In about 1855, the 4th Earl of Carnarvon commissioned a very fine carpet from Agra in India for the new Library in Highclere Castle. It was of fabulous quality and lasted incredibly well. Sadly, however, in the end, due partly simply to the passage of time but also to the increasing footfall in the Castle, it wore out. Despite careful repairs and our best endeavours, a couple of years ago we had to take a deep breath and commission a new one.
Following much research and listening to a lot of advice, the new rug was based on a different but still traditional Shiraz pattern, again bringing together the rich, warm colours of Highclere’s Library. From swatches, bundles of threads, sketches and discussions over the course of a year, I finally plucked up the courage to email confirmation of the commission one January day. I then had three sleepless nights wondering whether I had got it right or had made a very, very large mistake.
Ten months later, it arrived at the front door, unbelievably heavy and most of the staff had to carry it inside. Again, it took all of us to unroll it on our hands and knees and then we had races to try to smooth out all the bumps. With enormous relief, I think it has been a great success.
As a result, I therefore commissioned a smaller version, which could be offered as one of online auction prizes to help raise money for the charities represented at September’s Heroes at Highclere weekend.
Over the last few weeks, the office here, and the various charities involved, have been mulling over what sort of online auctions lots might amuse visitors, supporters and “Downton” fans: something different, something fun, something to enjoy.
After the carpet idea, my next thought was about “dinner”:
- An afternoon with Luis our butler here in Highclere’s State Dining Room showing you how to set the table and including a dinner set which has been kindly donated by Wedgwood;
- A stay at one of Highclere’s Lodges looking out over extensive views of the Estate with an invitation to be our guests at a concert and formal dinner in the Castle.
For a bit of fun, we have put together a tour round the Castle and estate showing where some of the most dramatic “Downton” scenes were filmed. For example, where Matthew crashed his car or where Lady Mary fell off her horse. Of course, the office immediately started a discussion as to who could play the handsome young Turk who met a somewhat untimely end in season one, claiming that part of the prize should be dragging their victim of choice off the bed and out of Stanhope, the red bedroom, and round the gallery.
A wonderful Spanish family has come forward offered an exceptional hotel break in Barcelona along with a tour of the Tutankhamun exhibition there. Various bidders from our home team have an eye on that one.
My husband is contemplating the extraordinary book being offered by the RAF appeal, created from part of a VC10. The Tiger Moth pilots are also offering a ride in their planes – I was once a lucky passenger and you do get a sense of the romance of flying in bygone years.
Over the last few months, I have worked closely with the Highclere plane team putting on the air display and one of the underlying reasons for the whole event is to remember the airmen who crashed here on the estate and whom I have mentioned in previous blogs. Therefore, I thought another auction lot could be to take four people round the different plane crash sites and en-route stop for a picnic at the spot where we picnicked with Mary Berry in her BBC TV show. She was fascinated by it and enjoyed the metal detecting, immediately finding more of the remains of the B-17.
From afternoon tea, planes, boats, weekends away, music, paintings and a magic carpet we hope to raise a little more money for some incredibly worthwhile causes.
All the prizes can be found at www.32auctions.com/Heroes