With Christmas fast approaching the Downton Abbey festive special is already causing a stir.
The return of the Crawleys and the, now confirmed, appearance of George Clooney means the Edwardian blockbuster is the talk of the Christmas TV Schedule this year.
If the grand Christmas tree, large pile of presents and lavish parties in the festive trailers are anything to go by, spending Christmas at Downton Abbey wouldn’t be half bad. But while it may look ideal, insurance giant Aviva was keen to explore how much we’d be forking out each year to live in and maintain the real Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle where the drama is filmed.
Highclere Castle is worth an estimated total of £72m, including grounds, and has over 300 rooms, 60 of which are bedrooms and are currently maintained by a staff of 70. The Victorian castle is built on 1,000 acres of parkland, so you can imagine the maintenance takes quite a bit of organisation and doesn’t come cheap.
With so many rooms to heat it’s unsurprising that energy costs are one of the highest outgoings for maintaining a stately home. Mod cons such as double glazing are often hard to come by in Grade 1 listed buildings. Consequently Highclere’s 170 single glazed windows substantially increase heating costs.
Laura Shack from the National Trust estimates that the cost of the energy consumption of a stately home, similar in size to Highclere Castle, is £50,000 in oil and £35,000 in electricity.
There is an estimated number of 30 bathrooms throughout Highclere Castle and based on the 32 live in characters on Downton Abbey this can run up a hefty water bill. With washing machines, dishwashers and taps always running, as an owner of Highclere Castle you could expect a water bill of £10,000 minimum – a far cry from the average household bill of £400 in the UK.
Rupert Sweeting, head of the Country Department of Knight Frank, said that staffing a stately home is by far the most significant cost. Sweeting stated that for day to day maintenance you’d need “a butler, cook, secretary, grounds people and cleaning staff” as a bare minimum. All in all the estimated staff cost for the 70 employees currently working at the castle is nearly £400,000.
Highclere Castle, as it now stands, was designed in 1842 by Sir Charles Barry. The building therefore needs constant maintenance in order to keep numerous wars, house fires, an alleged Egyptian curse and time from catching up with it.
In 2009 at least 50 rooms were deemed uninhabitable after seeping water caused stonework to crumble and ceilings to collapse. The Carnarvons, who currently own and live in the castle, announced in 2010 they needed to find £11.75m for essential repairs for Downton Abbey to continue to be filmed there. Fortunately, they were able to raise the money and rejected Andrew Lloyd Webber’s offer to buy the castle from them.
To understand the exact nature of the risks attached to insuring a stately home, such as Downton Abbey, we would work with our experts to understand the full reinstatement of the property and contents. Many of the items at Highclere Castle are irreplaceable and a cash settlement would need to be agreed.
We would use 3D imaging software to support the architects in the event of a major loss, so a room could be restored to its original glory should any damage occur. A full fire and security survey would also be carried out in order to ensure that, as the owner, you are completely minimising risk to the property and the staff.
Before Highclere Castle became the filming location for Downton Abbey it was visited largely for the vast collection of art and artefacts kept within its walls.
The 5th Earl of Carnarvon famously joined archaeologist Howard Carter on a number of trips to Egypt including the excavation Tutankhamun’s tomb. Eerily, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon died just a few months after returning from the excavation having allegedly fallen victim to an Egyptian curse.
The rooms of Highclere castle are rich with antiquities from the Earl’s Egyptian travels, as well as a number of other priceless valuables such as:
A 1635 portrait of King Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck, featured on Downton Abbey in the dining room.
The walls of the saloon are lined with 400-year-old embossed Spanish leather.
The music room is home to a Mahogany desk and chair that once belonged to Napoleon.
18th century silk bed hangings in the bedrooms.
A library of nearly 6,000 vintage books.
If you had your own Downton Abbey, you would need contents insurance and an expensive security system to ensure all your assets were protected.
Having emptied a casual £72m from your wallet you would need a further £543,422 minimum every year to run and maintain your very own Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic for most of us so we will have to continue to live vicariously through the Crawleys and watch the festivities unfurl on Christmas Day.