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The Downton Effect: The Media and the Reality of Running a Stately Home

British stately home tourism has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the past few decades. Not only have there been schemes and incentives by organisations such as the National Trust aimed at assisting property owners with what can be the overwhelming burden of running a large estate by opening their doors to the public, more than ever, there seems to be a surge of interest from the public itself. It is hard to ignore the fact that at least part of this growing public interest might be gleaned from the exposure that many of these stately homes get from being used as regular backdrops for film and television.

Downton Abbey is one of the most popular fictional television series to date, and is a perfect example of this newfound public interest. Aired on ITV in the UK and PBS in the USA, the show, whose current season is set against a backdrop of a post World War I England, draws heavily upon what is likely not to far from the real history of some of these great British houses. Although Julien Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, has often claimed that any similarities between the characters of Downton Abbey and any real-life residents of Britain’s stately homes are purely coincidental (as he did in an article for the Telegraph in April of this year), the similarities between certain real-life stately home owners and what would appear to be their Downton alter egos cannot be denied. The Telegraph pointed-out this phenomenon in a piece about stately homes that ran this past April. Richard Compton, the owner of the Yorkshire stately home Newby Hall, and descendant of his seventh great-grandfather, the real Lord Grantham, knows all too well the misconceptions that the public may have upon visiting these grand houses, stating that it would be incorrect to assume that their owners are all living in “grand style”. Despite this, there are similarities that can be drawn. Hanging on the wall of the dining room of the main house, is a portrait of Compton’s seventh great grandfather, the real Lord Grantham. Also in the portrait is a daughter named Lady Mary; two real-life characters that offer-up a mirror image of the Downton Abbey television series, right down to their very names.

In fact, the reality of the real state of stately houses is even more jarring. Owning and running a stately home is sometimes the very farthest thing imaginable from a life of idle expenditure, even though you may in fact be surrounded by grand luxurious style. An example of this is Castle Howard, the stately home made famous by its presence in the movie Brideshead Revisited. Castle Howard was known to burn between 65,000 and 85,000 litres of heating oil each year before its recent eco-friendly refit. The electricity at Castle Howard now costs £14,000 per year, a figure that owner Simon Howard once told the Daily Mail would have likely amounted to an estimated figure of £80,000 before the refit. And that is just the heating. Roof repairs, garden maintenance, cleaning, and taxes are constant and menacing companions in the lives of stately home owners, threatening to undo years-worth of family history with a leaky roof or a mislaid support beam.


There is of course an easier and cheaper way to stay in a British Stately home, hiring these stunning properties has become very popular as you do not need to have the hassle of running the property but you can just enjoy it when you want.

For example Broughton Hall is one of the finest examples of a British stately home you can hire, another would be North Cadbury Court with its Grand Dining Hall. Elysian Estates have many stately homes you can use as and when you like, Click HERE for our selection.