On Saturday 8th September, I visited the Heroes at Highclere exhibition at Highclere Castle, better known to some as the home of Downton Abbey, organised to commemorate 100 years since the end of World War 1. The event was organised by Lady Carnarvon to raise money for those who serve in the forces and those who help to save our forces during and after conflict.
The Carnarvons have a history of supporting the services, Highclere Castle was transformed into a surgical hospital by Lady Almina Carnarvon, during World War 1 and the bedroom that was used as the operating theatre was re-created for the event. During World War 2, Lady Catherine Carnarvon turned Highclere into a home for evacuee children; 80 children between the ages of 2 and 8 living on the top floor of the Castle with their teacher and nurses.
We heard some wonderful stories from them of the history of the house during the wars both from the family and staff perspectives as well as from those who were treated – all carefully intertwined with stories of Downton Abbey – much to the delight of many of the audience. After this weekend, the house closes for many weeks whilst the film crew move in and start to film. A Downton film is expected next year.
As part of the event, the Red Arrows gave a spectacular display over the castle which was breathtaking and although the skies were not blue, the clouds provided a wonderful backdrop for them.
Attendees were encouraged to dress for the occasion and many arrived in costumes of the period. The staff in the house, which was open for the event, were all dressed in period costume and although I have visited before, I never fail to marvel at the beauty of Highclere. The music room is a particular favourite with 16th century italian silk panelled walls and a baroque painted ceiling dating from the 1730’s.
The RAF were well represented and the air display during the weekend honoured all the men and women who fought in the air during conflicts past, including a tribute to the men who crashed their planes at Highclere. During WW2, 8 planes crashed on the Highclere Estate.
Highclere is a wonderful house and if you haven’t visited I recommend it. The family history during the 19th and 20th centuries is fascinating and if you are interested in egyptology, it was 6th Earl of Carnarvon who sponsored Howard Carter to uncover the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings. There is a small exhibition in the basement of the house.
The current Countess, Fiona, is a keen historian of the family and has written three books. If you don’t get a chance to visit, the books give a good insight into the life and times of two remarkable women in the family as well as an interesting history of four weekends in the life of the house between 1866 and 1936.