Ventfort -Tea & Talk with Curt DiCamillo: “Lords, Ladies & Mummies: The Story of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey”

January 12, 2013 @ 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Lenox High School - Duffin Theatre
197 East Street
Lenox, MA 01240
$30 in advance, $35 day of


LENOX, MA.   Due to an overwhelming response to the visual lecture titled “Lords, Ladies & Mummies: The Story of Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey” the talk will be presented in the auditorium of the Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, 197 East Street, Lenox, at the established time of 3:00pm, Saturday, January 12.  Curt DiCamillo, who is an architectural historian and a recognized authority on the British country house, continues to be the speaker.  His talk coincides with the presentation of the third season of the highly popular fictional television series Downton Abbey. 

Following the talk, the audience will move to Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum, 104 Walker Street, for a Victorian High Tea where DiCamillo will be on hand for questions and answers.   Along with tea and punch, Ventfort Hall’s Tea and Talk Volunteer Committee has prepared a menu that includes such savories as cucumbers on white bread, egg salad on white, pimento on pumpernickel, pastrami on rye, spicy chicken on whole wheat, ham on white and whole wheat, as well as sweets including meringue, cream and raspberry pasteries, lemon bars, chocolate cookies, short bread cookies, coffee walnut cookies, lemon cakes, vanilla pound cakes, Swedish fruit cakes and Swedish spice cakes, dried fruit and more. 

Although famous today as the country house depicted in the Downton Abbey program, Highclere Castle in Berkshire County, England, has a rich and fascinating history that reaches far beyond its television fame.  The estate, since 1672, has been owned by the Herbert family, later Earls of Carnarvon. 

A major transformation on an earlier 18th century Georgian mansion was made in the 1840s by Charles Barry, who was also in the process of designing the Houses of Parliament in London.  Highclere’s exterior is decorated with features inspired by Renaissance architecture, while the famous Great Hall, viewed in so many program scenes, is modeled on an Italian Renaissance central courtyard.  The lavish interiors incorporated the family’s collections, including a 14-foot-high Van Dyck portrait of Charles I, Napoleon’s desk and a library (also viewed frequently) holding over 5,500 books.

Later renovations occurred under Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, one of the richest men in late 19th century England.  Lady Almina’s husband, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, financed the 1922 Egyptian expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen, before he succumbed to a sudden death that led to the legend of “the Mummy’s Curse.”  Highclere contains the 5th Earl’s collection of Egyptian treasures, some of which were only rediscovered in the house in 1988.

DiCamillo will explain how the fictional Downton plotline has unexpected echoes to Highclere’s unique and complex history.  He will also explore castle’s link to other Victorian country houses, including Mentmore Towers and Cliveden, made famous under the ownership of the Astors. 

DiCamillo has written and lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad on the subject of the British country house and has taught classes on British culture and art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Since 1999 he has maintained an award-winning database on the web, the DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses (  The database seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish country house ever built.

In recognition of his work, DiCamillo has been presented to the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother and The Prince of Wales.  The speaker served for eight years as executive director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston.  He is a member of The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Reservations made in advance of the “The Real Downton Abbey” Tea and Talk are $30 per person and admission at the door of the day of the program is $35. Cash only will be accepted at the door. For further information or reservations call Ventfort Hall at 413-637-3206 or click on to