Unfortunately, Rosemary Legrand who was originally going to be with us to present a Christmas Talk on Japanese flowers was unwell and had to cancel at the last moment.
Fortunately, Rosemary did, however, have a friend, Bronda Dossett, who offered to step in and give us a talk entitled ‘Tales Of Downton’ which involved a wide range of interesting tales from behind the scenes of Downton – and Highclere Castle.
Bronda explained that whilst the ground floor scenes were filmed at Highclere Castle near Newbury in Hampshire, the downstairs scenes were filmed on a film set in Ealing, West London.
This means meals and even a cup of tea prepared in the kitchen has to make a 60 miles journey to where it is served upstairs. Similarly the bedrooms in ‘Downton’ were also located in Ealing – quite a long walk to go to bed!
Bronda told us how a number of the characters and events in the TV series were based on real life people and events at Highclere.
We also heard how Lord Carnarvon married Almina Wombwell, alleged to be the illegitimate daughter of millionaire banker Alfred de Rothschild who provided a marriage settlement of £500,000 (equivalent to around £65 million in today’s money!) and he also paid off all Lord Carnarvon’s debts.
It was partly due to this bequest that Lord Carnavon was able to indulge his interest in Egyptology and ultimately spend a vast amount of his fortune in the search for the tomb of Tutankhamun. He funded Howard Carter and was one of the first to enter the tomb when it was discovered and unsealed.
Along with his interest in Egyptology, Lord Carnavon was very keen on motor cars and after a life threatening motoring accident, he was advised not to spend winters in England. It was this that led to his spending half the year in Egypt indulging his interest in Egyptology.
When he was in England, he spent much of his time developing his Highclere Stud breedingthoroughbred racehorses. He also became a steward at Newbury Racecourse. His legacy continues to this day and extended to His grandson, the 7th Earl, being racing manager to Queen Elizabeth II.
Finally, we were shown some artefacts from Highclere including some ewers and ‘Long Johns’. We were also shown a ‘Guzunder’. Whilst the more mature members of the audience knew the term, some of the younger attendees had obviously never seen a chamber pot and were not aware of it’s purpose and why it ‘goes under’ a bed.
All in all, it was a very interesting talk that included fact, fiction, romance and danger!
Many thanks to Bronda for stepping into the breech.
We hope to see Rosemary at some point next year when she has fully recovered.