Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Downton Effect

Once again my poor blog has been woefully neglected. The reason; I have been back to dear old Blighty where I have been involved in family drama that would give the scriptwriters of Downton Abbey a run for their money.

I have been in Downton Abbey land, literally. Downton Abbey may be filmed at Highclere Castle in Hampshire but observant followers of the series will know that the program is set in North Yorkshire... coincidentally the county where I am from and where I found myself last week.

Like most things which become hugely popular Downton Abbey is currently being treated to a certain amount of derision and criticism; corny, predictable, hammy, wooden, clichéd, full of solecisms, and so on. There maybe some truth in some of these criticisms however like thousands of others I look forward to my Sunday evening fix of escapism which  Downton Abbey provides so well. It may not always be 100 percent historically accurate, it may paint a rose tinted view of  life in service far removed from reality but after all, it is fictional drama loosely based on fact.  The costumes are glorious, the setting lovely and it's worth tuning in just to hear Dame Maggie Smiths wonderfully delivered one liners. But what is the Downton effect?

Downton Abbey is contributing to Britain's economy in a similar way that Mad Men has contributed to the vintage and retro market.  The program (or is it now a brand?) has now been sold to many other countries and as we know is proving to be hugely popular worldwide. Visits to Britain's Stately homes and National Trust properties reached record levels last year and it would not surprise me if tourism to Britain has/will increase due to the Downton effect. Grand old British houses which have now turned into luxury country hotels, offering fine dining and sumptuous surroundings along with country pursuits, find their rooms fully booked as people clamour for a slice of a Downtonish experience. Even other British TV programs and documentaries have appeared no doubt on the back of  Downton such as Doctor Pamela Cox's excellent 'Servants - the True Story of Life Below Stairs'.

Back to Downton Abbey Land, ahem, North Yorkshire, from my home town I can count five grand country  houses I could visit all within a fifteen minute drive: Harewood House, Ripley Castle, Newby HallGoldsbrough Hall and Rudding Park and those are the one's still standing, according to my research 1, 841 English Country houses have been demolished, seriously reduced in size or lie in ruins.

 Today inheriting a large country estate is a poisoned chalice, the upkeep and inheritance taxes are exorbitant only the grand houses which adapt can survive and profit.  Nowadays rather than the lord and lady of the manor being waited on hand and foot by the servant classes they are more likely to be found working hard supported by a large team of well paid staff, maintaining and securing a heritage site, it's contents and land for future generations to enjoy.  As we know most of Britain's great houses which are not owned by oligarchs, rock stars, bankers and exotic Princes are open to the public and offer everything from safari parks to photography and art courses or become venues for sporting and corporate events, weddings, rock, pop and classical music extravaganzas. And not forgetting film and photography shoot locations.

If it all becomes too much for a family or in the case of intestate wills, no issue or heirs a listed property can be turned over to The National Trust.  Developers sometimes buy a listed property and turn it into luxury apartments.  I know a few brave souls who have taken on crumbling country estates, lovingly restored them sometimes on a shoestring and turned them back into family homes or luxury boutique style country hotels and wedding venues.

And the others?  Well there is still a staggering amount of British country houses and heritage sites at risk, quietly decaying, waiting for people with passion or deep pockets to rescue them.  I found an excellent site whilst researching this post with great links to some of the most at risk heritage properties here.

All photos taken last week at Rudding Park

Wishing you all a Wonderful Weekend.


  1. Hello Dash

    Your images are spectacular and the feeling and aura of Rudding Park warms the heart.

    It is heartbreaking to see these beautiful homes decline.

    I am looking forward to Downton Abby which starts in North America in January.

    I saw Maggie Smith in New York, in Lettuce and Lovage and shall not forget her incredible performance.

    It was so nice to see your post today, welcome home
    Helen xx

  2. So sorry about the family dramas....but at least you had the opportunity to share these wonderful autumn colours with us.

  3. As a friend of Peter Schofield, whose ancestral home came into huge disrepair, with large sums of unpaid taxes due, I know well of what you speak. Unfortunately, he was not able to continue the family ownership as he lived in Houston. I love this post, Dash. So insightful & interesting. And, I love your new header. xx's

  4. The view ... that is why my dream since being a small girl in North Carolina, was to move to "somewhere in England" ...
    Living in Buenos Aires at the moment, Downton Abbey serves to assuage a tiny bit of my wishing I were in England ..

  5. The romance & history of these beautiful old homes ... Yes I avidly watch Downton too! Do hope the family drama has a happy ending.

  6. Welcome back, Dash. Your beautiful photos *almost* convinced me to rush to England and invest in one of the dilapidated properties you mention and restore the house and grounds to their former glory. *Almost,* since I am a die hard city girl :-) I guess, for now, I will just have to get my weekly dose of the English genteel life with the first two seasons of Downton Abbey until the series resumes here in the US after Christmas. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  7. Swoon* Lovely post, so worth the wait! I feel as though I've been on holiday, Thank you!

  8. I do realize that servants did not have such a good time as depicted in the series. I doubt they looked so pristine either! But the series are gorgeous and I love them.
    Thank you for the post and for the amazing photographs. I am drooling over all of them.

  9. I have a thing for abandoned buildings that were once "beauties" and I'm fascinated by their history. So many became neglected and derelict between the two wars and as we know, life has never been the same for the once-proud former owners and workers of these estates. I'm amazed at the long list of England's houses now at risk - it's very sad. Of course, there are also the abandoned asylums that are at risk of demolition and redevelopments in their place - thanks Thatcher. Great post Dash and I hope some stability will come with family dramas soon. xo

  10. I definitely want to see an estate house when Hubs and I go to England (sometime), I love Downton Abbey. The history is so interesting. Thanks for posting about the properties. Lovely photos and I hope the family drama subsides!

  11. thanks for the beautiful pictures-and the downton effect. I happen to love it too-though nothing beats reading a good book from the era. pgt

  12. Whoohoo! Are you home? I have missed you!!

    And as beautiful as all of these photos are, the story of the abandoned ones makes me sad to no end. Perhaps we can rub two nickels together to save one?


  13. it's a wonderful show, and I love that it is having such a positive effect on British tourism. Thank you for your beautiful glimpses into such a stunning area.

  14. Great to have you back in the blogosphere! What a beautifully done post . . . when we travel in Europe and say we are from Seattle we find that it is still known for the movie, Sleepless in Seattle, now decades old and the show, Frasier.

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