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Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Posted on 08/18/2019 by Amy Dangelico

Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.

Archival image of state workers during harvest seasonArchival image of estate workers during harvest season at Biltmore, ca. 1900

A Working Estate

The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.

Servants' Hall in Biltmore HouseThe Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize

Household Staff

Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.

Call Box in the Butler’s Pantry of Biltmore House Left: Telephone in the Bulter's Pantry at Biltmore House; Right: Servant Call Box just outside of the Butler’s Pantry                                             

Technological Advancements

Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more. 

Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore HouseRestoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House

Preserving the Home

One of the primary themes in Downton Abbey is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.

Join us November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020 to experience Downton Abbey like never before—amid George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate—with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore.

Feature image: Biltmore House, ca. 1910

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