“Secrets of Althorp: The Spencers” aired on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) on Monday with re-runs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Actual air time varied based on viewers’ locations.
The documentary takes the viewer on a tour of Althorp, the home of the Spencer family since the 16th century, escorted by its current owner, the 9th Earl Spencer.
The interior of the home boasts an impressive collection of priceless works of art by famous artists and of rare and old books (including many first editions and works of authors like Shakespeare). Among the priceless paintings in a prominent position in the gallery are those of the current Earl and his famous older sister, Diana, Princess of Wales, whose 1981 marriage to the Prince of Wales put the Spencers into the heart of royalty. The union produced “an heir (to the heir) and a spare,” Prince William (now Duke of Cambridge) and Prince Harry. The world now awaits the birth of Prince William’s first child, due this month.
The exterior of the home is a park-like setting, which is home to various animals such as a rare breed of deers. A well-visited spot is the final resting place of the late Princess, in a quiet, secluded island on the estate. The estate also hosts an exhibition on the life of the Princess, featuring family home videos and the dresses worn by Diana.
But perhaps more interesting than the imagery is the story of the family, told by the Earl Spencer and by the estates employees. The Earl spoke of the legacy of strong Spencer women such as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The documentary also revealed a close relationship between the Spencers and the Washingtons, the ancestors of America’s founding father, George Washington. The Washingtons lived in a manor 20 miles away.
Workers interviewed by the documentary crew said their families have been serving the Spencers for generations.
The documentary concluded with a story of how the family endured hard times in the early 20th century, a story similar to what viewers saw happen to the family residing at the fictional Downton Abbey.
Earl Spencer spoke of the necessity to adapt and work hard to keep his family home going. He recently completed a massive renovation project on the exterior of the house. He said he intends to do his best to keep the place up so he can pass it on the future generations.
The documentary is part of PBS’s series on England’s great manors.