Dedicated Downton Abbey fans, like me, are especially looking forward to the new
year, since on January 4 PBS will start broadcasting season five! Familiar faces will be
returning to this phenomenally popular series, including my favourite actress on the
show, Dame Maggie Smith. She plays the inimitable, always witty Violet Crawley,
Dowager Countess of Grantham. An extraordinarily versatile actor who will be new
to the show will be Richard E. Grant, who came to fame starring in the cult film,
Withnail and I. He will play art expert Simon Bricker, who is invited to Downton
Abbey by the Granthams. You can catch a glimpse of him in the trailer below, with
Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Cora Crawley.
Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey, based the setting for his
award-winning drama on Highclere Castle. He is a friend of the Carnarvon
family, who make Highclere Castle their home. Highclere Castle has become
such a popular tourist destination, that tickets for tours for their Easter and
Spring openings are already sold out. The Telegraph reports that Lord and
Lady Carnarvon have restored two buildings, where for £350 and up per night,
visitors can stay. "Called London Lodge, the accommodation is set in two
newly-restored buildings, joined by a path, that originally date from 1840
but had fallen into disrepair. They are set on either side of the estate’s grand
Georgian gatehouse, built in 1793...The owners have opted for a modern,
Cotswolds-cottage feel as opposed to trying to recreate anything you might
see in Julian Fellowes’s series."
However, if you would like to save yourself the cost of accommodation, airfare
(and the ensuing jet lag), you can go, for free, to "Toronto's Downton Abbey,"
Spadina Museum. Just pick up a Sun Life Financial Museum + Arts Pass
for the City of Toronto Historic Museums.
I find the real history of Highclere Castle and its inhabitants to be actually quite
fascinating. George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (referred to as Lord Carnarvon),
was the financial backer of the search for and excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb.
Along with archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter, Lord Carnarvon opened
the tomb in 1922. When Lord Carnarvon died in 1923 after a severe mosquito bite,
it led to the story of the "Curse of Tutankhamun." Lord Carnarvon was survived
by his wife, Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of banking tycoon Alfred
de Rothschild. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was also survived by his son Henry
George Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon, as well as by his daughter Lady Evelyn Leonora
Almina Herbert. The 6th Earl of Carnarvon married a beautiful young American,
Anne Catherine Tredick Wendell. When her father-in-law died less than a year
after her marriage, Lady Catherine suddenly found herself chatelaine of the
castle and in charge of a large household staff.
Sometimes the facts are even more extraordinary than the fiction... This book tells the story of Lady Catherine, a beautiful American girl who became the chatelaine of Highclere Castle, the setting for Julian Fellowes' award-winning drama Downton Abbey. Charming and charismatic, Catherine caught the eye of Lord Porchester (or 'Porchey', as he was known) when she was just 20 years old, and wearing a pale yellow dress at a ball. She had already turned down 14 proposals before she eventually married Porchey in 1922. But less than a year later Porchey's father died suddenly, and he (...read more)
While you are waiting for the start of season five, you might like to try the
Maggie Smith trivia quiz, or even figure out which Downton Abbey bachelor
is right for you! If you are really enthusiastic, you might like to try cooking
a meal reminiscent of Downton Abbey. The recipes in Edwardian Cooking make
me appreciate that it must have taken a lot of time and effort, on the part of
the downstairs staff, to produce the elaborate meals which were consumed so
delicately upstairs. For total atmosphere, you could listen to a CD of Downton Abbey
music while you cook and dine.
For dessert, it really would be hard to top Martha Stewart's gingerbread abbey,
her tribute to Downton Abbey. Here she is, seen with actress Lesley Nicol,
who plays the hardworking and charismatic cook, Mrs. Patmore, on the series:
Best wishes for happy holidays, and enjoy season five!