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Authors: The Countess of Carnarvon

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey (37 page)

BOOK: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

She lived a long life, as did her son. Consequently the Castle was not subject to further rounds of death duties; it survived intact into the age of a different way of thinking about the old country houses. The welcome and well-timed establishment of English Heritage was a critical development in the preservation of many of the UK’s historic houses and their contents.

Highclere Castle, like its alter ego, Downton Abbey, remains an ensemble cast of characters today, just as it was in Almina’s time. I have felt so much affection for the ‘real’ characters such as Aubrey, and his mother Elsie, as I researched their stories. Meeting relatives of the staff from those times has also thrown invaluable shards of light on to life ‘downstairs’.

Today, the Castle and estate still house families who have worked and lived here for generations. They pass down stories of predecessors. Retirement is possible but not mandatory. The new generation learns from the old. ‘Newcomers’ have worked here for fifteen or twenty years and ‘proper Castle people’ may stay for up to fifty years. Some people think they are coming to work for a short time and find it hard to leave.

The challenge for Highclere is to ensure that the Castle and its estate businesses remain strong enough to preserve their rich heritage. It is the same need to balance business and conservation that confronted Almina. We hope that, if she were here today, she would recognise things and feel a sense of pride that much of what she loved had been preserved and that the spirit of her work was continuing through her great-grandson and his family.


I must say thanks and love to my patient husband Geordie, for his help with research and editing. Thanks as well for repeated encouragement from my sisters; Sarah in particular has consistently clarified my thoughts and language. I cannot thank Patricia Leatham enough for her hilarious stories.

Hodder & Stoughton have been enthusiastic partners in this enterprise and also assigned Helen Coyle to support me as a more than able editor who retained a sense of humour during the midnight hours.

Thank you to Kevin Morgan and Mike Blair from ITV who introduced me to Hodder & Stoughton and thereby helped me undertake the book in record time. Part of the research for this whole project was also for the ITV
programme who have sought to visually share Highclere and its Estate with ITV viewers – the real
Downton Abbey

The staff at Highclere have been wonderful, supporting me in so many different ways. David Rymill, our archivist, has been unfailingly detailed and knowledgeable, Candice Bauval has organised me and aided my research and Duncan Macdougall has been invaluable and helped me find images and files. Paul and Rob the chefs made sure I ate, and the household staff such as Diana Moyse and Luis Coelho have
quietly worked around me trying to tidy and giving me endless cups of tea. Thank you to so many others who have forgiven me for forgetting to do things and to John Gundill who has encouraged my progress whilst he interrupted me, which was always most welcome.

Outside the Castle, the staff at the Bodleian archives were very helpful and expedited my research; thank you to Dr Verena Lepper (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin) who introduced me firstly to Dr Malek, Keeper of the Archive, (Oriental Institute, Oxford) who allowed me to peruse Howard Carter’s diaries and secondly to the Metropolitan Museum of New York who allowed me to spend time reading through their archives. Peter Starling at the Royal Army Medical Corp Museum was very helpful suggesting books to read and aiding the research into First World War records.

I am also grateful that Julian Fellowes was inspired to write a series
Downton Abbey
based around Highclere Castle which Carnival Films produced and Peter Fincham (ITV Chief Executive) took the bold decision to back. It has been an extraordinary journey. So many people have come to love Highclere and be enthralled by its television alter ego.

Transcript of Letters

this page
– Letter from Charles Clout to Lady Almina, written on the night of his wedding in 1918, from the Lake House on the Highclere Estate where he and Mary Weekes, Almina’s secretary, honeymooned).

The Lake House

July 2nd

My Dear Lady Carnarvon

My Dear Fairy Godmother I should like to call you, as it is as such that I should always think of you, I am trying in this little note to express some of my thanks to you for all you have done, and are doing, for Mary and me. I cannot attempt to convey to you all I feel in a letter, but I will always try to live life to the great trust you have placed in me and will do my best to repay you, by every means in my power, for the great help that you have given me in my start in life.

May I thank you again for the splendid presents you have given me. I am delighted with the links and studs which are charming, and with the plate, I think I shall never want to dine out with such beautiful things to use
at home, and also for the care and trouble you have given in arranging the details of the wedding for me and for your very kind loan of this house.

You will see from the few things I have mentioned for which I am indebted to you, how impossible it would be for me to attempt to thank you for everything in this note, but I hope you will believe me when I repeat that my life shall be an attempt to prove worthy of your help and trust.

With very best wishes and love from
Yours Sincerely
Charles W Clout.

this page
– Letter from Mary Weekes to Lady Almina, written the day after her wedding to Charles Clout

July 3
Lake House

(note to top left side – “you must forgive this odd paper but the white note paper has not arrived”)

My dearest Little Lady

Thank you so much for your sweet letter which I was so pleased to get this morning.

How can I even try to thank you for all you have done for me. I just long to tell you what I feel about your wonderful love and affection, but alas! No words of mine could adequately express what I really feel. Had I been Eve you could not have done more. What a wonderful memory
I have to carry into the future and if I can only be half as good and kind as you are I shall be pleased. I hope I shall always be a credit to the kindest little lady I know, who has indeed been a mother to me for the last 7 years and I know will go on being so in the future.

I think Charles wrote you last evening after tea. I was rather tired so had a bath and went and lay down.

It is glorious down here and there is nothing one could want for. The food, care and attention are all perfect.

I am going to write to Lord Carnarvon, he was so sweet to me on Tuesday and made one long to know him better. What a wonderful father and mother Eve and Porchy have got and it made me wonder on Tuesday if they realized it.

Well my darling little lady a thousand thanks for all you have and are doing for me.

With love from us both

Yours affectionately
Mary (C)

Picture Acknowledgements

Most of the photographs: © Highclere Castle Archive.

Additional sources:
© Alamy:
. By kind permission of the Clout Family:
. © Corbis:
. © Country Life Picture Library:
. With special thanks to Country Life Magazine who kindly donated these photographs to the Highclere Castle Archive:
. © Getty Images:
. © Mary Evans Picture Library:
. © National Portrait Gallery, London:
. ©
. © V&A Images:
/photo LaFayette.

Every reasonable effort has been made to contact the copyright holders of material reproduced in this book. But if there are any errors or omissions, Hodder & Stoughton will be pleased to insert the appropriate acknowledgement in any subsequent printing of this publication.


This is not an exclusive list but the following may interest those who wish to pursue areas of historical interest further:

Asher, Michael,
Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia
, Viking: London, 1998

Blunden, Edmund,
Undertones of War
, Penguin: London, 1972

Borden, Mary,
Forbidden Zone: A Nurse’s Impression of the First World War
, Hesperus: London, 2008

Budge, Wallis,
Tutankhamen: Amenism, Atenism and Egyptian Montheism
, Revised edition, Dover: Egypt, 2003

Campbell, Captain David, MC.,
Forward the Rifles: The War Diary of an Irish Soldier, 1914–1918
, The History Press: Gloucestershire, 2009

Carter, Howard,
Tutankhamen: The Politics of Discovery
, Revised edition, Libri: Oxford, 2001

Carter, Howard and Mace, Arthur,
The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen
, Revised edition, Dover: Egypt, 1985

Cushin, Harvey,
From a Surgeon’s Journal
, Little, Brown: London, 1936

Davenport-Hines, Richard,
Ettie: The Intimate Life and Dauntless Spirit of Lady

, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 2008

Edwards, Amelia,
A Thousand Miles Up the Nile
, Routledge: London, 1889

Eksteins, Modris,
Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age
, Houghton Mifflin: Chicago, 1999

FitzHerbert, Margaret,
The Man Who Was Greenmantle: Biography of Aubrey Herbert
, John Murray: London, 1983

Hattersley, Roy,
Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars
, Little, Brown: London, 2007

Havilland, Geoffrey de,
Sky Fever: The Autobiography of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland
, Airlife Publications: Shrewsbury, 1979

James, T. G. H.,
Howard Carter: The Path to the Discovery
, Revised edition, Tauris Parke: London, 2003

Jarrett, Derek,
Pirton – A Village in Anguish: The Story of the 30 Men from a Hertfordshire Village in World War One
, Pirton Local History Group: Pirton, 2009

Leatham, Patricia E.,
The Short Story of a Long Life
, Wilton: Connecticut, 2009

Lewis, Bernard,
The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day
, Revised edition, Phoenix: London, 2001

Macdonald, Lyn,
They Called it Passchendaele: Story of the Third Battle of Ypres and of the Men Who Fought in it
, Penguin: London, 1993

Maclaughlin, Redmond,
The Royal Army Medical Corps
, Leo Cooper: Yorkshire, 1972

Mansfield, Peter,
A History of the Middle East
, Viking: London, 1991

Melotte, Edward, Ed., originally by an anonymous MP,
Mons Anzac and Kut: By an MP
, Pen & Sword Books: Chicago, Revised edition, 2009

Messenger, Charles,
A Call to Arms: The British Army 1914–1918
, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005

Morton, Frederic,
The Rothschilds: A Family Portrait
, Readers Union: London, 1963

Owen, H. and Bell, John,
Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters
, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1967

Reeves, John,
The Rothschilds: The Financial Rulers of Nations
, Gordon Press: Surrey, 1975

Reeves, Nicholas,
The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, The Tomb, The Royal Treasure
, Thames & Hudson: London, 1995

Roberts, Sydney C.,
Adventures with Authors
, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1966

Shephard, Ben,
A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists, 1914–1994
, Jonathan Cape: London, 2000

Stone, Norman,
World War One: A Short History
, Penguin: London, 2008

Taylor, A. J. P.,
The Struggle for Mastery in Europe: 1848–1918
, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1973

Weintraub, Stanley,
Edward the Caresser: The Playboy Prince who Became Edward VII
, Simon & Schuster: London, 2001

Whitehead, Ian,
Doctors in the Great War
, Pen & Sword Books: Chicago, 1999

Winstone, H.V. F.,
Howard Carter and the Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamun

Constable: London, 1991

I have been lucky to have had help from kind experts at the following archives:

The British Museum Archives

The Bodleian Archives

The Metropolitan Museum Archives

Griffiths Institute

Winchester Archives

Rothschild Archives

The Times

Highclere Castle Archives

Every effort has been made to acknowledge the copyright holders of extracts used in this book, but full acknowledgement will gladly be made in all future editions.

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