The real estate that "plays" Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, has been the home of the Herbert family since 1679. In 1922, George Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, co-discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. On the show, the names of the Earl of Grantham's beloved dogs, Pharaoh and Isis, are nods to the real castle's connection to Egyptian history.
Cast members of the show have revealed that the costumes are, in many cases, actual articles of clothing from the 1910s and 1920s. They are so fragile that they cannot be laundered, and as a result, don't smell very good.
The series is filmed at Highclere Castle, set on 1,000 acres in Hampshire, a landmark estate owned by the Herbert family, the Earls of Carnarvon, since the late 17th century. It's open to the public during the summer, and can be rented for weddings and other events. The kitchen and downstairs were shot in a London studio because those parts of Highclere have been modernized. The servants' quarters were shot at the studio because the upper floors at Highclere are in need of repair.
During the second season, the Abbey is turned into a recovery house for troops. At Highclere Castle, the house used for the show, the Countess of Carnarvon during World War I turned the house into a hospital. Unlike Cora Crawley, the Countess eagerly opened her home and there are letters in some of the rooms from former patients thanking her for her hospitality.
Queen Elizabeth is among Royal fans of the show. She has spotted errors in various episodes, according to the Daily Telegraph. She noted a WWI soldier was wearing medals awarded in WWII. The Queen also has been a guest at Highclere Castle.
Costume designer Anna Robbins stated that she sources many vintage clothes for the show from trips home to her native Scotland, where second-hand stores are less picked-over. She also goes to Paris once a year to buy costumes.
According Joanne Froggatt, Anna originally meant to be a slightly older character, because they didn't want an age-gap between her and Bates. However they were so satisfied with Joanne, who is 17 years younger than Brendan Coyle, that the relationship of Anna and Bates was turned out to be a May-December romance.
In Disney's Cinderella (2015) Rose (James) and Daisy (McShera) play almost the opposite roles as they do in Downton. In Cinderella, James is a servant whilst McShera is an aristocrat. While in Downton James plays an aristocrat and McShera plays a servant.
When the first series was broadcast, Julian Fellowes, the creator and executive producer, was annoyed at newspaper articles which printed viewers' criticisms of anachronisms (e.g. TV aerials and double yellow lines in shot), especially the newspapers' assumptions that all such criticisms were valid. The word "boyfriend" was wrongly thought to be an anachronism when it first appeared in print in 1889, long before the time when Downton Abbey was set. At the time, he said "They think to show how smart they are by picking holes in the programme to promote their own poshness and to show that their knowledge is greater than your knowledge". However in an article in Radio Times on 17 September 2011, coinciding with the start of the second series, Fellowes apologised and commented "I behaved rather badly by getting the hump".
Julian Fellowes' inspiration for his original story came from authors such as Edith Wharton ("The Buccaneers") and close friend Henry James's general research of the novel's time period and subject matter. He also sourced the 1989 book "To Marry an English Lord". Elizabeth McGovern's character Cora, was the first one that he developed.
In the 2012 book "The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era," authors Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis clarify that although Cora's late father (who has been identified on the show as Isidore Levinson, a dry-goods magnate from Cincinnati, Ohio) was Jewish, her mother, Martha, was Episcopalian and raised Cora likewise.
Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman were in talks to guest star together on a episode of Downton Abbey as a married couple. Kate Winslet could not do it at the time because she was expecting a baby. Alan Rickman was interested but decided against it because Kate Winslet couldn't appear with him.
STV, the Scottish counterpart to ITV, refused to show the first series, instead ordering a six part mini series of the long-running show _"Taggart(1983)"_. After viewers complained, STV showed the first season, with the second immediately afterwards.
When appearing on The Graham Norton Show (2007) in 2015, Maggie Smith admitted (somewhat by coercion, more like) that she has never seen the show and was actually rather glad when her character's storyline came to an end.
When discussing the public viewing of Downton Abbey, Isobel (Penelope Wilton) mentions a scene in the novel "Pride and Prejudice" where main character Elizabeth Bennett tours Mr. Darcy's house. In real life, Wilton played the role of Elizabeth's aunt who tours the house with her in the film adaption, Pride & Prejudice (2005).
The TV series was inspired by the movie Gosford Park (2001), also written by Julian Fellowes, where Maggie Smith, Jeremy Swift, and Richard E. Grant also appeared. Maggie Smith and Jeremy Swift have similar roles in both.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Julian Fellowes admitted in an interview that he didn't know about Dan Stevens' intentions to leave the show until it was too late into the Mary/Matthew storyline, so the only option he had was to kill him to write him out of the show.
In series 5, Edith has a secret, out-of-wedlock daughter with a married man, places the girl up for adoption, and then "re-adopts" the child herself. Some viewers found the plot line implausible, but it bears a strong resemblance to a real-life story. In 1935, movie star Loretta Young, a very devout Catholic, had an affair with her married co-star, Clark Gable, and became pregnant. Because it would have ruined both her career and her reputation as a prim and proper "lady" (she used to fine her fellow actors for swearing on set), Young disappeared from Hollywood, had a baby girl named Judy, and placed her in an orphanage. Soon after, with great publicity and fanfare, she adopted Judy from the orphanage. Judy thought she had been adopted until she was an adult, and heard a rumor that she was actually Young's biological daughter. When she confronted her mother in 1966, Young admitted that Judy was her biological daughter, and Gable was her father. By then, Gable had been dead for 6 years.
Julian Fellowes revealed in an interview that the story of Pamuk dying and being dragged back to his room was based off a diary entry found in Highclere Castle during one of his stays at the house. He is good friends with the current Earl and Countess.
In 2014 and '15, several crew and cast members refuted the bizarre rumors that the on-screen death of Lord Grantham's dog Isis was motivated by an off-screen mandate to shed the name (which had lately been associated in the news with a terrorist group (ISIS in that case standing for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria"). Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), who was particularly impatient with and dismissive of these rumors, posted his rebuttal on his own website: "To clarify recent speculation, the labrador that appeared in Series One (1912-14) was a dog called Pharaoh. From Series Two (1916-1920) onwards, the labrador has been a bitch named - in keeping with the Egyptian theme - Isis. Anyone who genuinely believes the Series 5 storyline (1924) involving the animal was a reaction to recent world news is a complete berk." "Berk" is a British slang term meaning "idiot" or "fool," although its original meaning (from Cockney rhyming slang) was once much anatomically cruder.