I went to Downton…

Well, I went to Highclere Castle, where the above stairs scenes are filmed for Downton Abbey. I’d been invited down by the Royal Academy, who were entertaining a number of their patrons there. The place is always glorious to arrive at – it’s an impressive house, whichever angle you look at it, and the angle from the driveway is probably the most glorious of them all. Despite the fact I’d been there a few times before, both for private events and filming, this was the first time I got to snoop. At least, the guide let us peek into the guest bedrooms on the first floor. I wasn’t brave/rude enough to actually step over the gold rope in the doorways, but I could see small bowls of cotton wool and mini-Elnett hairsprays thoughtfully put out for the guests, and that was rather thrilling. We had lunch in the very pretty library – which is exactly ‘as seen on TV’ – and had the privilege to sit next to Caroline Jackson. Her grandmother, Mary, had been secretary to the fifth countess of Carnarvon, Almina Wombwell. Known to be the illegitimate daughter of Alfred Rothschild, even then immensely rich, she had married into the earldom and rescued the estate, much as Cora did in Downton Abbey. And during the first world war, Almina had run the house as a hospital for officers, with one of the corner bedrooms serving as an operating theatre. It was there that Mary met her husband – Caroline’s grandfather. Almina was very loyal to her long-serving secretary, and gave them generous wedding gifts, setting them up with a furnished cottage on the estate. It was Caroline’s first ever visit to the house, and it was quite something for her to wander around the place her grandparents had known so well and fallen in love in. After lunch – delicious chicken, cabbage and potatoes, followed by a raspberry Eton Mess in tall cocktail glasses – we had a stroll down to the ‘Secret Garden’. A little moment of Downton all to ourselves. Lucky us.


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