A fascinating album of photographs, giving a glimpse of life in one of Britain’s most distinguished country seats, have come to light – and despite it being 120 years old, its appeal is likely to lie in the popularity of the subject matter to television viewers in the 21st Century.
The album, to be sold at Lawrences Auctioneers in Crewkerne on February 3rd, contains 44 large mounted photographs of the house, staff and estate at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, immortalised in popular culture as the setting for the ITV series `Downton Abbey` as the home of the fictional `Earl of Grantham` but actually the home of the Earls of Carnarvon. The photographs, taken by J. W. Righton of Newbury, date from 1895 and include portraits of the newly married 5th Earl with his Countess, Alimina (nee Herbert) as well as a photograph showing Edward, Prince of Wales and other views with house staff. In addition, there are photographs of the grounds and the interior showing how Highclere was furnished and decorated in the 1890’s.
“It is intriguing to see how life was lived on a great British estate across a span of 120 years,” observes Lawrences’ consultant, Robert Ansell. “Mr Righton was evidently kept busy recording formal and informal events at Highclere and the album even includes photographs with house staff so that the full social mix at Highclere can be understood at a glance.”
The album comes from the attic of a lady in South Dorset whose in-laws had owned a carriage business that was patronised by the Royal family in the late 19th Century. It seems that the album was a gift to the family, possibly in gratitude for years of loyal service, and records the Royal visit to Highclere. The photographs each measure 23 by 28cm (9 by 11 ins) and have been well kept.
“There is a third appealing aspect to this lot,” adds Robert. “The 5th Earl was particularly notable as the sponsor of Howard Carter’s excavations in Egypt that resulted in the discovery of Tutankhamun’s in tomb in 1922. That fabulous story was also dramatised on ITV at the end of last year, so we may expect to receive bids from many different collectors. After so many years, it never ceases to surprise us how many good things may still be found in attics and already we have received expressions of interest from abroad.”
The album is expected to make £300-500.