DiCamillo tour to houses of Downton Abbey, 2018

The Dowager's Delights: Downton Abbey & the Best of the English Country House

Bio of the Tour Leader

Curt DiCamillo

Curt is an American architectural historian and a recognized authority on the British country house. He has written and lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad on the subject and has taught classes on British culture and art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Providence Athenaeum, and Beacon Hill Seminars. Curt regularly leads scholarly tours that focus on the architectural and artistic heritage of Britain and its influence around the world. Since 1999 he has maintained an award-winning database on the web, The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses (TheDiCamillo.com). The database seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish country house ever built, standing or demolished, together with a history of the families who lived in the houses, the architects who designed them, and the history of the houses’ collections and gardens.

In recognition of his work, Curt has been presented to the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and The Prince of Wales. He is a member of The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and is an alumnus of both the Royal Collection Studies program and The Attingham Summer School for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections. Curt is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a member of the Council of the American Museum in Britain.

Curt serves as Curator for Special Collections at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, before which, for nine years, he was Executive Director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston, where he was responsible for raising over $7 million for the Trust (he currently holds the position of Executive Director Emeritus). Previously he worked for 13 years for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A native of the Philadelphia area, Curt grew up in Central Florida with his sister, the award-winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo.

Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle | Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP


The Great Houses of Yorkshire

B = Breakfast | D = Dinner | L = Lunch | R = Reception | T = Tea

The Great Hall, Syon House | By kind permission of the Duke of Northumberland

Day 1

Sunday, September 23

R, T

Meet Curt DiCamillo and fellow tour participants at 1:00 PM at the Rembrandt Hotel in Knightsbridge, after which we’ll leave by private coach for Syon Park, the London home of the Duke of Northumberland. The Duke’s sister, Lady Caroline Percy, and architectural historian Oliver Gerrish will welcome us in the Great Hall with a glass of champagne before guiding us on a tour of the house, the last surviving ducal residence, complete with its country estate, in greater London. Syon is famous for its 1760s interiors by Robert Adam, considered among the finest work ever done by the architect. After the tour of the house we’ll have high tea in the Private Dining Room. Then there will be time on your own to explore the garden, which sits in the middle of a 200-acre Park that features the remains of Capability Brown’s 18th century landscape design. The highlight of the garden is the magnificent Great Conservatory, designed in the 1820s by Charles Fowler as the centerpiece of the garden. It was in the Conservatory, masquerading as a London tearoom, that Lady Mary asked Lord Gillingham to fire his rapist valet in the fourth season of Downton Abbey.

A Syon Great Conservatory

The Great Conservatory, Syon House | By kind permission of the Duke of Northumberland

We depart Syon on our way to Hartwell House, the magnificent four-star country house hotel that will be our home for the next six nights! After checking in, you’ll have the remainder of the evening on your own to explore the house and its 90 acres of grounds. While the high tea at Syon House will be substantial enough to serve as an early light supper, anyone interested in dinner may dine on their own at Hartwell’s award-winning restaurant, or take a taxi to one of the nearby eateries.

Syon Dining Room

Syon Dining Room | Photo by Curt DiCamillo


Monday, September 24

B, L, R, D

We begin our second day with a private tour of Basildon Park, a 1776 country house in Berkshire whose sublime interiors have not only appeared in Downton Abbey, but as Netherfield in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice.

After our tour there will be time to explore the garden before we head for lunch at the Maltsters Arms, a country pub with locally-sourced hearty classics.

Basildon Front

Basildon Park | Photo by Curt DiCamillo

During the filming of Downton Abbey the interiors of Basildon were used as the interiors of Grantham House, the family’s London home. It was here, in the last episode of the fourth season, that Lady Rose was dressed and prepped before she was presented to the king and queen at Buckingham Palace. We see the interiors of Basildon again in the fifth season during the preparations for Lady Rose’s wedding to Atticus.

Basildon Dining Room

Basildon Dining Room | Photo by Curt DiCamillo

Next up is a visit to nearby Greys Court, which was used in the second season of Downton Abbey as the exterior of Eryholme, the Grantham family’s other house on the Downton estate. Here we’ll have an introductory talk about the Tudor manor house, the oldest part of which is a 1347 fortified tower, followed by time on your own to explore the interior and the garden.

The Octagon Drawing Room at Basildon Park, Berkshire

The Octagon Drawing Room, Basildon Park | National Trust Images / Andreas von Einsiedel

Then we’re off to Hartwell House for time to rest and relax before we gather for drinks, during which there will an illustrated talk by Andrew Prince entitled Downton to Gatsby: Jewelry and Fashion from 1890 to 1929, with real examples, too! Afterward, we’ll have dinner in the private dining room.

Andrew Prince is a jewelry historian and one of the world’s leading designers of crystal jewelry. In 2012 he was chosen by the creators of Downton Abbey to supply a large collection of jewelry for the TV series. The characters played by Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, and Michele Dockery were all adorned with elegant tiaras, combs, earrings, and necklaces designed and made by Andrew.

A Greys Cour

Greys Court | National Trust Images / Hugh Mothersole


Tuesday, September 25

B, T, L, T

Tuesday begins with a visit to the real Downton Abbey—Highclere Castle, where we’ll have a private guided tour of the state rooms and gallery bedrooms of the fictional home of the Grantham family. Highclere has been the home of the Herbert family, later earls of Carnarvon, since the 18th century. The current house was built on the foundations of earlier buildings in the 1830s by the architect Charles Barry, famous for the Houses of Parliament, to which Highclere bears a resemblance.

At Highclere we’ll stand under the Gothic columns of the entrance hall, where Lord Grantham received visitors, and then move into the magnificent saloon, where Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess reclined over the luxuriant red armchairs.

After coffee, tea, and homemade biscuits, there will be time to explore the Egyptian Exhibition, which tells the story and contains antiquities from tombs that were discovered in Egypt by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter (the discoverers, in 1922, of the tomb of King Tut), after which there will be time to visit the garden and gift shop.

The Dining Room, Highclere Castle | Highckere Castle Enterprises LLP

Next is a visit to the delightful 18th century Houghton Lodge, one of the finest and earliest surviving examples of a cottage orné in England. This picturesque, Gothic style house was Maggie Smith’s home, as the character of Aunt Betsey Trotwood, in the 1999 production of David Copperfield.

We’ll be welcomed by a family member and served lunch in the Conservatory, before touring the house. The garden at Houghton is a charming example of an 18th century garden designed in the naturalistic style of Capability Brown. There will be time to stroll in the garden before departing for Hartwell House where you’ll have the evening on your own (a list of local restaurants will be provided).

Houghton Lodge

Houghton Lodge | Photo by Curt DiCamillo


Wednesday, September 26

B, L, D

We begin today with a drive through the rolling limestone hills of the Oxfordshire Cotswolds on our way to Bampton, where we’ll have a guided tour of this adorable village that appeared in every season of Downton Abbey. Bampton Library was used for Downton Cottage Hospital, St. Mary’s Church became Downton Church, and Churchgate House was used as the exterior of Isobel Crawley’s home in the village.

Then we’re off to a seasonal lunch of locally-sourced dishes at The Swan Inn in the quintessential English village of Swinbrook. It was at The Swan that Lady Sybil famously eloped with Branson in the second season of Downton Abbey.

Next is a visit to the charming Cotswold town of Burford, noted for its fine shops. Here you’ll have time on your own to shop and visit the impressive Church of Saint John the Baptist.

We end our day with a visit to Kingston Bagpuize House, where owner Virginia Grant will give us a tour of her lovely early 18th century manor house, followed by dinner in the Dining Room. Kingston Bagpuize was the fictional Cavenham Park, Lord Merton’s home, in Downton Abbey.

Kingston Bagpuize

Kingston Bagpuize House | Photo by David Ross / BritainExpress.com


Thursday, September 27

B, T, L

Our Thursday begins with a tour of Strawberry Hill House, the sublime Thames-side villa that was probably the first example of the Gothic Revival style. Created in the late 18th century by Horace Walpole (son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister), nothing like it had ever been seen before in Britain. From its first days, people queued to see the interior of this amazing house. Horace was an esthete, amateur architect, and style trendsetter who assembled at Strawberry Hill one of the most extensive and eclectic collections of art in England. After being closed for years, Strawberry Hill House recently underwent a $15 million restoration that has returned all its astonishing glories.

Strawberry Hill Exterior

Strawberry Hill House | Photo by Curt DiCamillo


Friday, September 28

B, L, R, D

Our last full day together begins with a tour of the glittering state rooms of Stowe House, one of the most impressive enfilade of rooms in Britain. Stowe was the home of one of the most remarkably named aristocrats of the 19th century: Richard Plantagenet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The Duke was a prodigious spender; he lavished so much money on Stowe that he was declared insolvent in 1847. His bankruptcy (he was called the greatest debtor in the world) forced the sale of the spectacular contents of Stowe, scattering treasures around the world. A small example is a Worcester service from Stowe that is today in the collection of Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion in New York State.

Then it’s off to Wotton House, where we’ll have lunch before a private tour of the house. Wotton was owned until 1924 by the Grenville family, who also owned Stowe House. Wotton is a superb example of English Baroque architecture; its design is similar to the original design for Buckingham House (today Buckingham Palace). In April 1786 John Adams, later second President of the United States, visited Wotton and called it “both great and elegant…” Wotton’s South Pavilion was sold off from the main block of the House and was the home of actor John Gielgud for many years; it was bought by Tony and Cherie Blair for £5.75 million in 2008.

Upon our return to Hartwell House there will be time to take a stroll in the garden or stretch out and take a nap before we gather for drinks and a concert of English 18th century countertenor music performed by Oliver Gerrish, a rising star in the London opera scene, accompanied by lutist Sam Brown. After our little concert, we’ll have a grand farewell dinner in the private dining room.

Wotton House | Photo by Curt DiCamillo


Saturday, September 29


Following check-out, we’ll depart Hartwell by coach to London, first dropping off participants at Heathrow Airport by 11:30 AM for those with afternoon or evening flights. The coach will then continue on from Heathrow into central London to drop participants at The Rembrandt Hotel, arriving around 1:30 PM (this will be the stop for anyone who is staying on in the UK; from the Rembrandt you can easily take the Underground or arrange a taxi to your final destination).

Downton Abbey and Downton are registered trademarks of Carnival Film & Television Limited.