Quiet on the Set!

What it's like to live at the real Downton Abbey

Nick Briggs—ITV for Masterpiece

As the countess of highclere castle, the grand home that is also the set of the lavish Edwardian TV drama Downton Abbey, Fiona Carnarvon needs to demonstrate grace under fire. In the spring, about 120 crew members descend on her 6,000-acre (2,400 hectare) estate. They drag miles of black cables across her lawns, place hot lamps near the 400-year-old leather wall coverings and swing camera cranes dangerously close to intricate wood carvings. "It's a complete takeover," she says, seated on a floral-print couch beneath a chandelier. "And it's always utter chaos." If crew members dare to lift the family's antique chairs--including...

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