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Here is a revisit to my blog giving the history of ancient buildings used in scenes in Downton Abbey and lots more about the lovely Cotswolds village of Bampton.
A Downton Day Out
A Tour of Bampton’s Downton Abbey Locations
The charming village of Bampton in the Cotswolds is used as a background to a number of outdoor scenes in the immensely successful television series Downton Abbey and this lovely spot is well worth a visit. Not only is it interesting to see where scenes of Downton Abbey are shot but there are many other attractions in Bampton that would make a leisurely sojourn there very memorable.
Bampton, or as it was once known Bampton-in-the-Bush, is situated in the county of Oxfordshire in the Thames Valley and is about four and a half miles southwest of Witney.
Visitors strolling around Bampton will recognize a number of buildings and streets that were used in scenes in Downton Abbey.
St. Mary’s Church
One of the locations frequently filmed in the series is Bampton’s church, St Mary of the Virgin which dates from the 12th Century. This church, like many ancient buildings in Britain was built on the foundations of an earlier structure and incorporates parts of the older building in the new edifice. In this case, St. Mary’s church was erected on the site of an Anglo-Saxon Minster. The tower was the only feature of the Minster that was spared and it is now part of the Church. St. Mary’s is also distinguished by its magnificent 13th Century spire.
William the Conqueror gave this church to the Bishop of Exeter and it has been rebuilt and added to many times through the centuries.
Another location used in filming is Bampton Library which was used as the entrance to the cottage hospital that was portrayed in the second series of Downton Abbey.
According to Pevsner and Sherwood’s book The Buildings of England this library was once the Grammar school of St. Mary’s church and was built in 1653.
Isobel Crawley’s house
The Old Rectory which is close by St. Mary’s Church is used for the exterior shots of Isobel Crawley’s house in Downton Abbey. The south side of this building is late 17th Century and features five bays. The back of the house is older with a 16th century arched stone doorway and in the garden wall there is a stone inscribed with the date 1546. Next to the Rectory are 17th Century stables with a gabled dovecote built over them.
The interior scenes of Isobel Crawley’s house, however, are filmed at Hall Place near Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire.
Downton Abbey’s conception
The series is set in the fictional Downton Abbey, a Yorkshire country house, the grand home of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, and follows the lives and fortunes of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants through the reign of King George V.
Gareth Neame of Carnival Films originally conceived the idea of an Edwardian-era TV drama set in a country house and suggested this concept to Julian Fellowes, who had won an Academy Award for Best Writing in the category of Original Screenplay for Gosford Park.
Shortly, thereafter, Julian Fellowes gave Gareth Neame an outline of the first series. Julian Fellowes writes the series, and his wife Emma acts as his story editor.
Bampton Annual Events
In addition to Bampton being used for locations of Downton Abbey this beautiful town features plenty of Cotswolds character and is well known for several quaint traditions that take place every year and have been doing so for the past several centuries. Visitors would do well to time a visit to take in one or more of these fun-filled events after viewing the Downton locations.
Bampton Shirt Race
Once a year, on the Saturday of the Spring Bank Holiday there is a bizarre pub crawl organized by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Junketing known as The Bampton Shirt Race. In past times the runners in this race were dressed in night-gowns and would compete in pairs with one runner pushing the other in a trolley. There was a time when there were fourteen pubs in Bampton and the race stops at every location for the competitors to down a large quaff of beer. Many of those public houses have now been converted to private residences but a stop at these former pubs is still included in the race. Nowadays, the race consists of larger teams using many different kinds of cobbled-together wheeled vehicles, such as prams, wheelbarrows and even wheelybins. These are used to transport the competitors who are costumed in outlandish fancy dress. There are prizes for the best outfits.
Bampton is well known for its Morris dancing which has been practiced in the village since the late eighteenth century. The town supports three world-renowned Morris Dance teams and the dancing is performed throughout the Monday of the Spring Bank Holiday in the latter part of May, beginning at 8.30 a.m. In the evening, visiting teams join in the dancing. Much is made of the traditional fertility cake which everyone samples as it is carried around the streets with the dancers.
The charming tradition of May Garland making by the children of Bampton began several centuries ago. It takes place at 11a.m. in the market square on the Monday of the Spring Bank Holiday.
A Donkey Derby is run on the Monday of the August Bank Holiday, and organized by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Junketing. This begins at 2 p.m. at Sandford’s Field. In addition to the donkey races (all the jockeys are children) there are bric-a-brac stalls, skittles, Aunt Sally, crockery smashing and much more.
The Mummers perform plays on Christmas Eve every year. These plays have been performed since the nineteenth century in Bampton but are most likely much older. These dramas have been handed down through family tradition by word of mouth as no scripts exist. In the Bampton version there are ten characters including Robin Hood, Father Christmas, a Prussian King, St. George etc. The plays are uniquely performed in two acts instead of the customary one. Pagan rituals may have figured in the original plays as the plot involves many scenes of characters being finished off and then magically being brought back to life. This could perhaps symbolize the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. Watching the Mummers perform is a wonderful highlight of the Christmas season.
Ladies of Downton Abbey
Bampton Pubs and Restaurants
After all this fun a little refreshment might be in order.
The Romany Inn On Bridge Street in Bampton is an unassuming pub serving typical but good pub food. Accomodation available. www.TripAdvisor.com
The Horse Shoes On the High Street in Bampton. No food or accommodation http://www.bamptonoxon- parishcouncil.gov.uk
The Trout at Tadpole Bridge Is well known for its fine dining and serves the best food for miles around. It is just five minutes’ drive down the road from Bampton in Buckland Marsh Diners come as far away as London to eat at this excellent riverside gastro-pub. In summer there are tables in the garden which leads down to the Thames. Stroll by the river with a pre-dinner drink. Accommodation available. www.trout-inn.co.uk
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