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Monday February 6th 2023

Downton Abbey | 2019

Downton Abbey film location: Highclere Castle, Hampshire
Downton Abbey film location: 'Downton Abbey': Highclere Castle, Hampshire | Photograph: Shutterstock / Nick Brundle Photography
Downton Abbey poster









  • OXFORDSHIRE locations

  • ▶ Bampton (the village of 'Downton')

The incredibly popular TV series justifies its big-screen debut by upping the ante with a visit to the house by royalty – inspired by the visit of King George V (Simon Jones) and Queen Mary (Geraldine James) to the north of England in 1927.

▶ As the film opens, we’re taken from London to Yorkshire by a splendid old steam train, filmed on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. This line, running from Whitby to Pickering through the North Yorks Moors National Park, opened in 1936 and has been preserved since its commercial closure.

Its route takes in Goathland Station, famous for appearing as ‘Hogsmead Station’ in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

▶ Although it’s Pickering Station in the opening scene, it’s hardly a state secret that ‘Downton Abbey’ is Highclere Castle, Highclere in Hampshire, a long, long way from North Yorkshire.

Highclere is a Grade I listed country house, built in 1679 but extensively renovated in the 1840s to designs by Sir Charles Barry who, with Augustus Pugin, designed London's Houses of Parliament. Its park was the work of great 18th century landscape architect 'Capability' Brown.

It's the country seat of the Earls of Carnarvon. And, yes, the 5th Earl, an amateur Egyptologist, was the Lord Carnarvon who sponsored archaeologist Howard Carter, and stood alongside him in 1922 as he opened the tomb of Tutankhamun.

The house, its exhibition of Egyptian artefacts, and gardens are open to the public for self-guided tours during the summer months and at other times during the rest of the year, such as Christmas and Easter.

Apart from Downton, Highclere appeared in 1982 comedy The Missionary, with Michael Palin and Lady Violet herself, Maggie Smith; also as the country home of Lord Graves (John Hurt) in King Ralph – which sees John Goodman as the unlikely inheritor of the British throne; in the Bollywood blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham...; and in Shekhar Kapur’s 2002 version of The Four Feathers, with Heath Ledger. Though not, as is sometimes claimed, in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Downton Abbey film location: Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Downton Abbey film location: 'Brancaster Castle, home of Lady Edith': Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

▶ A few other grand houses also appear. The fictitious ‘Brancaster Castle’, home of Lord Downton’s daughter Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), is none other than Alnwick Castle, Alnwick in Northumberland – instantly recognisable to film fans as part of ‘Hogwarts’ – also in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Downton Abbey film location: Harewood House, West Yorkshire
Downton Abbey film location: the home of Princess Mary: Harewood House, West Yorkshire | Photograph: Shutterstock / Russell Webb

Harewood House (pronounced “Harwood”), the West Yorkshire home of Princess Mary (Kate Phillips), where the royal couple are staying is the real thing. And this is where George and Mary did stop over during their visit to Yorkshire.

Designed by architects John Carr and Robert Adam, Harewood was built, between 1759 and 1771 for Edwin Lascelles, 1st Baron Harewood, a wealthy West Indian plantation and slave-owner. Princess Mary’s strict husband Viscount Lascelles, is his descendant.

Again its grounds, which span 1,000 acres, were landscaped by 'Capability' Brown. They give Harewood another on-screen royal connection, after its formal gardens also appeared in King Ralph.

▶ It’s Harewood’s real interior that’s seen, right up until the final ball. Once the dance proper begins, the ‘ballroom’ is the Marble Saloon of Wentworth Woodhouse, Wentworth, northwest of Rotherham, South Yorkshire. This is where King George and Queen Mary attended a ball during a previous visit to Yorkshire in 1912.

The original Jacobean house was rebuilt by the 1st Marquess of Rockingham and vastly expanded by his son, the 2nd Marquess, who was twice UK Prime Minister, as Charles Watson-Wentworth.

For the film, the hard marble floor had to be covered to look like wood, which would have been more suitable for dancing.

It’s not a small house – the precise number of rooms isn’t known, though it’s more than 300. It’s big enough that, when it became a base for the Intelligence Corps during WWI, the saloon was used for military exercises.

Wentworth’s screen credits include TV mini-series such as 1999's Wives and Daughters and 2016's Victoria, as well as movies Pride and Prejudice (2005,) Mike Leigh’s 2014 Mr Turner, with Timothy Spall as the visionary painter, and 2017's Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill.

▶ One more stately home. Although the exterior of Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s London residence, is briefly glimpsed, the interior is Wrotham Park, near Barnet in Hertfordshire.

It’s in Wrotham’s Blue Sitting Room that Lady-in-Waiting Maud Bagshaw (Imelda Staunton) presents plans for the trip to Queen Mary. You can see the same room as one of the estates used for nefarious purposes in Guy Ritchie’s 2019 The Gentlemen.

Wrotham Park is a private house, not open to the public – though it can be hired for events – but a frequent film location you’ve probably seen in King Ralph (yes, again), Kingsman: The Secret Service, Jane Eyre (2011), Emma (2020), The Riot Club, Gosford Park and many others.

Now, it’s away from the grand houses to the lives of the ordinary folk.

Downton Abbey film location: Beamish Living Museum, Co Durham
Downton Abbey film location: Major Chetwode arrives in Yorkshire: Beamish Living Museum, Co Durham | Photograph: Shutterstock / Chris Jenner

▶ When the mysterious Major Chetwode (Stephen Campbell Moore) arrives from London, the street busy with trams is the Beamish Living Museum of the North, near the town of Stanley in County Durham.

The open-air museum, opened in 1972, preserves a record of everyday life in Northeast England during the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras, on a 350-acre site of relocated or replica buildings – plus those working trams.

It’s here you’ll also find the shop of Mr Bakewell (Mark Addy), where the staff stock up with unnecessary food.

‘Talbot and Branson Motors’, where the Major visits Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the Beamish Motor & Cycle Works, a replica of a typical early 1900s town garage.

▶ The local village of ‘Downton’ – as in the TV series – is largely Bampton, also called Bampton-in-the-Bush, in the Cotswolds, Oxfordshire, about 12 miles west of Oxford itself.

Downton Abbey film location: High Street, Lacock, Wiltshire
Downton Abbey film location: the royal parade: High Street, Lacock, Wiltshire | Photograph: Google Maps

▶ The royal parade, though, where an attempt on the life of the King is thwarted, is the village of Lacock, about three miles south of Chippenham in Wiltshire.

This is another Harry Potter location, Lacock Abbey being seen in …Philosopher’s Stone, …Chamber of Secrets and …Half-Blood Prince, as well as 2007’s The Other Boleyn Girl.

The little deception that sees most of the snobbish royal household staff sent packing back to London is carried out by Mr Ellis (Max Brown) of the royal entourage, assisted by butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier).

While Ellis is visiting relatives in ‘York’, Thomas pops into a pub where he attracts the attention of Chris Webster (Perry Fitzpatrick) who invites him to move on to more adventurous surroundings.

▶ The cobbled streets of ‘York’ are an area of Bradford, West Yorkshire, called Little Germany, a conservation area containing many listed 19th century buildings.

Most of these premises were built for textile businesses, set up by merchants from mainland Europe, many of whom came from Germany.

TV shows Emmerdale, Peaky Blinders and The ABC Murders are just some of the productions which have used this photogenic location as a backdrop.

▶ The smart, wood-panelled pub interior is, surprisingly, in London. It’s The Hope and Anchor, 20 Macbeth Street, Hammersmith in West London, W6. You can’t sink a pint here though – the pub closed in 2012, though its beautiful 1930s interior is Grade II-listed and thus protected. It’s now partly residential, and rented out for events and filming. You might have seen it in TV series The Crown and Strike (the adaptation of JK Rowling's Cormoran Strike novels).

Downton Abbey film location: Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Downton Abbey film location: the entrance to the clandestine gay club raided by the police: Little Germany, Bradford, West Yorkshire | Photograph: Google Maps

Back to West Yorkshire for the entrance to the warehouse which is being used as a makeshift gay club. It's Albion House on the north side of Hick Street off Burnett Street in Little Germany. The doorway, ironically sporting a police lamp in the photo, was disguised with a little set dressing.

The club's interior, where Thomas is caught up in a police raid in the days when homosexual activity was regarded as a gravely serious offence, is Dalton Mills, Dalton Lane, Keighley, also in Bradford.

This, too, has been a frequent location for TV, seen in Peaky Blinders, The Great Train Robbery and Gunpowder, and feature films including 2016's The Limehouse Golem with Bill Nighy, but its future is in doubt.

In March 2022 the Mill went up in the flames and the damage was extensive.