“Downton Abbey” Lives On at the Library of Congress

Highclere Castle, 13-bay perspective study in an Elizabethan style with larger corner towers and no central entrance. Prints and Photographs Division.

Highclere Castle, 13-bay perspective study in an Elizabethan style with larger corner towers and no central entrance. Prints and Photographs Division.

If you’re a fan of “Downton Abbey,” Sunday night was likely a bittersweet television moment – glad for the happy ending but sad to see the popular show go. As one Library colleague put it, we will all be experiencing “Downton” withdrawals.

The Library of Congress may be able to help with that, however. Recently acquired and added to the institution’s collections are a series of architectural drawings of Downton Abbey – or more accurately, Highclere Castle. These drawings join the Library’s unmatched architecture, design, and engineering collections, including the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) and the papers of many of the most distinguished figures in the area like Pierre Charles L’Enfant, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, James Renwick, Charles and Ray EamesEero Saarinen and many more.

C. Ford Peatross, director of the Library’s Center For Architecture, Design And Engineering, gifted the drawings to the Library.

Located in Hampshire, Highclere Castle has been home to the Carnarvon family since 1679. (The Crawleys moved in six seasons ago.) You can read more about the estate’s real-life inhabitants in an article from the January/February 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

Highclere Castle, 9-bay perspective study in the Italianate style with small corner towers and a large separate tower. Prints and Photographs Division.

Highclere Castle, 9-bay perspective study in the Italianate style with small corner towers and a large separate tower. Prints and Photographs Division.

The home, which sits atop the 1,000-acre property, was transformed to its current splendor in the mid-19th century. In 1838, the third Earl of Carnarvon hired Sir Charles Barry, the architect who designed the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament in London, to head the renovation project.

According to architecture.com, “Barry’s qualities seem to lie in his versatility. He could deliver whatever the client required, as long as it included ornamentation. … Judging by the high level of decoration on his buildings, Barry seems to have disliked blank spaces.”

Elevation of Barry's new central tower in an Elizabethan style above a section of the principal staircase and entrance hall. Prints and Photographs Division.

Elevation of Barry’s new central tower in an Elizabethan style above a section of the principal staircase and entrance hall. Prints and Photographs Division.

 

The mansion is designed in the Elizabethan style, but that wasn’t the original iteration of Barry’s plan. The architect’s early view was based on the Italianate style with small corner towers, pedimented windows and a large separate tower. But, what was old was new again, and, following a movement back to a distinctly British style, Barry transformed the large estate to Elizabethan gothic splendor. A focal point of the home is its central tower, and it is evident Barry was influenced by his design work of the Palace of Westminster.

“It’s the only country home that echoes the Palace of Westminster,” said Peatross. “Barry was rejecting Classicism and picking up the style of a glorious, previous period.”

“My ancestor asked for a really nice house to be built in bath stone,” explained the present earl of Carnarvon to Architectural Digest in 2012. “Barry said he couldn’t guarantee that it would last one hundred years, since the stone crumbles, but it is 133 years old now. The foundations are 16 feet deep, and so the castle will probably stand up for at least another 500 years.”

Elevations and sections of Barry's new principal staircase and entrance hall. Prints and Photographs Division.

Elevations and sections of Barry’s new principal staircase and entrance hall. Prints and Photographs Division.

Barry supervised the project until his death in 1860. Thus, much of the interior work of the house is not his own. Thomas Allom, who had worked with Barry, completed the project. That’s not to say Barry’s influence isn’t around: he designed elements of the principal staircase and entrance hall.

“[Highclere Castle] is like a jewel box,” said Peatross. “It’s changing every moment of the day in the light.”

And, just as Downton Abbey exists in real life, the storyline isn’t far fetched either. You can read more about that in the Library of Congress blog post. More information about the Library’s architecture and design collections can be found at its Center for Architecture, Design and Engineering.

Top left, three-bay interior wall elevation with coupled arched openings and a central doorway framed by four pilasters; top right, alternative scheme, here with an arched central doorway; middle, seven elevation details for parapets and decorative panels including one with the Carnarvon family motto: “Ung je serverai,” old French for “One will I serve." Prints and Photographs Division.

Three sketches highlight designs for Highclere: top left, three-bay interior wall elevation with coupled arched openings and a central doorway framed by four pilasters; top right, alternative scheme, here with an arched central doorway; middle, eight elevation details for parapets and decorative panels including one with the Carnarvon family motto: “Ung je serverai,” old French for “One will I serve.” Prints and Photographs Division.

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