How a Yorkshire childhood pointed the way to Downton

REGULAR viewers of Downton Abbey are used to hearing the familiar murmur of North Yorkshire place names.

Lord and Lady Grantham, their family and servants all utter the names of towns and places well known to Yorkshire people but there is much speculation about where in North Yorkshire writer Julian Fellowes had in mind when he chose to base the fictional series in the county.

Lady Sybil, Lord Grantham’s youngest, who died after giving birth to a daughter in the last series, was seen in earlier episodes going to York to nurse soldiers in hospital and Matthew Crawley arrived in the series with thoughts of a comfortable life as a solicitor in Ripon. While in the last series a signpost was spotted which said: “Thirsk six miles, Ripon nine miles.”

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On the eve of Downton Abbey’s Christmas special, Mr Fellowes has helped the Yorkshire Post narrow down the places he had in mind when he created his much-loved stately triumph.

A spokeswoman for the series said: “There isn’t one particular town that Julian chose as an inspiration for Downton but it is right to say it is near Ripon, Thirsk and he says Easingwold would come into play too.”

The Christmas Day episode, which will be shown on ITV1 at 8.45pm, will again make reference to North Yorkshire with characters attending a country show in Thirsk.

Filming actually takes place at Highclere Castle, near Newbury in Berkshire, and at London’s Ealing Studios.

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Mr Fellowes was a student at Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire and has said places such as Ripon, Thirsk and Easingwold, all figured in his childhood and teenage years.

ITV drama director Laura Mackie has warned that Downton fans should prepare themselves for a two-hour Christmas Day special filled with both laughter and tears.

“We hope the Downton family of viewers will gather together to watch this major TV event as a shared Christmas night experience,” she said.

Viewers will see Lord and Lady Grantham and family heading for a summer break in the Highlands of Scotland, leaving most of their servants at home.

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Duneagle is the home of headstrong Lady Rose, played by Lily James, who was sent home in the last episode of series three after her dalliance with a married man.

The castle is apparently a step up from Downton, with deer stalking and fishing also taking place in the stunning surrounding Scottish countryside.

During the special episode Lady Edith, discovers that newspaper editor Michael Gregson also happens to be on holiday in Scotland and may not be there just for the sketching and fishing.

The episode’s Scottish scenes were shot on location at Inveraray Castle, the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyll, chief of the Clan Campbell.

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Meanwhile back in Yorkshire, butler Mr Carson, played by Jim Carter, faces the task of keeping the household servants concentrated on their work polishing the silverware and cleaning the rooms.

But with the family away, minds begin to wander to other things – including the forthcoming Thirsk Country Fair.

New housemaid Edna, played by MyAnna Buring, joins the restless servants around their big table as they look forward to the country fair

“While the cat’s away, the mice will play,” said executive producer Gareth Neame.

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“The Grantham’s do not live at Downton Abbey 12 months of the year.

“They would go to London for the summer season and also go away on holidays like this,” he said.

Downton Abbey has become a worldwide success story and is screened in more than 200 countries.

ITV recently announced that Downton Abbey will return to TV screens in 2013. Filming eight new episodes for next autumn as well as an extended special episode for next Christmas begins in February with the fourth series continuing the story of the Crawley family and their servants into the early 1920s.

Mr Neame said well-loved characters both above and below stairs will return and some new faces will be introduced.