Dancing at Downton in Rain and Shine

What a weekend!  We have just held our September “Garden Party” for the second year in a row.  The first thing to say is that, given the vagaries of our weather, this party was not focused around the gardens but around the house, costumes, music and entertainment. Still a garden party does not seem right without marquees on the lawn and we had three: two for dining and one for dancing.

Of course, the most famous Garden Parties are held by the Queen at Buckingham Palace in London and at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. They recognise extraordinary effort and contribution given by citizens in this country. Our Garden Party was simply to bring people together and to give pleasure in the same way that “Downton Abbey” brought friends together to dine and to watch it on TV.

This past weekend, we suggested guests joined us here at the Real Downton Abbey, dressed for Downton Series 3: the 1920’s. This was not just to watch but to take part. Walking up the drive no-one could miss the carousel and many guests went round several times. It took us all back to childhood. Just nearby, Sarah from the gift shop team compered the croquet. In front of the Castle, the policeman on stilts helped clean the vintage cars after a shower.  Walking past the famous pink sofas in the Drawing Room where a pianist was playing the Steinway piano, I stopped and turned because I suddenly heard an extraordinary, warm lyrical voice singing. A visitor in an elegant dress and hat knew the song being played and entertained us all. We persuaded her to carry on – the impromptu concert continued.

On a large Downton filming day here, there might have been 200 extras along with the central cast and crew, so we replicated the numbers to give everyone who came, the feel of such a day: enough so that the place bustled, but not so many that there wasn’t shelter for all during the periodic rain showers. There were prizes for guests who wore the best costumes and hats, and everyone had to dance.

The Charleston dance is synonymous with this era and named for the city in South Carolina. We had some great teachers tripping the light fantastic before taking us through a series of steps. It is impossible not to be happy and smiling whilst dancing the Charleston, enjoying the ragtime jazz with its syncopated rhythms – we all had to sway with our arms and get those feet tapping.

Also on the lawns, we had our new (to us) little Citroen van serving cocktails and coffee. Inspired by Napoleon’s desk which sits in the music room in the Castle, we have called her “Josephine”, pronounced, of course, with a very French accent. Luis and his banqueting team spent some time fixing a shelf for said cocktails to one side of it. There was a piece of wood, and a team comprising Luis, Matthew, Jorge, Fred, Myhesh and 4 others reflecting on it whilst John the Castle Manager, watching out of the office windows, made unfavourable comments on the ability of Lewis Hamilton’s teams to change a tyre in 13 ½ seconds compared to Luis and this team needing 13 ½ hours to construct a shelf…  I was doubled up with laughter.

We did have sunshine and showers, but this is England, and we counted ourselves lucky and hoped that those who were waiting for the biblical rains across and Atlantic would find shelter and remain safe.

Will we organise a weekend next year? We will indeed but next year we are changing the theme and asking guests and friends to join us to stand together to revisit our commemoration of the First World War 1914 to 1918 – as it moved finally towards its end one hundred years ago.  I would like to raise money for those who serve and those who save today. With talks, re-enactments, music, planes and cars, we are already beginning to make our plans…

48 Responses to “Dancing at Downton in Rain and Shine”
  1. Frances Joyce says:

    Greetings Lady Carnarvon,

    I just finished reading your wonderful blog! What a lovely way to begin my week here in Maine, reading about Highclere Castle. It sounds as if the second Garden Party was a smashing success! I would have enjoyed doing the Charleston since I love to dance, but I am recuperating from a broken ankle so I don’t think I would have been much of a dancer on the dance floor! We had a trip planned to England this year, but due to my broken ankle we had to cancel our flights.

    I was able to visit the Highclere Castle Champagne Reception in July 2016, and it was a truly memorable evening for myself and my husband.

    I am interested in attending the third Garden Party next year commemorating the War. Will the event be held the second weekend in September? I’ll look forward to more information on your website in the near future.

    Please keep up your wonderful stories on your website. Your entire family should be commended for being so generous with your time and resources helping charities and those in need.

    All the best,

    Frances Joyce
    Falmouth, Maine

  2. Thank you for hosting such a lovely event. My husband and I had a wonderful time at the Garden Party. Getting dressed up in our vintage outfits was so much fun. We really enjoyed getting to tour the house and grounds. We are looking forward to next year’s event.


  3. Amy C says:

    Lady Carnarvon, thank you for your scrumptious post!! I just came in the house after taking pics of our yard in Daytona Beach after Irma last night…so your wonderful post and photos were so welcoming!!

    Thank you for sharing your activities and lives with us. Having watched all of DA at least 4 times, it’s lovely to hear and see all you are doing. Highclere is like a frend now!! Your writing makes me just want to linger over and re-read every part of your post, while enjoying the wonderful photos!

    Thank you so much…may you enjoy a fruitful and joyous autumn.

    Best wishes, Amy C

  4. ALISON RUBIN says:

    How wonderfully refreshing to read about the fabulous Garden Party you held over the weekend. Here in Florida, USA, we were hunkered down being ravaged by Hurricane Irma. Thankfully, we were able to ride it out with no loss of power and no damage. Unfortunately, much of Florida was not so lucky. It was so nice to see the pictures and read your blog. It took us away from the sadness and destruction of much of my state.

    Alison Rubin, Trinity, Florida

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I enjoyed visiting Florida – I had two separate speaking engagements and it is a good way to see parts of your country and raise money for local US charities. I hope I will find another excuse to return

  5. Paul says:

    This was a fantastic & wonderful weekend, i had so much fun at this years Vintage Garden Party, I loved getting dressed up in the 1920’s clothes & spending 2 days with my friends & fellow staff members, who said going to work at the weekend is no fun ! 🙂 🙂

  6. Patsy Arnett says:

    I love reading about and looking at the photos of this year’s Vintage Garden Party.. Such a wonderful reminder of the fabulous time we had last year. I am already looking forward to 2018’s celebration commemorating WWI! I’ll be there with bells on! With my warmest wishes, Patsy

  7. Denise Kantner says:

    My husband and I had the very great pleasure of attending your garden party in 2016 on Saturday, the “rainy day.” Despite the rain, it was still “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” as my late father used to say. As a matter of fact, we made friends with a couple from Canada, the Freemans, while at your wonderful party and we’re meeting them in St. Augustine, Florida next month to attend Jessica Fellowes’ “Dressing Downton” event. You truly have the knack for bringing people together! We hope to attend your 2018 “soiree.” Many thanks for this reminiscent (for us) blog post!

    Denise Kantner, Saline, Michigan

  8. Connie ODette says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Thank you so much for your blog. I enjoyed reading about the garden party and all the fun you had. What wonderful caretakers You and Lord Carnarvon are for your beautiful family home. Thank you for sharing with us all.
    Connie ODette, Countryside, IL USA

  9. Pauline Wiltshire says:

    Rosemary and I from Newbury had a wonderful time at the Vintage Garden Party. Poor Rosemary was full of cold but did not want to miss such a presidious event. We enjoyed all the lovely treats that were on offer. I especially enjoyed the Gatsby Guys and Girls demonstrating how to do the Charleston. What fun. I enjoyed the carousal ride and it brought back many childhood memories. Some of the visitors looked so elegant dressed in the 1920’s style. The picnic was delicious and gave us a chance to talk to some of the many people who had travelled a long way to attend such an amazing event. Thank you Lady Carnarvon for allowing to look round your beautiful Castle and to step back in time for a few hours. Pauline

  10. We came over from Australia to a warm welcome from everyone. The staff at HIGHCLERE looked gorgeous in their costumes and helped to make the day a success. The enthusiastic dancers, the beautiful vintage cars at the entrance to the castle and the opportunity to look around the interior at be enveloped by a family history that goes back centuries was such a privilege. ..and to have photographs of ourselves..

    My favourite experience was discovering your secret garden… childhood memories of the book of the same name…and of course your Egyptian exhibition.

    Thank you both so much for the opportunity to visit on a special day.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you – the team here are ever more enthusiastic about dressing up – they did look amazing.

  11. Barbara Dale says:

    I am so sorry that I missed the party. I did get the pleasure of visiting Highclere last Monday, September 4, and was thrilled to see in person what I had only seen on the television. I did write my own blog on it, so hope to share what I experienced with all my readers.
    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful home.
    Barbara Dale, Battersea, Ontario Canada

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you – please do reference the Canadian connection in your blog, it is very special and I think I will now have a John A day here on January 11th

  12. Diana Squibb says:

    I would love to come to next year’s party as well. Having never been to Highclere, how does one get that arranged? Is it by invitation or does one just show up?
    Your blogs are a delight to read as I too have just been through hurricane Irma but our house managed to survive!
    Many thanks for cheering me up with your wonderful description of such a happy event.
    Diana Devens
    Delray Beach, Florida

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am delighted for you that Irma has passed through, although it must have made life so challenging for some people. I will put the tickets on sale, I am trying to figure out what I am going to do. some elements are clear and others need reflection.

  13. Dianne WasgattI says:

    The weekend sounded so much fun. You write with so much energy in your blogs and I can picture you doubled over with laughter and thoroughly enjoying your self.
    I shall be visiting Highclere, again, on September 20th, with 4 first time, very excited friends and relatives from America who are diehard Downton Abbey fans.
    We can’t wait.

  14. Althea says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon
    What a fabulous party! It made me feel more than a little envious that I live so far away. Highclere was obviously the Garden Party to attend – you described it so vividly and with such joy. The Charleston era was rather fun and the clothes amazingly elegant too. Thanks for another uplifting blog – we’ve had so much rain since we returned to New Zealand, it brings the sunshine just reading about life at Highclere.

  15. Judi Brultz says:

    PLEASE read my comment on the Sept 4th blog reply page. Wondering if a visit on Sunday Sept 17th is possible. Thank you Lady Carnarvon! Judi Brultz jbrultz@wi.rr.com 414-379-3016.

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Where we can open for extra tours we do – but that Sunday has various challenges – we did slip in more tours on Sept 23rd (a Saturday)… I will look back at your previous comment!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      sent you an email re tomorrow 12th or the 13th…

  16. Ruth Goebel says:

    I would love t visit next year’s Garden Party. I love sewing period clothing and have in my mind a late Edwardian dress that would fit in, at least with the early part of WW1. I wonder if I can make this all work?? Keeping my fingers crossed!!

    Thank you for the lovely photos of your Garden Party. It’s been raining here too.

  17. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I hope you can make it across – I am sure you will look lovely !

  18. Stacey Brown says:

    The charleston dance and jazz music at Highclere Castle? What an amazing garden party! Wow!

    Your lovely post brought me so much joy today, Lady Carnarvon. As you know, Mother Nature has not been kind to North America lately. The charming photos are just enchanting and a sweet reminder that storms do pass.

    Are you planning to offer that cooking class or tour in March, 2018?

    Kindest Regards,
    Stacey Brown
    The Woodlands, TX

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I thought I would offer a day this October to cook, to work with Luis the Butler and to tour and then learn what guest have most enjoyed to take forward to March

  19. Joy Cowan says:

    We visited Highclere on Aug. 29 after a 12 day cruise around the U.K.,& prior to going to London for a week. We so enjoyed our tour. It was very well organized,& not too crowded. Having tea & scones outside ended the perfect visit. We also thought the gift shop had very nice souvenirs that all my Downton Abbey friends will enjoy.
    Kindest regards,
    Joy May Cowan
    Galveston, Texas

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Sally does a great job with the gift shop and we are creating a special hamper of pressies we can offer to USA fans this Christmas. Sally is much better as packing and making it all perfect than I am !

  20. Jo says:

    I so love your blogs. Having visited HIghclere a year ago, and then to have the opportunity to meet and listen to your wonderful address at the Trinity-by-the-Cove event last winter, I feel very connected to Higher.
    Just a note to tell you that tonight the Trinity parish got an email from the rector saying that, with the exception of a few small puddles of water that blew under the outside doors, Trinity came through Irma without damage. Being so close to the Gulf and also on Jamaica Bay, we were all worried.

  21. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I have been thinking about Naples, the wonderful people and community I met there – it was a great few days. Thank you for your update!

  22. Chrissy says:

    Love how much you enjoy PARTYING !!!! Rock ON!!!

  23. Catherine in Greece says:

    How wonderful to see photos from the Vintage Garden Party. Seeing Highclere in the fun with the 1920’s spirit made my day! thank you for this enjoyable blog. Also, it made me want to visit Highclere for some “Champagne wishes and Caviar dreams” on October 17th and contribute to charity as well. Wondering if the gardens would be open on Oct 17 during the morning or noontime to be able to stroll the grounds in the “sunshine”? hope so…se you soon.

  24. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I would be delighted if you would like to walk around the gardens before you step into the Castle – you might want just to change your shoes!!!You could allow a half an hour? The lights is lovely on September evenings.

  25. Ann C. Flood says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    A twenties Garden Party,how fun! The guests looked beautiful, and I’m sure you had quite a difficult decision about the best costumed. I think Season Three of Downton was one of my very favorites. I wasn’t wild about Matthew’s untimely death,however! Your pictures made me especially happy as I just finished rereading the story of Lady Catherine, the 6th Countess of Carnarvon. What a tale! She was one of the lovliest and most resilient ladies imaginable. She managed to make a life for herself after her divorce from Lord Porchester. Additionally, after tragically losing her husband in the war she lived life once again. She was such an inspiration! My own daily struggles seem to pale in comparison. She was a true example and I’m so delighted you told her story. I am saving the story of Almina to savor at some near future date. You make the stories truly come alive Lady Carnarvon! Best to my good friend Sheila (smiling).

    KInd Regards,

    Ann Catherine Flood

  26. Rita says:

    Good Morning Lady Carnarvon,

    PLEASE do let me know if you ever receive the Hearts in an envelope addressed to JULIA MORGAN ( hopefully you know her). My email is: itab1395@yahoo.com.

    These hearts were hand-made to honor the bravery of the Military, London, UK, Manchester, UK, Portland, OR, Charlottesville, VA and the victims of our hurricanes.

    If your dogs could wear these, I would be very grateful for a picture.

    Please help us spread the message of LOVE!! The Manchester, UK newspaper did a story on Hearts For Manchester on Aug. 7, 2017. Take a look at it on your Highclere Castle Facebook page.

    Thank you again and I hope I hear from you soon.

    God Bless you and your family!!

  27. Rita says:

    Sorry, I gave the wrong email: ritab1395@yahoo.com

  28. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I will ask Julia in the office – thank you for sending! I have been travelling and had so many meetings that Ihave been returning to the office late each day.

  29. Rita says:

    My Post Office in the United States could not find Newbury, RG20 9RN the address that Julia had emailed me.

    So, we sent it Priority Mail ( 6-10 days delivery) and Addressed to Julia Morgan, Attn: Lady Carnarvon.

    God willing you will get the 7 Hand-made Hearts. Hope you like them and maybe send a picture if possible.

    I hope you visit Portland, Oregon someday.

    Thank You for your kindness.

  30. Lady Carnarvon says:

    Understood – we do exist and that is the right post code! The postmen are great people and I enjoy seeing them each morning – they certainly try to help where ever they can – I am a fan of the Royal Mail. Julia is back next week …

  31. Rita says:

    Computers are great but can be frustrating when they cannot find the Postal Code or Country? In this case, they could not find either. So, instead of “United Kingdom” it is “Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”

    This is my 2nd try in sending you the Hearts. They got Lost the First time around. No-one could find them so hopefully they provided someone with Love and Comfort. So, I hope you get them this time around. God willing, you will get it. Please let me know.

    Have a Great Weekend!! We in Portland, Oregon are looking forward to Rain. First time in 4 months.

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