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Castles on Camera: HGTV Visits the Real 'Downton Abbey'

The stately home that millions of Downton Abbey fans have grown to adore is no movie set, but an actual castle. HGTV takes you inside Highclere Castle to see its spectacular rooms and meet the real-life lord and lady of the manor.
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A Castle in Real Life

Highclere Castle, the English manor that serves as backdrop for the PBS series Downton Abbey, is in reality one of the most magnificent of England's stately homes. It's an actual working estate in the Hampshire countryside and home to modern-day members of the real British aristocracy. The Victorian-era manor is 175 years old, contains around 30,000 square feet of living space and is currently maintained by a staff of 70.

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Just a Modest Country Home

The Highclere house, located near the town of Newbury in southeast England, has approximately 200 rooms, including more than 50 bedrooms and six separate entertaining spaces. Past houseguests have included actor Omar Sharif, film director Stanley Kubrick and numerous members of England's royal family.

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Windows on the Past

Upon approaching the home, visitors are greeted by the ornate carved stone façade and 170 windows. Highclere has been in the family of its current owners for 370 years. The original house that stood here was, by the standards of the time, a medium-sized mansion. The grand castle that now stands on the site was commissioned in 1838 by the present Earl's great-great-great-grandfather. It was designed in the Jacobethan style by Sir Charles Barry, architect of Britain's Houses of Parliament. Though the home's current lineage dates back about four centuries, the estate at Highclere has been inhabited in some form for around 1300 years. The present-day castle stands at the location of the 8th-century palace of the Bishops of Winchester.

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Countess of Carnarvon

The fictional world of Downton Abbey draws some of its inspiration from real life and past events at Highclere Castle. Though their names are not Lord and Lady Grantham, the home's current owners are true modern-day aristocrats: George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife, Lady Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon, pictured here. Lady Fiona is a historian and has written a biography of her predecessor Lady Almina, an English heiress and a former Countess of Carnarvon. Almina, whose wealth and status helped to preserve the family estate through troubled times, serves in part as the basis for Downton Abbey's Lady Cora.

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