The archive room lies on the top floor of the Castle, two floors above the study in which, when I have time or a deadline, I sit and write. Given it is high up, it has outstanding views and it is an amazing room, lined in embossed, painted, gilded leather like the Saloon. When I first came to the Castle there was no power on that floor: no lights, no heating and certainly no internet. Thus I would work on my laptop using the natural light from the windows until it was too dim to see properly. Then I would run back downstairs to my study to continue my writing.
To my immense pleasure, I have now completed the rewiring of this room and even installed a small heater. All in all it makes research and writing much easier and certainly much more pleasant. Opposite the great old desk, piled high with boxes and papers, there are glass cupboards full of brown and blue boxes which, to my mind, are full of treasure. The first first book I had published “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey” was written from letters in some of those boxes. Amongst them are several hundred thank you letters written to the 5th Countess from her patients and their families whose lives she helped save during the time when Highclere was a proper working hospital in the First World War.
Sitting reading these extraordinary letters, I often had tears streaming down my face. Fortunately for me, after the war ended, she also sent presents to the surgeons whose skills she called upon and they too wrote to say thank you. Thus I could begin to piece the stories of various individuals together.
Almina was a woman who found a vocation and, undaunted, followed it. Many other women during these war years stood up and were counted, valued as part of the economy whilst their employment moved beyond traditional roles. Almina made her own decisions and forged her own path, albeit one that was underwritten financially by her father and her husband. Her organisation, drive and compassion along with that of the team who worked here with her, the names from the estate listed on the Roll of Honour, all testify to the contribution made during those harrowing years.
2018 marks one hundred years since that war shuddered to a halt, changing the structure and vision of European cultures and governments. For all the study of history, for all the knowledge of the pointlessness, wars and suffering continue to afflict so many today. Given it is a centenary, Highclere is creating a weekend, if one of a different nature from that intended by Maggie Smith as Lady Grantham’s crisp aside of “what is a weekend” in “Downton Abbey”.
In September, Heroes at Highclere seeks to bring people from many countries together, through entertainment, love of cars, vintage planes, dancing, afternoon tea and football in front of the Castle. We will recreate an operating theatre in the Castle and a First World War field hospital with mule and horse next door. There will be speakers, tents, choirs, fairground rides and costumes on display plus, of course, the obligatory fancy dress competitions.
On the Sunday (September 9th) I hope people will join us as we remember a later story of the airmen who crashed and died here at Highclere in The Second World War. We have been quietly finding their names and stories, and thus we can inscribe their names on a memorial to unveil on that day. Some of their relatives have made contact and I hope will join us too. It will be a weekend to say thank you to those who served and those who saved one hundred years ago but also to raise money for those who do the same today.
A number of charities have already joined us – I hope more will. Above all I wonder if I could ask those of you who read this blog to help: to spread the news to help sell tickets, or help with any sponsorship. It is just us here organising it, a few great girls in an office and two extraordinary volunteer ex-Concorde and RAF men. Unless mummified, I will not be here in another hundred years so I thought it would be good to do something now.
Thankyou Lady Carnarvon for all your wonderful efforts, hard work and desire to bring the Castles history to the masses of today. No doubt Lady Almina is smiling down on you . I’ve shared your post and am more than happy to assist in any way possible.
How wonderful. I’ve read the book twice and enjoyed it immensely. What a wonderful idea to recreate the scenes!!
I sure wish I lived nearby and could help. What a wonderful work you are doing. Remembering is so important. It would be great if all the schools would bring their students.
I hope students will come!
Thank you. What a wonderful story. Such an amazing place to live and work. Thank you for sharing.
I worked as an archivist and research specialist on Abraham Lincoln for many years so I have a keen appreciation for what you are doing. It is a true labor of love. There is nothing like holding history in your hands. It is a passion! Those who preserve and present history for the next generation are true gifts to our world. May you have great joy in this project!
I think it is telling stories and creating an experience thus making history more than black and white line on a page.
As I read this I envisioned the shadows of the souls alive and active there at that time. Those of us of lesser stature may think of the aristocracy as not workers but merely masters. Bringing light to this part of your history has been truly heartwarming and endearing. Thank you so much and God bless you richly and successfully.
What a dreamy life living in a place so steeped in history! How influential it must be quietly sitting in the archive room, writing, surrounded by so much history. I loved your Almina book, she was truly an amazing woman. I have read Catherine’s book as well. The history, stories and photographs in your books bring to us a reality of a very different way of life. My friends and I are diehard Downton Abbey fans, I’ve hosted small tea parties, we love visiting in period dress the various mansions of the Vanderbilts, Mills family, etc. that sit along the Hudson River in New York State. We even trekked to NYC in 17 degree weather to meander through 3 floors of Downton Abbey memories on display! My dream is to one day visit the real Downton Abbey, Highclere. Best wishes on what sounds like a fantastic September weekend event, we should never forget the courage of those before us who sacrificed so much. Thank you for all your hard work! Joanne
It goes on today and it may be years before veterans turn back and need help
It’s wonderful to know the charitable work that has emanated from Highclere Castle and that you are still perpetuating these humanitarian efforts today. Before I left my career to come home to raise our daughter, I was the executive director for the world’s largest airport USO here in Saint Louis, Missouri. I have such a high regard for America’s military and their families. And obviously, the US has such a strong relationship with the UK, forged to large degree during both WWs. Your efforts are so highly commendable as you help present British military while remembering those who sacrificed before them. I’m happy to share your post on Facebook. I have a few British readers, and who knows that some American might be inspired to travel to England in September. Thank you for sharing! Oh, and I loved seeing the real scenes of soldiers and nurses pictured on your lawns. It brought back the War years of Downton Abbey, which we just watched again! 🙂
I hope the event and some monies raised can also saying thank you to US soldiers today, it is wider than the UK
You are doing such a wonderful service to current and future generations with the work you pursue to preserve and commemorate the past through the lens of Highclere’s history. I want to say to you also ‘Thank YOU’ for all the work you and your team do every day. It is especially important, from my view, to remember and learn from the past, or we are doomed to repeat it… as we seem to be doing with disheartening frequency when it comes to conflict among our fellow citizens of planet Earth.
I will be anxious to hear of the festivities and commemorations that will be taking place in early September. I wish I could provide hands-on help too! I absolutely love rooms like your archive room. When I am in a museum with such documents and displays, it is better if I go alone so I don’t get impatient sighs and prods from anyone with me, since I read and contemplate everything that is there. 🙂 I should have been an archivist or media specialist!
I live a thousand miles away so unfortunately I cannot assist directly with your work to prepare for September. I can at least share your latest blog posting on social media and spread the word of your plans to my small crew of family and friends.
All the best to you and your staff as you work on this and the many other projects in the works over at Highclere.
I’m confident that in every box or file there are stories to be told. And with your writing skills and dedication, I’m sure many will be told. So we are the ones that should be saying “thank you”.
I would so love to be there! Instead, I send my best thoughts and wishes for a successful, truly meaningful event.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I was so moved by this installment of your blog. My Father served in WWll in the South Pacific. But he flew in a B17 bomber as an engineer and top turret gunner. Seeing the photo of the B17 crew brought tears to my eyes. I am so grateful for people like Lady Almina who did so much to bring an end to war. Any war. It is common for Americans to be star struck by the aristocracy and think they just set in rooms like your library and drink tea and contribute nothing to society. But this post proves that is a myth. You have also proved this by your tireless charity work. I salute you.
We visited Highclere on April 19, 2017 as part of our 50th wedding anniversary trip. When I arrived in the first room on the tour, I could not hold back the tears. I could not believe I was really there, all the way from Florida! The sweet lady overseeing that room was so concerned about me that she offered me a chair. Every room meant so much to me, the tears flowed all through the tour. It was a dream come true. The tour of Highclere was the only tour we took. It was the highlight of our trip. I was so hoping to see you, but I did meet Luis and Matthew. They were so kind.
I would love to attend the even in September. How amazing it would be to see these planes and drink in the history.
Thank you for all you do. I am immersed in genealogy right now. I have many, many roots in England. Even some which are quite impressive to me. Do you know where Penkridge is?
God Bless you, Lady Carnarvon. The world needs more people like you.
Mrs. Sue Smith
Thank you- I think there are many people who try, and I am just another!! PS I think it may be Penkridge which is in Staffordshire. Best wishes
What a wonderful endeavor! I personally appreciate your labor of love for history and the UK and US military. My father was in the U.S. Army Air Force and was in the U.S. Army for over 21 years. He flew over 3000 hours and in WWII surviving a crash in the desert near Romel. After the war he served in the National Guard in Nevada. My husband was in the U.S. Army for 21 years, served in Vietnam, Desert Storm and in the Texas State Guard. He was deployed during several hurricanes and his experience has been invaluable. As for me, I was born on Veterans Day, 11 November 1950 and I take care of my Veteran who has overcome cancer and a recent heart attack. I am so privileged and happy to have this opportunity and to play a small part in history. Thank you Lady Carnarvon for your service to so many.
Thank you – please encourage your circle of friends to come!
Please do spread the word amongst your circle of friends and I hope some might be over or come over!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Lady Almina was certainly a very strong and exceptionnal woman and I admire her so much for what she has done after reading all about it in your book. She was ahead of her time in taking charge and “be in the action” when it was time to do something, especially with opening Highclere as a hospital to the war soldiers who needed a place to heal or recover from injuries. And she stayed strong and going until the end of her life.
I wish I could go back the weekend of September 8th and 9th, but It’s a bit far for a weekend! (c ; Is there anyway I could donate through a Website?
You are certainly following in Lady Almina’s footsteps for all the good you make around you Lady… Fiona! Someday your descendants and heirs shall write about you too!!!
Thank you for sharing great history from your family boxes and may the weekend be a huge success!
You are kind – and I hope we can reach out to the Canadian Legion too. I will revert re donations. I also thought I could put some items to auction on line. In fact I asked Julian Fellowes for a script and other “Downton” memorablia and he has been very generous.I am just figuring out my way through the”admin” part .
History was always one of my favorite subjects in school. I loved the fresh smell of my new history book each year. It is such an advantage to have such a treasure trove of material at your disposal. I look forward to many more books that you may write with Highclere as the background. I have shared your blog on my Facebook page. I wish that we could be there for the party but one of these days we will get a chance to visit your magnificent property.
I hope you will come here one day!
How wonderful it is that all those letters are still around today… like voices from the past, and a true treasure trove!! I’ve read your book on Lady Almina and the “Real Downton Abbey” (a few times actually!)
Thank you for sharing the stories and keeping the memories alive 🙂
Dear Lady Carnarvon of Highclere Castle,
Reading this blog reminded me of the attitude and negatively critical language of Miss Bunting (and the early Tom Branson). They represent a large number of people who believe that there should not be a wealthy upper-class. The life and actions of Lady Almina demonstrate why the wealthy class is absolutely necessary. In times of extreme disaster, there needs to be someone who has the will, the way and the energy to step in with aid for the community. The use of the Abbey as a hospital and Lady Almina serving as a nurse are shining examples of the lifesaving emergency aid that could only be provided by someone with “means.”
The upper-class is like a flower to a plant. Without it, there will not be the beauty, the aspiration to greatness or the ability to recreate and regenerate that which a plant is meant to be. As nature needs flowers, human society needs the upper-class.
Thank you – I think it is the courage to try, and when it goes wrong, you have just fallen over, so it is in fact about getting up again!!!
I think Downton Abbey showed that attitude was part of character and not class – we cared what happened to Julian Fellowes’ characters upstairs or down!
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
This is such an interesting post to me, for many reasons. I am a nurse and was fascinated by the story of Lady Almina turning Highclere into a hospital during the war. I am also the daughter of a veteran officer of the US Air Force. And, when I was growing up, we lived in England for several years while my father was stationed at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. After my dad retired from the Air Force, he started a new career as a teacher, and taught history, although, I was already grown by that time.
I have a passion for history and I am certain that is because of the opportunities I had growing up to experience history in locations where history happened.
It is a wonderful idea to celebrate with a weekend dedicated to remembering and celebrating those that gave so much of themselves for others, past and present, at home and abroad (and I realize that home and abroad are opposite for us.) 🙂
Thank you for your posts that open your home to those of us that share your passion for history. I am more than happy to share your post in Texas, USA.
Thank you and we have a story to share about “our” B-17 and Texas. I think the TV phrase is “coming soon…”!
Thank you and one story – the B-17 begins in Texas…
I will be with you but only in thought in September. What a daunting task to organize such a glorious event — I know it will be a success with you Lady C at the helm!
May I ask about more details of an American B17 crashing around
Once again, best wishes to you
The B-17 is a post in itself and I need to gather myself and research together!
If there is a poster/flyer for this event, I will be happy to share it on my Facebook page. Wish I could be there!
PS: Please give us an update on Bonny.
We do have a poster/flyer and that would be kind! I will send it to you, thank you
Dear LADY CARNARVON,
I loved watching Downton Abby with all the twists and turns in the story line and the beautiful costumes. However, more than ever now I enjoy following your blog and reading about all the things that happened there. From the birth of a animal to your gardens to this now about the planes. It’s a wonderful thing you do at Highclaire to give back to your people. I hope to someday visit there but in the mean time I will continue to read your blogs and wish I was there. God bless you for all you do there.
Dearest Lady Carnarvon:
It almost seems like you were meant to be at Highclere. Your destiny. Like a reincarnation. You are meant to tell it’s story and of all the people who are entwined in its magnificent history.
It is just about looking and listening
Dear LADY CARNARVON,
In my recent post to you I misspelled Highclere. I do apologize. I knew better.
Does not matter at all and I think over years the spelling has changed anyway..
One of the many attributes which I love about Downton Abbey is the historical accurately which Julian Fellowes has weaved into the storyline of the series. Thank You for sharing these beautiful correspondence with your readers! Cheers
I love getting your blog, thank you. I do hope the weather is warmer now ( I have never got over the cold in our Wiltshire home and I am obsessed !). The upstairs ‘office’ room looks lovely and I am glad you now have a little heater and light. The archives are important , I suspect you have found your vocation editing and publishing them. these ‘trifles’ are becoming more important ll the time, the further away we get from our roots. Thank goodness all these letters and records have been kept and that there is now someone who cares about them. I loved your book about the real Highclere people and look forward to more in the future.
Summer is coming in Texas and already any gardening has to be done wearing cover up clothing, electronic gadgets and sprays to keep the mosquitoes away… They are ex pats from The Nile Valley so I am extra careful bearing in mind what happened to Lord Carnarvon. At least England doesn’t have such horrid insects. God bless, keep warm and thank you gain for news from Highclere (and love to the dogs!)
Thank you although i never like our horse flies much !!! They are later in the year. The archive room is peaceful too.
Interesting reading!! Now I want to discover more on the aircraft crash on 5/5/44. Looking forward to further information on an ‘on line auction’. Thank you for sharing your history.
Thank you and I am thinking about what might amuse people – different experiences
Thank you, Lady Carnavon. After reading your reply about the US, I just posted this to my FB page. I know it will be an exceptional event.
What a wonderful idea! I loved the story of Lady Almina and was struck by her amazing energy and foresight during WWI. A truly remarkable woman. I think your grand event is just perfect to commemorate her work and the end of the war, as well as celebrating all those people who served. If I lived just a bit closer I’d be there in a heartbeat, Instead I’ll be there in spirit! And I know you’ll share lots of photos when all is done – right?
I have booked photographers and am thinking about video media
What a wonderful archive to lose yourself in and be inspired by. I’ve read both your books on Lady Almina and Lady Catherine, two inspiring women in your family, and deserving of mention in this year of celebration of the suffragettes. You write so beautifully, as did the men who wrote those letters. If I can possibly get there for your celebration in September I will.
MY DEAR LADY CARNARVON,
THANK YOU. LOVELY SPRING.
MARIA AUGUSTA FROM BRAZIL.
Have you noticed that your blog has become a ‘meeting of friends”? You obviously have a unique gift in bringing people together who share their thoughts and stories freely with you. I certainly feel that you care for us all, I was amused and can identify with the lady from Arizona who missed the rain of her home country ! Keep blogging…it is a precious contact for many of us.
Dear Lady Carnarvon, once again my mind and imagination has been sent back to the history at Highclere. Thank you for making it possible to read actual letters from WWI. I do hope Heroes at Highclere will be a success beyond YOUR imagination.
Best wishes, Kathy Stewart.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
I am so interested in your archives and your story of how you researched for your book on Lady Almina was fascinating. It is amazing how much history there is at an estate like Highclere. You have done an amazing job of keeping that history alive. Thanks to you, people know of Lady Almina and Lady Catherine and through your newest book At Home at Highclere, many other anecdotes of life at the castle through the years. I am hopeful that Heroes at Highclere will be a smashing success, but I am sure it will be. I think focusing on the heroes of wars is so important. After all, many made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their lives. Their contribution to society is immeasurable and should certainly be commemorated. Bravo to all at Highclere for making this happen.
Regards to all the heroes At Highclere Castle,
Ann Catherine Flood
Thank you – it is important and the direct connection in the voices of our parents and grandparents is slipping away.
Love seeing some of the history, my family were in services with Highclere in different roles. So nice to get an idea of life on the estate.
That date on the B-17 crash was May 5th, 1945 not 1944
Randy I thought it says that ? In fact Paul Mactaggart has just left a cross up there at the crash site this morning. We stood by the Castele thinking about them around 10.30am, on a rather beautiful morning here, entirely unlike the one 73 years ago. Half an hour ago I saw the current “magnificent men in their flying machines” – Tigermoths – flying past the Castle checking flight lines and points of note for September following a meeting we had yesterday.
I sent you a bunch of scans and photos form my MOm’s book yesterday. I hope you or Paul got them?
We are grateful to Julian Fellows for opening the door to Highclere Castle thru Downton Abbey. But knowing Lord and Lady Carnarvon was a bonus for which we are most grateful. The world in which you live seems almost as fictional as Downton. You have been so gracious to pull the curtain back on your world and bring to life what seems unreal and so very fanciful to most.
How warm and intimate you are. And what a brilliant woman you are with many and varied talents and gifts. Thank you for being a real person and reaching out thru this medium to bring information that enriches our lives.
Dear Lady Carnarvon,
Once again you’ve made my day – “unless I’m mummified” – what a hoot. Be blessed as you organise again for one of your many charities, and have a wonderful time both in the planning and execution of what sounds like a very special day. Wish we could be with you.
Reading these touching letters really shows the great heart of Lady Almina. The effort that she put into healing and bringing peace of mind to these heroes. War times makes us be closer to sensibility. Thank you Lady Carnarvon; for letting people be part of your interesting world and Highclere history with us.
As a Genealogist, Researcher & Archivist I’m doing some work on the people who worked at the castle and hope to share my work with you eventually, would be interested to know if you hold anything in your archives on this. Would give an excellent insight into the lives of your former employees of old. Something folk could also connect with in their family histories.
We do have some records and then tend to answer each enquiry in turn! you can find quite a few references in Lady Almina and Lady Catherine – have you looked?
Dear Lady Carnarvon,I am trying to find a list of the poor souls that never came back to work on your estate after ww1, I,ve just seen a programme on the tele and they showed the roll of casualties and I am sure two of them were the surname Fifield, (my maiden name ) how interesting would it be if they were related to me in some way.Is it possible to put a list on here or indeed e.mail me a list please……….not to worry if you can’t…………….many thanks all the same.. kind regards .Mrs Eileen Dean nee Fifield
I will have a look and get back to you!
Dear lady Carnarvon
I to was espired buy youre programme to hear you have a mageret hardie my gg grandmother was called mageret hardie and yes although not related to you i managed to trace her father as the very reverend rev john miller of ardoch church
I also traced my gg grandfather james Paterson from kilmany church . but still researching him yet weve discovered surcoats in the family tree to find the word taboo of military meaning and more obscure and sporadic meaning. if you know any of these names please do not hestitate to get in touch. the coat of arms of methven and coat of arms of Drummond . dating back from 1672 . thanking you
alexander methven a barons heir
my grandfather was a butler in service
my g grandfather Robert Kelly was a baker in service killed in action 1918
alexander methven esq
baker and musician Scottish bronze champion accordionist 2000
25 dundas cresent clackmannan25 dundas cresent Clackmannan
my 18 th grandfather was alexander fernie and his wife was Elizabeth fernie nee braid from standrew born around circa standrew 1701. I noticed ihad a dewar as a carter no comment on that ground thanking you did my decoration by the way as regards alexander methven esq