In 2017, Mrs Hughes and Mr Carson might be slightly surprised to discover that their staff rooms and cellars running under the Castle have been commandeered. The staff dining room with long table and benches, an upright piano and fireplace, the beer cellars, storage rooms, cupboards, flower rooms and the very extensive white and red wine cellars, of which every superior butler from Jeeves to Mr Carson would have been rightly proud, look somewhat different.
Visitors instead find they are entering the world of ancient Egypt and the story of the discovery of the tomb of boy king Tutankhamun. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter spent some 16 years in Egypt before becoming the centre of the first global world media event in November 1922: a Pharaoh’s tomb had been discovered almost intact and we could all glimpse the treasures, the “wonderful things” and culture of this ancient civilization.
The second room of our exhibition develops the theme of life at Highclere before the First World War and in one of the cabinets you can see the 5th Earl’s camera. He had taken up photography after his car accidents which had so compromised his health that he not merely spent the winters in Egypt but also looked for other interests which he could pursue as a partial invalid.
On various information boards I have tried to explain how the photographs were created and developed. It all now seems so distant in the era of cell phones and selfies! In the archive rooms we still have some extraordinary photographs from this time: of Egypt from 1909, of Lord Carnarvon’s travels through Europe and of studio photographs. He built a photographic studio and dark room at the back of Highclere Castle as well as a dark room at “Castle Carter”, the house Lord Carnarvon built for Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. The albums are so interesting but not all the names or places are written alongside the photographs. Today, however, most of us probably do not even print out our photographs.
Highclere’s photographic archives extend further back in time. The 4th Countess clearly enjoyed collecting photographs of her friends and of eminent personages. I try to share them in my books but again do not always know who is in them. Just last week, looking again through the books, David our archivist rang me in a state of excitement because he had recognised a photo of George Étienne Cartier one of the founding fathers of Canada. Cartier stayed here several times and we have subsequently realised it was he who had penned a few charming lines in the visitor book as he returned to London and then back to Canada in 1865.
I hope all these remarkable guests enjoyed staying here and I am grateful that my predecessors were sufficiently interested in the new art and science of photography to leave some photographic glimpses into the world a hundred and fifty years ago. My husband and son Edward are keen photographers too and I have enjoyed using their work in books and here on my blog as well.
Those thoughts led me further to think about asking others to enjoy photography here. Autumn is so beautiful so I thought we would have day of autumn trails, trees and teas on Sunday October 15th We could ask any visitors if they would like to take photos on the day and have a little competition. If it rains there is still plenty to explore in the Egyptian Exhibition. Perhaps the prize should be a tree although that might give a challenge to our overseas visitors so I will have to think of an alternative!