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For Life Both Upstairs and Downstairs: “Downton Abbey; The Exhibition”

If you like I, long for a simpler time, where lives were clearly defined and daily life seemed more elegant, than you are probably also a fan of the PBS show Downton Abbey. 

Downton Abbey ran for five years on PBS from 2010 to 2015. I was not a fan from the beginning. In fact it was not until the show was off the air that I watched the series from beginning to end. It was during that time when I fell in love with characters and the beautiful way their story was told. I longed for this era I never saw, a way of life that seemed to have meaning for all of those involved. Despite the distinction between those who lived upstairs and those who worked there, you could see the appreciation and affection between all parties and the respect was mutual, something I don’t think most people feel at work these days.

I have always had a fondness for this era. It is one of the reasons I love visiting Newport, Rhode Island so much. On my most recent trip last April, I took the Servant Life Tour at The Elms ( It was great to see how these members of the household lived and worked. No doubt their jobs were hardly easy but I think the boarding accommodations were better than I had in college.

But back to Downton. Although Downton Abbey is a fictionalized story, with fictitious characters, it was filmed in the real life Highclere Castle, which has a powerful historical story all its own. Those who live in Highclere Castle are the current Lord and Lady Carnarvon, as opposed to Lord and Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey.

I had first learned about this castle because of its Egyptology past. During his life time, the fifth Lord Carnarvon had long loved Egypt and traveled there often. He worked with Dr. Howard Carter for over sixteen years, financing many of his expeditions and even his so called “Castle Carter” where the two men each lived at one point or another. During their final season of working together in 1922, they made one of the greatest discoveries of all time, in the Valley of the Kings. They had found the tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamun a.k.a. King Tut. This find remains prominent.

Both King Tut’s mummy (now exposed and encased in glass) as well as his sarcophagus remain on display in his tomb in Egypt. 

This is another part of history I avidly follow as I visited the King Tut exhibit when it came to N.Y.C.’s Discovery Times Square ( I also got to meet one of Egyptology’s leading experts Dr. Zahi Hawass. 

I also had to see the mummy and other Egyptology related relics when I visited Willie K. Vanderbilt’s estate in Eastern Long Island (

Since Highclere Castle is an hour and a half outside of London, I have longed intended to go there the next time I am in London. Both to see the Egyptology materials that remain there (most are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) as well as to walk in the Crawley’s footsteps. For anyone who wants to travel to the countryside for these experiences there are plenty of tours that will take you there. I will share more details about this as well as my future London itinerary when I begin sharing that blog series next week. 

As soon as I heard about the Downton Abbey Exhibit that would be coming to New York City I wanted to go. The more I learned about what would be on display my desire grew. I ended up going there at an unusual but surprisingly popular time, Christmas Eve. As it turned out this was a completely convenient day as the exhibit is located down the block from The Russian Tea Room, where I was having brunch with my family that day. Sometimes fate can be more powerful than any planning you can do.

Tickets are sold online and based on timed entry to control crowds, so I advise purchasing your tickets ahead of time. If you arrive a few moments early there is  coat check and gift shop on the first floor when you walk in. From there, when the time is right, you can take a group photo that you can later pick up with Downton super imposed, and then wait for the doors to the exhibit to open.

You are greeted by none other than Carson (in digital form only) and given a proper welcome to Downton. From there you will work your way up throughout the house. You begin downstairs seeing up close the lives of the many who keep Downton up and running. Highlights include Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, Carson’s office, costumes worn, and the ever important bell system. I even enjoyed seeing the staircase they were always running up and down.

Photography is allowed so long as you do not use a flash. So be sure to snap away as I did!

As I made my way upstairs (there are three floors total) I was enamored with the dining room and all of the details. I believe it was in many ways the heart of the drama on the show and seeing it up close was exciting. There are so many things you can’t appreciate simply by watching it on t.v. Here too are some of the clothing worn by characters who had sat in these chairs. 

Another highlight was Lady Mary’s bedroom. It appears much larger on display than it did from the vantage point it was filmed. Bedrooms really differentiate one character from another. For example how married women were allowed to have breakfast in their rooms. Little details like that, or how much help they had dressing, were laid out clearly. I wish I could have actually walked around her room instead of just looking at it behind a rope. 

All throughout floor two you will see individual artifacts relating to the story of each character. All of these props had been prepared for their backstories with the same amount of detail real such documents would have had. Such as a telegram relaying the tragedy of the Titanic and their lost relative. Even the handcuffs Bates worn when he was arrested were on display. There are too many of these incredible items to discuss in detail and these were what took the longest to view when I was there. But I found that it was these minor artifacts with specific attention to detail that made the show the great success it was. 

Floor three was largely composed of garments and the fashions of the family. All of the wedding dresses worn by the daughters were especially beautiful. Then there were the many hats, jewelry, and other accessories that composed the outfits from our favorite scenes. 

On your way out you will get to see Lord and Lady Grantham before you bid their home adieu. 

Don’t worry though I shared many details here there are many, many more surprises you will find during your visit. I assure you there are no spoiler alerts here. 

Further good news, is that due to the popularity of this exhibit it has been extended throughout April 2nd. There is currently no information about whether this exhibit will move to another U.S. city or return to England when its time in New York City comes to an end. 

Hopefully this gives you all plenty of time to bring a little more Downton Abbey into your life, before the movie version hits theaters, hopefully by the end of this year.

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