baroque creation took over a century — the lifetime of three Earls — and countless builders and artisans to its final completion. Sadly, the home fell victim to a horrible fire in the 1940s but was gradually restored to its original grandeur.
Part of the Howard family still lives there today, but Castle Howard is now owned by a private corporation with members of the family on the board. Named one of the “World’s Top Ten Greatest Mansions and Grand Houses” by Lonely Planet, the estate is still home to thriving business and farms — including the Lakeside Holiday Park where guests can settle in to explore the Yorkshire area.
If you happen to time your visit for spring, take note that the estate is famous for its gardens — especially for daffodils, rhododendrons, delphiniums and roses.
For more information, visit www.castlehoward.co.uk.
This estate may never have played a literary icon, but its picturesque grounds and architecture have been part of an impressive list of films dating back to the 1930s. You may be seen it in such flicks as The Young Victoria, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Four Feathers and Mel Brooks’ The History of the World. There’s even a tour dedicated to showing guests the most often-filmed spots, and shares stories of how the estate is transformed when Hollywood (and Bollywood, in some cases) comes knocking.
Still, this country home’s biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Themed tours are offered through the state rooms of the home but leave time in your itinerary to explore the parks (another masterpiece by “Capability” Brown). During the summer, you can catch a rare glimpse at the private apartments where the family still lives.
A visit to Blenheim isn’t just about what you’ll see: the Music Series at Blenheim Palace on weekend afternoons takes advantage of the acoustics of the Saloon and the Great Hall — not to mention the grand organs in the Long Library and Chapel
For more information, see www.blenheimpalace.com.
Of course, this list is just a small sampling of the many grand manors you’ll find across England — you’re bound to find something that will fit in with your itinerary. You may need to rent a car to reach some of these homes, but you can also find tours offered from nearby cities. Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to explore — and wear comfortable shoes!
ON THE WEB
For a more thorough list of manors and estates, see Tourist Information UK’s list of Castles, Palaces & Stately Homes.
Additional Sources: About.com: Go UK, BBC, Anglotopia,net, MyPrideandPrejudice.com