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The Castle From ‘Downton Abbey’ Can’t Host Big Weddings Anymore—and Brexit Is to Blame

Highclere Castle is struggling to find staff. 

Highclere Castle downton abbey AFP via Getty Images

While the Crawley family may have had their fair share of loyal servants, the real-life Downton Abbey is struggling to find staff.  

Highclere Castle in England, which serves as the Emmy award-winning period drama’s primary filming location, has been unable to host grand, large-scale weddings because of an ongoing labor shortage. The estate owners, Countess Fiona Carnarvon and her husband, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, told Reuters that a lack of workers from the European Union is to blame. “We have stopped being able to offer any weddings of any substantial size because of Brexit. There are no staff.” 

Highclere’s recruitment difficulties aren’t due to a lack of talent. Rather, it’s because it can no longer rely on employing EU university students coming to the UK to fill open positions. In 2021, admissions decreased by 50 percent, while applications saw a steep 40 percent drop. “When we go to our usual agencies and try to find people, they are not there,” the countess told the news agency. “If we asked for 10, three might turn up… there’s nobody we haven’t asked.” 

The countess added that in years past, the venue had the capacity to accommodate 25 weddings a season with more than 100 guests in attendance. Now, the number of guests has shrunk to roughly 20. While smaller affairs are still possible, it has proven too costly and is no longer a vital part of the castle’s revenue stream.  

In fact, the castle has a few additional sources of income up its sleeve, like a gift shop and afternoon tea service. Though, those too have also admittedly seen better days. However, Carnarvon told Reuters that she’s particularly excited about the popularity of Highclere Castle Gin in the U.S.—a spirit that features botanicals grown on-site at the Hampshire estate. “It’s beginning, it’s nascent, but it’s a business which using our brand, can generate revenue to support us, hopefully, in the future.” 

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