Wentworth Woodhouse reveal incredible photos of 1912 royal visit that inspired the Downton Abbey film

Wentworth Woodhouse
Wentworth Woodhouse
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The owners of Yorkshire stately home Wentworth Woodhouse have opened their archives to mark the release of the new Downton Abbey film on Friday.

The movie, which is set in 1927, was filmed at the Grade I-listed mansion near Rotherham. The house's Marble Saloon was where scenes of a dance in an opulent ballroom were shot.

The 1912 house party pictured outside Wentworth Woodhouse

The 1912 house party pictured outside Wentworth Woodhouse

Writer Julian Fellowes, who created the original ITV period drama that ran from 2010-2015, later revealed that the plot of the feature film, which hits cinemas today (Friday), was inspired by a 1912 visit by King George V and Queen Mary to Wentworth, where they were guests of the Earl Fitzwilliam.

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In Downton, King George V - who was still on the throne in 1927 - visits Lord and Lady Grantham at their fictional North Yorkshire country house.

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, who bought the house for the nation in 2017, have now released photographs taken of the royal party during the 1912 tour of Yorkshire. They show the couple visiting Elsecar Colliery and large groups of Fitzwilliam employees, including a brass band, gathering in the parkland for the occasion.

They acquired the collection after Roy Young, a schoolmaster from the estate village and local historian, donated his personal archives to the Trust after his death last year. They included albums of picture postcards from the early decades of the 20th century, as well as press cuttings. Staff are currently cataloguing the items.

The King and Queen arrive at Doncaster Station for the 1912 visit to Yorkshire

The King and Queen arrive at Doncaster Station for the 1912 visit to Yorkshire

Wentworth's archivist David Allott said:-

"Roy Young's material provided us with some very valuable information. We didn't really have any archives before - the Fitzwilliam family records were donated to Sheffield's city archives in 1949. We can access them but we didn't have anything of our own.

"We have had some items from the family's descendants on loan, and we hope they will donate more as we take the house through the next part of its history. Lady Juliet - the 'last Fitzwilliam' and daughter of the eighth Earl - is 83 now, but she's very proud of the family's past."

Wentworth Woodhouse's restored gardens are now open to the public
The King and Queen chose to stay at Wentworth because there were few properties large and grand enough to accommodate them in Yorkshire's industrial heartlands, as the purpose of the visit was to tour collieries, factories and foundries at a time of social and political unrest.

King George V at Elsecar Colliery

King George V at Elsecar Colliery

They travelled by train from London, alighting at Doncaster Station and heading to Conisbrough Castle, now an English Heritage property, for tea. The Fitzwilliams invited 34 guests to make up the house party, including the Archbishop of York and several Yorkshire aristocrats. Among those present were the Earl and Countess of Harewood, whose son and heir, Henry Lascelles, would later marry the King's only daughter, Princess Mary. The Marquess and Marchioness of Zetland, whose seat is at Aske Hall in Richmond, attended, as did the Lane Fox family, owners of Bramham Park near Wetherby.

During the King's stay, a ball was held in the Marble Saloon, and the ballerina Anna Pavlova performed for the royal party. This dance was recreated for the Downton Abbey film; 150 extras and a band to appear in the scene, which can be seen in the movie trailer. The Marble Saloon has suffered from dry rot and water damage during the years since the Fitzwilliams sold their ancestral seat, but retains much of its magnificent grandeur.

Fellowes believes that a royal tour and country house visit would still have been appropriate in the inter-war years, when many of the European royal families were reeling from social unrest and revolution which threatened the future of monarchical rule.

As the fictional Downton estate is in Yorkshire, he also felt the 'parallel' between the two events was appropriate. Royal parties travelled with a large entourage of servants, private secretaries, equerries and other retainers, and Fellowes saw the visit as providing plenty of material for a multi-faceted plot involving rivalries between the King's and the Crawleys' staff, who would have been challenged to host an occasion on an almost overwhelmingly lavish scale.

Army reservists march past Wentworth during the royal visit

Army reservists march past Wentworth during the royal visit

The 1912 tour culminated in a musical performance on the lawns in front of Wentworth, when 25,000 people crowded into the park hoping for the glimpse of the royal couple on a balcony. The National Anthem was sung and the King gave a speech.

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Filming Downton Abbey at Wentworth Woodhouse

"It was like stepping back in time".

Tracy, a volunteer at Wentworth Woodhouse, speaks in awed tones when she recalls the day Downton Abbey came to Wentworth last year.

She looked on as some of the most famous faces in British television drama crowded into the Marble Saloon, perhaps the most opulent room in the whole mansion.

They stayed in Tankersley Manor Hotel while shooting one of the movie's most stunning scenes - a ball.

Over 150 extras dressed as footmen and waiters crammed into the room and a band played for the cast as they danced.

Back in 1912, the Marble Saloon, with its sprung dancefloor and galleried landings, was the focal point of the programme of entertainment laid on for King George V and Queen Mary. The most famous ballerina of the age, Anna Pavlova, was invited to perform.

Another scene that appear in the trailer shows a couple dancing on an outdoor terrace at Harewood House, near Leeds.

Harewood was a house of similar stature to Wentworth in 1912, as both were the seats of an Earl.

Harewood also had close links to the Royal Family in the 1920s, when the film is set.

By this time, Princess Mary, the King's daughter, was married to Henry Lascelles, heir to the Harewood earldom - he would inherit the title in 1929. They had two sons.

The marriage meant the King and Queen were regular visitors to both Harewood and the couple's first marital home, Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough.

The Lascelles family were also in the Fitzwilliams' social circle.

Visiting Wentworth

The Fitzwilliam family rented Wentworth out after World War Two, and it has also had two private owners.

After the death of the most recent owner, the house was purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust in 2017. The charity aims to fully restore the house and gardens and open them to the public for the first time.

Currently, pre-booked tours of limited areas of the house and grounds are available, and there is a cafe and gift shop.