Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Estate History 08/18/19

Written By Amy Dangelico

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition ended September 7, 2020. Please enjoy this archived content.

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 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 House
The 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.

Detail of electrical switchboard in the sub-basement of Biltmore House

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 House
Restoring 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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Joanne Garcia
3 years ago

I absolutely love that the Biltmore is still a working farm/home! I’ve been going there since I was a little girl when they first opened the estate (I’m 66 now)….I loved seeing the kitchen area so much, and always said, not joking, I wish I’d been a kitchen worker there. Everything so orderly and important to the estate to have a fully functioning kitchen/staff for important dinners as well as every day. Wish I lived closer so I could get a seasonal pass to enjoy, instead of once or twice every couple of years. It frees my soul when I… Read more »

Ted M. Glasgow
3 years ago

Amy–where did Biltmore post quoting from a letter of Chauncey Beadle in 1908 offering carriages/tack/horses for sale back to the company that had supplied them, as Mr. Vanderbilt was moving towards purchasing automobiles. Know that I read it at some point somewhere, but cannot find it in a blog archive…

3 years ago

Can’t wait.. love History of Biltmore and the elegance of the past.. reading the last castle right now.. has a lot of history of the family and home

Mary Puett
2 years ago

We went to the Downton Abby Exhibit this week. The way the exhibit navigated regarding how the cast members were introduced and how their rolls were explained, was done very well. The sets were exceptional, including the notes on how the series was filmed in the kitchen scenes. The dining room set took my breath away. Thanks for bringing this exhibit to the Biltmore. The Downton Abby Exhibit and series gives more insight to the Vanderbilt’s life on the estate.

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