Revealed: Real life locations of Downton Abbey

by Jules on September 11, 2012

The Brits have always been smitten with period dramas (must be something to do with all those stolen glances and forbidden relationships between master and servant) and now the series has become huge in the US and was recently nominated for a shedload of Emmys.

Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) weaves a brilliant script based around the Crawley family, who were first introduced to the UK in September 2010. Series one focussed on the period between the sinking of the Titanic to the start of World War I, April 1912 to August 1914. Series two then aired in September 2011 in the UK and January 2012 in the US and followed the loves and lives of the Crawley family again from the Battle of the Somme period to the flu pandemic, 1916 to 1918. The Christmas special gave diehard fans THE moment they were waiting for; Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary embraced (finally!) amidst falling snowflakes.

Series three of the lavish period costume drama starts in the UK on ITV on Sunday 16 September and it set in the roaring twenties period of British history and the series opens with the most hotly anticipated wedding since Prince William and Catherine Middleton tied the knot! Those who are really impatient can view the official ITV trailer on YouTube.

Along with fantastic scripts and lavish period costumes, there are of course the stunning set locations and here we look at some of the real life locations used in the Downton Abbey series;
Highclere Castle, Newbury RG20

Although Downton Abbey itself is meant to be set in Yorkshire, the Crawley family estate is actually set at the now famous Highclere Castle in the British county of Hampshire near the town of Newbury. Situated within 1,000 acres of parkland, Highclere Castle has been through many changes. Originally the country home of the Earls of Carnarvon since 1679, Henry Herbert, the first Earl of Carnarvon transformed the property into a Georgian mansion in the early 19th century. In the mid-19th century Highclere Castle was then transformed into the stunning period architecture that we witness today in Downton Abbey, that of an Elizabethan Castle. Architect Sir Charles Barry created the design and oversaw the build through to completion in 1878.

The Elizabethan style was all the rage during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I originally in 1558–1603 and once again become popular in the 19th century with Dutch and Italian Renaissance styles once again playing a part. Highclere Castle reflects those influences and the Elizabethan theme can be seen in the scenes which are filmed in the original library, drawing room, dining room and hallway.
The kitchen scenes were filmed off site at Ealing Studios to capture the period accurately as were most of the bedroom scenes.

The outdoor shots were filmed in the extensive 1,000 acre gardens which were carefully designed by Lancelot Brown during the 18th century.

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon still live at Highclere Castle and the magnificent house and grounds are open to the public during the Easter and summer holidays, Bank holidays and other times for special events. Visitors can explore the Egyptian Exhibition which is hosted in the Castle cellars, can walk the extensive gardens and woodlands and can enjoy afternoon tea in the tearooms. It’s worth noting though that tickets are hard to get hold of with all the 2012 pre-book tickets already sold out, Christmas 2012 and Easter 2013 tickets will be released in October via the official website.

Village of Bampton

The Downton village scenes were all filmed in Bampton in Oxfordshire, one of the oldest villages in the UK and said to be one of the most historically preserved locations in the country. Several key buildings in Bampton also feature in Downton Abbey with the exterior of Bampton library playing the part of the cottage hospital. Another house was used as the exterior for Matthew Crawley’s house as was the Dower House and St. Mary’s Church.

Bampton sits on the edge of the Cotswolds and is not to be confused with the village of Bampton in Devon! Visitors can explore and stay in the Bampton area.

Akenham, Suffolk

The World War I trench scenes that were set in France were actually filmed on a rural Suffolk site near to the village of Akenham just north of Ipswich.

Waddesdon Manor

During series 2 Sir Richard Carlisle, who was tipped to marry Lady Mary, was considering buying ‘Haxby Park’ which was actually Waddesdon Manor, a Neo-Renaissance style country house located in Waddesdon village in the county of Buckinghamshire.

Visitors can explore the stunning château for themselves, which was designed by the French architect Destailleur in 1874. Originally the home of the Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild the property offers daily talks and tours.


Downton Abbey is actually meant to set in the County of Yorkshire which is further north in England than the actual locations used. Local Yorkshire cities and towns are mentioned but never shown such as Leeds, York and Middlesbrough.

Some were shocked that this was not a BBC production, after all the BBC are known the world over for their stunning period dramas, but ITV really pull it off thanks to legendary actors Dame Maggie Smith who plays  Violet Crawley aka the Dowager Countess of Grantham with her acerbic one-liners and stalwart Earl of Grantham played superbly Hugh Bonneville. Season 3 sees legendary US screen actress Shirley MacLaine join the cast to rival Dame Maggie and her timed-to-perfection one-liners!

Image Credits; 1, 3, 4

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