Stately home where Downton Abbey was filmed cancels wedding season due to a lack of seasonal staff
The stately home where Downton Abbey was filmed has been forced to cancel its lucrative wedding season due to a shortage of part-time staff.
Highclere Castle in Newbury, Hampshire, was the scene of more than a dozen romances in the ITV programme which helped large wedding bookings at the venue soar to 25 per year.
The fairytale getaway was also famously used by singer Peter Andre and model Katie Price for their wedding in 2005.
But now it has no bookings for 2023 and just one for 2024, owner Lady Carnarvon told The Independent.
The venue has even been forced to call off its seated afternoon tea menus during the Easter holiday season.
Highclere Castle in Newbury, Hampshire, was the scene of more than a dozen romances in the fictional show, which helped real-life large wedding bookings at the venue soar to 25 per year
The Countess of Carnarvon, who owns Highclere with her husband, says staff shortages and rising costs have led to difficult decisions – including cancelling the castle’s wedding season
Lady Carnarvon said: ‘Over the years, the chefs and banqueting team have prepared and delivered many wedding breakfasts, while the days were marked by the arrival of beautiful flower arrangements, large bows for chair coverings and musicians beginning to set up.
THE HISTORY OF HIGHCLERE CASTLE
The first records of the estate go back to 749 when an Anglo-Saxon King granted the estate to the Bishops of Winchester. Bishop William of Wykeham built a beautiful medieval palace and gardens on the park.
Later, the palace was rebuilt as Highclere Place House in 1679 when it was purchased by Sir Robert Sawyer, Attorney General to Charles II and James II and direct grandfather of the current Earl.
In 1771, ‘Capability’ Brown made plans for the alteration of the grounds, water and symmetrical Georgian house at Highclere for the 1st Earl of Carnarvon.
In 1842, Sir Charles Barry – who was also working on the Houses of Parliament at the time – finished his final designs for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon, transforming Highclere Place House into Highclere Castle.
‘Now, sadly, that is all a thing of the past. We have taken the decision to pause the majority of the wedding business – we’ve had to.
‘Brexit has caused such a retraction of people available to work in the hospitality business, that we realised we simply cannot guarantee that we can find enough staff to put on an event of the quality that we would want.’
‘We have tried everything,’ she said. ‘But there is no point pursuing the quest any further.
‘Staff shortages have led to rising employment costs, combined with the fact that, lately, almost every cost imaginable has risen more than any of us might have thought or feared. We are not the only ones struggling with such matters in the hospitality business.’
Lady Carnarvon said Brexit had affected the hospitality trade, as European students studying in the UK could ‘easily fill gaps’ throughout the summer, the peak wedding season.
‘But they are now faced with a 30-page form to apply to work in the UK.
‘It is a huge own-goal on our part and I really cannot judge the students concerned for being disinclined to deal with so much bureaucracy simply for a holiday job,’ she said.
The stately home will continue to host small weddings for under 20 guests, of which one is planned next year.
Highclere, built by Charles Barry, the same architect who redesigned the Houses of Parliament, is visited by tourists from all over the world after the success of Downton Abbey.
Downton’s cast, including Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery, were filmed strolling around the grounds for the series, which has been watched by more than 120 million viewers worldwide and was also turned into two money-spinning movies.
The cast of the hit ITV drama Downton Abbey which was filmed at Highclere Castle
ITV series Downton Abbey and its follow-up movies were famous for their romances and wedding scenes
The Countess of Carnarvon noted with some irony how many of the storylines in the hit TV series had focused upon weddings, which became a large part of the estate’s business.
‘In Downton, it seemed as if almost every cast member was able to walk up the aisle at some point — from the scandalous match of Lady Sybil and the chauffeur Branson, to the below-stairs tribulations of Anna and Bates; as well as the romance of Mrs Hughes and Carson, the tribulations of Lady Mary (and in the end, thank goodness, even Lady Edith managed to get married).’
Lady Carnarvon’s concerns were echoed by business groups, who pointed out the shortage of workers in some of the UK’s key sectors.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said ‘We have a problem across the economy.
‘There is a mismatch in the UK between the number of jobs and the number of people who are looking for work.’
Jane Gratton of the British Chambers of Commerce said ‘Politicians need to be realistic about the skills we need from outside the UK.
‘Brexit has given us control of our borders and the government must use the appropriate levers to help struggling businesses get the people they need.’
But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said ‘The UK cannot rely solely on overseas labour. We are investing an additional £3.8bn into skills and further education in England over this Parliament to ensure workers can develop the skills businesses need.’