Popular period drama departs from Highclere Castle for Christmas Special
Alnwick Castle, one of the North East’s largest visitor attractions, is to feature in Downton Abbey’s 2014 Christmas special as the magnificent Brancaster Castle. The Downton cast and crew spent two busy weeks at the castle in July and August 2014, with extensive filming in the castle’s spectacular State Rooms and sweeping grounds.
In the episode, which airs on Christmas Day, Alnwick Castle stars as the lavish location for the Crawley family’s Northumberland shooting party with the Sinderbys. Stowell, the butler of the Sinderbys – Lady Rose’s new parents-in-law – joins the families at ‘Brancaster Castle’ in Northumberland, bringing with him plenty of skeletons from his past.
Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in the UK, second only to Windsor, and has been home to the Duke of Northumberland’s family for over 700 years. Alnwick Castle has stood in its current location for nearly 1,000 years, and it is believed that a Norman man named Gilbert Tyson ruled it in the late 11th century, before its ownership passed to the de Vescys, another Norman family. By the year 1093, King Malcolm III of Scotland attempted to capture it, and during much of the middle ages, the castle was used as a garrison and a defence for England’s border against attack from Scottish forces.
In 1309, the Percy family purchased Alnwick Castle from the Bishop of Durham, and it has remained in the family ever since. Developments to the castle’s Bailey took place throughout the middle ages including to the Barbican’s walls, which are over seven feet thick in places, while the moat consisted of a ditch 21 feet deep in front of the closed drawbridge, a portcullis, as well as the huge oak gates of the gatehouse. It was, unsurprisingly, never taken by force, however during the Wars of the Roses, the castle changed hands a number of times.
Henry Percy, son of the 1st Earl of Northumberland, is the most famous character in the history of the Percy family and is better known by the name given to him by his enemies due to the eagerness with which he would ride into battle: Harry ‘Hotspur’. He is also one of the most famous knights in English history – he is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV and even has a football team, Tottenham Hotspur, named after him. He died at the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21 July 1403.
Another famous name from the castle’s history was Thomas Percy. On 20 May 1604, the then Constable of Alnwick Castle became embroiled in the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I in Parliament the following year. Percy was subsequently killed by a musket ball after being pursued by the Sheriff of Worcester to Holbeche House in the West Midlands.
In the 19th century, the 4th Duke of Northumberland presided over restoration of the castle’s interior, transforming the Italianate State Rooms into the stunning marvels they are today. Combining this with magnificent medieval architecture, Alnwick was therefore the perfect choice for the Crawley family’s stay in Northumberland. Alnwick’s State Rooms boast one of the finest private art collections in the country, featuring eight paintings by Canaletto and extensive works by Titian, Van Dyck, Turner, and Dobson. Impressive Meissen, Chelsea, and Paris porcelain is displayed in the China Gallery, while the Saloon is home to the priceless Cucci cabinets, originally created for King Louis XIV of France.
Visitors to Alnwick Castle in 2015 will be able to explore a brand new Downton Abbey exhibition, featuring photography, costumes, and props from this year’s filming. Group visitors can also enjoy a groups-exclusive Downton Abbey Tour of the State Rooms, as well as tours of the art and furniture collections. And while it won’t be the Dowager Countess of Grantham showing you around, your guides are sure to be just as knowledgable.
Call 01655 511 184 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register interest or to make a booking.
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