Period drama revives interest in living on an ancestral estate
Tenants are stepping back in time as the Downton effect creates an interest in renting historic estate homes. Sharon Dale reports.
FANS of Downton Abbey are counting the days until the second series hits the TV screens
The first episode starts on September 18 and although it begins in the midst of the First World War, much of the story is played out against the backdrop of Edwardian glamour and architectural splendour.
Like Brideshead before it, the impressive house, played by Highclere Castle in Berkshire, is the star and it has created what one letting agent refers to as the “Downton Abbey effect”
It has prompted an upsurge of interest in renting grand piles and other properties attached to ancestral estates.
“The Yorkshire rental market has definitely been buoyed by the Downton Abbey effect,” says Linley & Simpson director Will Linley.
“The resurgence of period dramas such as this and Upstairs, Downstairs has sparked an upsurge of interest in properties from a bygone age.
“Many of these houses have been modernised and tastefully renovated and, as a result, there is no shortage of tenants wanting to step back in time and follow in the historical footsteps of the people who lived in the properties hundreds of years ago.”
Linley & Simpson has rental properties on eight estates. These include Markington Hall, between Ripon and Harrogate, owned by descendents of antislave trade campaigner William Wilberforce, and Farnley Hall, a Grade 1 listed manor house near Otley, which was owned by MP Walker Fawkes – a relative of Guy Fawkes – in the 1800s. They also let Allerton Castle, a Grade 1 listed Gothic house near Harrogate, that featured in the 1993 film The Secret Garden.
Such is the interest the above are now let, although Linley and Simpson has a two bedroom apartment at Eshton Hall, in the Yorkshire Dales near Gargrave, for £1,750pcm. This stately home was designed in neoJacobean style in the 1820s and is the former seat of Sir Matthew Wilson MP.
The company also has a four bedroom apartment at Steeton Hall, near South Milford. The let, which is £1,750 pcm, is in a striking and well-preserved 14th Century manorial gateway classed as an ancient monument and protected by English Heritage.
While the rents are at the top end of the scale, this is the cheapest way of living the life of a Lord or Lady. In many cases buying is not an option.
Harewood, near Leeds, rarely sells any of its property portfolio, which is very popular with those looking to rent.
The estate’s proximity to Leeds and its stunning setting are advantages but so is the kudos of being part of an estate with an impressive aristocratic history.
Land manager Christopher Usher says: “People buy into being part of the estate. They like to be part of it. I’m not sure about the Downton Abbey effect. It’s difficult to tell because there is always big demand for our properties.”
Castle Howard too is never short of tenants for its collection of cottages and country homes and so the Downton Abbey effect on lettings is difficult to quantify.
What is clear is that TV has had a profound influence on visitors to the main house, a grand Baroque mansion that is feast for the eyes both inside and out.
Visitor Services Manager Hannah Jones says: “Visitor numbers are up six per cent this year though whether that is Downton Abbey or the fact we have had some great events I am not sure, but I do think that programmes like that create an interest.”
Castle Howard still benefits from appearing as Brideshead in the TV series Brideshead Revisited in 1981.
“We still get an influx of Brideshead visitors every year even though the series was 30 years ago,” says Hannah.
“I think there are re-runs of it abroad. We still have people signing the visitors book: ‘finally I came to Brideshead’”
After the first series of Downton Abbey, the Duke of Devonshire, whose family seat is Chatsworth in Derbyshire, said: “There has always been a lot of interest in historic houses – you look at the huge success of the National Trust – but Downton Abbey is another reason for people to say, ‘Oh, instead of going shopping on Saturday, let’s go to Chatsworth’”.
But ardent fans may do well to rein in their passion for popular period dramas, as research shows that some television viewers feel genuine distress when their favourite series comes to an end.
Those who watch TV for companionship or feel particularly close to a character are the ones most likely to be upset.
LEADING THE WAY: The TV series
has caused an interest among tenants in grand historic homes.