The spires of Highclere Castle set the elegant tone of the PBS Masterpiece TV series Downton Abbey (see my post: “My Pilgrimage to the Real Downton Abbey”) but fans of the show and movie want to know more. Anytime one of the show’s characters has business in Downton village, the Oxfordshire town of Bampton gets its turn in the spotlight.
As of 2013, a fair, two weddings, and a funeral have been among the big events filmed in Bampton, just 20 miles west of the city of Oxford. When my husband and I discovered that the National Trust cottage we rented for three days was just 15 minutes away, we were ecstatic that we could see another piece of Downton Abbey lore.
A Photogenic Church
We arrived in town just about teatime, parked in the market square, and had tea and scones at the Bampton Coffee House. There we got directions, but as we left, the church bells began tolling exuberantly.
We simply followed their sound as we wandered down pretty Church Street until we arrived at St. Mary the Virgin, a 12th-century parish church with Romanesque architecture. No doubt about it: this was the church where Lady Edith took Matthew sightseeing during Downton Abbey’s season 1—when she was hoping he would woo her instead of her sister Mary.
The church’s TV-land alter-ego is St. Michael’s and All Angels, and its interior and exterior have appeared on American tellies most famously as the scene of Lavinia’s burial (season 2), Mary and Matthew’s nuptials (season 3), and Edith’s jilting at the altar (also season 3).
On the August afternoon we visited, the church bells were pealing for a real wedding. We watched as the bride and groom had some last photos taken before braving the gauntlet of rice-throwing wedding guests and into a vintage Rolls Royce.
Then Ken and I wandered inside the church as the wedding candles were extinguished and the flower arrangements carried away. The sanctuary has a lovely pipe organ, elegant stone arches, vaulted ceiling, stained glass, and ornate pews. (We also picked up a free, photocopied guide of Downton Abbey locations in Bampton, which helped us with the rest of our impromptu tour.)
Outside, the little churchyard is dotted by lichen-covered tombstones and a few red-berried hawthorns. We speculated that Matthew and Mary would be wed in this church—but we had to wait until January 2013 to confirm that.
Strolling with the Granthams and Crawleys
All the Downton Abbey scenes filmed in Bampton are confined to the picturesque Church View lane, a row of old buildings, houses, and stone walls. Right beside the church is Churchgate House, which serves as the exterior for the Crawley house where Isobel and Matthew lived. (The interiors are filmed elsewhere.)
Just outside the churchyard walls is the church green—with a huge tree and park bench that often shows up in the TV series. This area was the setting for the fair, which was featured in a season 1 episode in which Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, met an old beau.
Next comes the Bampton Library, which for TV’s purposes sheds its literary facade and poses as a medical building. The library is the exterior for Downton Hospital where Dr. Clarkson treats villagers and the wounded soldiers during WWI.
So, when Mrs. Hughes walks up to the hospital for her cancer checkup, that’s Bampton’s library you see. If it’s open, visitors can go in; the library sells souvenir postcards and Downton Abbey books there.[Nice to know: The library might have closed by now from lack of funding for upkeep and repairs, but donations are helping save it, including a £20,000 donation to the village of Bampton from the Downton Abbey production company and fundraisers endorsed by cast members (including actor Hugh Bonneville).]
Finally we ambled down Church View Road, noticing doorways that become the Downton Post Office and the Dog & Duck pub. It’s fun seeing locations that look vaguely familiar…but not quite. After we returned to the States, we watched reruns of the early episodes and paused the DVD player so we could see spots where modern fire hydrants were covered by bushes or fake postboxes to complete the early-20th-century look.
Before the Downton Abbey craze hit, Bampton was a sleepy town known for its morris dancers (traditional folk dancers who wear bells on their shins), its May flower-garland festival, and the colony of swifts that nests in the village every summer. Bampton was quiet when we visited in 2012, but with the show’s popularity, tour buses now stop there.
Bampton, one of England’s oldest towns, has a number of pubs, inns, and B&Bs, so it would be a nice place to spend a few days. (It’s within an easy drive or bus ride from other quaint Oxfordshire Cotswold villages such as Burford, Lechlade-on-Thames, and Minster Lovell, so there’s plenty to do in the area.)
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
For more information, check out Visit Oxfordshire’s website.
Originally posted: February 2013
Updated: September 2019
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Nice article. I hope to get Mike there to see this town. Such a fun setting. He would kill me if he knew I’m telling you this but he shed some tears when Sybil died. Lets just call him Ole softy”. . It was sad though. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.
Biking through the Cotswolds would be a great trip for you and “Ole Softy”!
What a great article! I loved the bit about covering the modern intrusions with bushes and post boxes.
I’ve always been fascinated with movie “magic” and how film crews create the art of illusion. It’s easier, of course, when the film locations are beautiful to begin with!
I am going to have to go now. I am such a fan of this show and Midsomer Murders.
Thanks Laurel! Happy to see another DA fan. I’m addicted, but so sad from last week’s show.
I always love when the show takes a time out from Downton and ventures into the village–much more grounded and quaint. Can’t wait to visit on my own. Right now though I am trying to perk up from the last heavy episode–man, what a bummer. Will look closer now that I know where I am looking. thanks!
Your descriptive accounts are getting better all the time. The one on Downton Village makes me want to read all of your travel writings. Dad
I love Downton Abbey and am heartened to know so many other Americans do as well! Seeing the local sites in your fabulous pictures gives me an entirely new perspective on the challenges of film-making…knowing the relative dimness of these old churches, the ongoing seasonal challenges of the UK in general (ahem!), and the fact that Highclere is a real home as well as a major tourist destination means having to navigate a million details just to get one good, solid scene! Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos!
Yes, and last summer was particularly wet in England, so I’ll bet filming outdoor scenes was a challenge. I imagine they’ll be shooting Season 4 in April…I’ve noticed that in many scenes from past seasons, the deciduous trees are just getting leaves.
They’re back filming on the 28th February 🙂
My mom,sister and I are planning a vacation in Bampton soon and wouldnt it be wonderful to witness the filming of our favorite Downton Abbey series. When do you think is the best time to visit?
Judging by the outdoor scenes, filming for Downton Abbey occurs in very early spring until early summer.
Thank you for the info Miss Kallenbach.
I sincerely enjoy reading your articles. Aside from being a Downton Abbey fan , your descriptive narrative about Bampton and Highclere inspired me to go and visit.
I shall look forward to read more of your writings to get inspirations for my next travel.
Susan from Va., USA
“Mum” and I are traveling to Windsor and London in May and would like to visit Bampton because we are huge fans of Downton Abbey. The problem is that I can only find trains to Oxford and I can’t seem to find any bus service out to Bampton. Is there a tour from either London or Windsor that stops in Bampton? Thanks!
Yes, the number 18 bus will bring you to Bampton. Lovely ride through some West Oxfordshire villages.
Your website is the only one I could find with photos and info on Bampton as the village relates to Downton Abbey. Thanks so much!!
On December 7, 2013, Bampton is holding a fundraising Carol Concert in St Mary’s to raise money for ChildLine/NSPCC. I was wondering if you would allow us to use one of your lovely photos of the church for our invitations and flyers.
Yes, you may use a Bampton photo free of charge for your fund-raising materials.
Because Visit Oxfordshire helped support my trip to Bampton and other Downton Abbey-themed locations, I’d like to give them some credit. So, could you add a small credit line either under the photo and/or in the list of donors? Something along the lines of “The photo of St. Mary’s by Laurel Kallenbach was donated on behalf of Visit Oxfordshire.”
Feels like I’m there with you AND in the show! Lovely visuals and vivid descriptions throughout. Thank you for taking us along!
Cool article, Laurel! Did you see they’re opening the main house in the show to people via Airbnb? It looked pretty affordable too!
Thanks for pointing this out, Julie! The Airbnb promotion is for just two people on one night in November. However, they do get a butler and it does include dinner with the Count and Countess Carnarvon!!! The downside: there is no WiFi in Highclere Castle.
I just saw the Downton Abbey movie and really loved it. So many scenes reminded me of my trip to Highclere Castle and to Bampton, where the Downton Abbey town scenes are filmed.