Discussion: Architectural History of Downton Abbey (A Project Downton post)

Like many of you, I love both Downton Abbey and trifling historic facts! I just finished reading Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey this week and I couldn’t resist writing a follow up post to my review about a little fun fact I learned from the book.

Images of Highclere Castle–also known as it’s alter ego Downton Abbey–are flooding blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other multi media outlets in a wild frenzy!

I don’t know about anyone else, but I found something eerily familiar about Highclere Castle…..maybe I was Lady Mary in my past life LOL :). But honestly the whole time I have been watching Downton, I see the castle and I can’t help but think….there is something so familiar about this castle!!!

Shrubland Park in Suffolk

I know I have not been there to visit….so what could it be? Something about the architecture perhaps??? Yes that was it, it reminded me of some other building….one that should have been obvious but clearly not obvious enough for me to remember WHICH building it looked like.

Needless to say this nagging sense of déjà vu was driving me batty….but I dismissed it until I started reading the book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. As soon as the author referenced the architect/designer of Highclere and his other buildings….I could have kicked myself!

Highclere Castle (AKA Downton Abbey)

Any guesses? I’ll give you some hints….

  • Highclere was constructed in 1839.
  • Arcitecture style is Jacobethan
  • Jacobethan refers to the Victorian revival of English architecture of the late 16th century and early 17th century, when Tudor architecture was being challenged by newly arrived Renaissance influences. During the 19th century there was a huge Renaissance revival movement, of which Sir Charles Barry was a great exponent (via Wikipedia)
Cliveden in Taplow

The architect/designer of Highclere was actually Sir Charles Barry himself! His most famous building is the Palace of Westminster in London….or more commonly known as The Houses of Parliament (where Big Ben is housed!).

All Saints’ Church, Whitefield

No wonder Downton looked so familiar!! When you put the Palace of Westminster next to Highclere the similarities should be obvious especially the when one examines the towers and turrets. You can also see Sir Barry’s signature on his other buildings: Shrubland Park in SuffolkCliveden in Taplow, and All Saints’ Church, Whitefield.

Sir Barry was responsible for many other commissions throughout England….private houses and gardens such as Highclere were his bread and butter so to speak….the Palace of Westminster was his crown jewel though.

The Palace of Westminster

The original Palace burned down in 1834. The Royal Commission chose the Gothic designs of Sir Barry over the more popular neo Classical (think the White House) of the period. Sir Barry’s architectural style was considered more conservative where as the neo Classical more ‘republican’. Ground broke for the new building in 1840 but did not finish end until 1870…I had forgotten that the Palace was so ‘new’….it is such an iconic symbol of London it seems like it has been there forever!

Sir Charles Barry

The Jacobethan architecture style that Sir Barry made famous was a style officially coined by John Betjeman in 1933 to describe the mixed national Renaissance revival style made popular in England in the late 1820s:

The style in which the Gothic predominates may be called, inaccurately enough, Elizabethan, and the style in which the classical predominates over the Gothic, equally inaccurately, may be called Jacobean. To save the time of those who do not wish to distinguish between these periods of architectural uncertainty, I will henceforward use the term “Jacobethan”.

In architectural terms this style translates into a few distinct, recognizable characteristic: flattened, cusped Tudor-ish arches, lighter stone trims around windows and doors, carved brick detailing, steep roof gables, often terra-cotta brickwork, balustrades and parapets, pillars supporting porches and high chimneys as in the Elizabethan style (via Wikipedia).

Now whenever I watch Downton Abbey with my friends and family, I have something interesting to add! I thought I would share this little bit of info with all my fans and followers…..and my fellow Downton Abbey addicts 🙂

Highclere Castle AKA Downton Abbey

2 thoughts on “Discussion: Architectural History of Downton Abbey (A Project Downton post)

    1. LOL you are so cute love!!!! Yes I LOVE LOVE LOVE history, especially English History 🙂 (clearly). I wish you lived in OR we would totally hang like EVERYDAY and talk books, history, and Downton! 🙂

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