Lonely Planet Writer

Downton fans prompt rise in 'servant tourism' to Britain's stately homes

TV shows like Downton Abbey and Victoria are spurring a major rise in servant tourism across the United Kingdom.

Stourhead, Wiltshire, England.
Stourhead, Wiltshire, England. Image by English Garden

The traditional ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life of Britain’s big houses – with aristocrats living up the stairs from their maids and butlers – has long been a source of fascination. However, a succession of big-budget TV shows illustrating what the world was like for the wealthy and those who served them, is sparking renewed interest in learning about that lifestyle according to the Guardian newspaper.

Both the National Trust and English Heritage reported record visitor numbers last year, with many of their attractions investing in exhibitions on life in the servant’s quarters. Four of the five most popular attractions, maintained by the National Trust last year, were old mansions and estates, several of which have featured on TV and in movies. After their most popular location, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Stourhead attracted the second highest number of visitors at just over 423,000. Stourhead, a 1000-hectare estate in Wiltshire, includes a Palladian mansion that played a starring role in both the 1995 film version of Pride and Prejudice, and in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

Cliveden House, an Italian mansion and estate on the River Thames, and Attingham Park in Shropshire with its neoclassical country house, were the third and fourth most popular attractions. Visitor numbers at the fifth most popular sight, Belton House in Lincolnshire, rose by more than a quarter to more than 400,000 last year. Other famous old houses like Blenheim Palace and Chatsworth have also seen increased numbers, with Blenheim visitor numbers up 19%. The servant obsession has moved beyond the old houses as well according to the Guardian, with the opening of the‘Below Stairs’ exhibition at the Sir John Soame Museum in London. A new boutique hotel in Devon, The Pig At Combe, has even restored its old downstairs kitchen with its original range and fittings for a “unique dining experience”.