Highclere Park, Newbury, West Berkshire RG20 9RN, United Kingdom
Highclere Castle is a country house in the Jacobethan style, with a park designed by Capability Brown. The 5,000-acre estate is in Hampshire, England, United Kingdom, about 5 miles south of Newbury, Berkshire. It is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, a branch of the Anglo-welsh Herbert family. Highclere Castle is the main filming location for the British television period drama Downtown Abbey.
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. Since 1679, the castle has been home to the Carnarvon family.
In 1692, Robert Sawyer, a lawyer 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 picture collection and created the garden temples. His nephew and heir Henry Herbert was created Baron Porchester and 1st Earl of Carnarvon by George III.
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, the Earl and Lady Carnarvon have stated that a dramatic increase in the number of paying visitors has allowed them to begin major repairs both on 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 and eye-catchers on the estate. To the east of the house is the Temple of Diana, erected before 1743 with Corinthian columns from Devonshire House in Piccadilly. “Heaven’s Gate” is an eye-catcher about 18m high on Sidown Hill, built in 1749 by Hon. Robert Sawyer Herbert. 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.