Fancy living in your own Downton Abbey? It'll only cost you £500,000 a year in upkeep...
Posted 21 September 2015 by Stephen Maunder
With Downton Abbey returning to our TV screens, we were keen to explore how much it would cost each year to live in and maintain the real Downton Abbey – Highclere Castle, where the drama is filmed.
According to Aviva, Highclere Castle is worth an estimated £72m 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 doesn’t come cheap.
- Energy Costs: £85,000+
- Water: £10,022.13 (Based on 32 live-in characters on Downton Abbey)
- Staff: £383,400
- Maintenance: £65,000
- Total cost: £543,422
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 I 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 are an estimated 30 bathrooms throughout Highclere Castle. With washing machines, dishwashers and taps always running, you could expect a water bill of £10,000 minimum – a far cry from the average UK household bill of £400.
Rupert Sweeting, head of the country department of Knight Frank, says that staffing a stately home is by far the most significant cost. 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 that 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.
Many of the items at Highclere Castle are irreplaceable and a cash settlement would need to be agreed. 3D imaging software would be used 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.
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.
So, 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.
How about a modern stately home instead?
For considerably cheaper bills, consider purchasing a luxury new home instead. Hurstbourne, by Consero London, is set in 3 acres within the Wentworth Estate. Inside, you will find five reception rooms, six bedrooms, a cinema room, swimming pool, staff accommodaton and an underground car park for 12 cars. Scheduled to be completed in 2017, the price hasn't been publicly disclosed, but we reckon it's a safer investment than Highclere!