When you are watching those period dramas on the telly, do you ever think about what life might be like living in a place like that today? Thanks to English Heritage, there are a large number of estates that are open to the public, but what would really be the point in making the trip?
Most of us are happy to sit on our backsides watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey admiring the costumes and the enormity of the house it is filmed in. It’s all so grand that imagining ourselves there may be a step too far.
But there is a lot to be said for visiting one of England’s historic estates. If you are in the South West, you may visit one of the historic homes in Chard such as Forde Abbey or Royal Crescent in Bath. The North provides some beautiful historic properties like Ripley Castle or Castle Howard. London is home to several palaces, and Scotland is home to some of the grandest castles in Britain.
So what goes into making a period drama, and did life really used to look that good? A costume drama like Downton Abbey is said to cost nearly £1,000,000 per episode. There is a large, high-calibre cast that will take a good proportion of that, but the production team substantially outnumbers them. It is filmed in Highclere Castle in Berkshire that is open to the public in the summer. The most faithful of the 9 million strong audience has increased visits to Highclere by 78% since the series first aired.
Most costumes seen on camera have been painstakingly made by the show’s wardrobe department who spend hours a week keeping them pristine. Some of the costumes have been displayed overseas in large exhibitions about Downton Abbey. Perhaps if the dresses can make the trip it would be worth checking them out…
As for the furniture, a lot of it is genuine. Before you rush off to the auction catalogues, just remember a regular house probably doesn’t have the space for an elegant period piece of furniture. Furniture of the time was built to fit the grand spaces of the country estate. Sadly, a three-bed semi probably won’t have a ceiling height for that dresser you fancy.
Even if it’s not quite your cup of tea served from a bone china pot, you have to admire the work that goes into these TV shows. Some of the sets are built, but most of them are shot in and around the estate itself. Just keeping it all pristine with 100 production crew traipsing through is something to be applauded. Most importantly perhaps, it does help us keep in touch with some of our early 20th-century history.
If you do fancy touring some of Britain’s best country houses, pick up a membership from the National Trust. It will save you a fortune in entry fees. Annual membership usually works out cheaper than visiting two places at full price and includes some stunning properties. Who knows… you might get some inspiration for your own home or maybe aspirations for the next!