It’s currently best known as the Dower House in Downton Abbey, the place where the waspish Dowager Countess of Grantham dispenses some of her wittiest and most withering put downs but in times past it has seen kings, queens, princes and princesses at play in its surrounds. And now Byfleet Manor in Surrey is making headlines again as it stars in a multi million pound sale.
The Manor and other lots on the estate recently sold for £5.95 million and the new owners are taking possession just as Downton’s reign there comes to an end – the hit TV show has just begun its final run on ITV1. For the five years that Downton Abbey has run – winning global audiences of tens of millions – the Manor has been known as the home of Dame Maggie Smith’s character, Violet, but its history has even more illustrious names to boast.
A manor was first recorded at Byfleet in the Domesday Book, the survey of his new kingdom taken by William the Conqueror in 1086. The ill fated King Edward II is recorded as staying at Byfleet Manor and it became a Dower House for the first time in the reign of Edward III who passed the building to his mother, Isabella, when she was forced from public life after her attempts to control the Crown. It is also reported to have been a childhood home of Henry VIII and it was one of the estates given to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, following their divorce in 1533.
The last known royal owner of Byfleet was Anne of Denmark, consort of James I, who died in 1619. The current Manor was largely constructed in 1686 although parts of its predecessors were incorporated into the new building.
Byfleet Manor was last on sale a decade ago when it was bought by businesswoman Julie Hutton who renovated the estate and held Downton themed events there. Simon Ashwell of Savills Weybridge who sold the property described the manor as ‘iconic’ and added ”we’re thrilled the buyer has purchased all five lots, rather than the main house being separated from the remainder of this historic estate…as Downton Abbey draws to end with the start of the final series, so begins a new chapter for the house.”
And it is a chapter in a very long history with links to royalty through centuries past as well as a very famous fictitious aristocrat whose witty words of wisdom will be quoted for years to come.