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Real life Downton Abbey furnishings and tea with Lord Spencer of Althorp

Althorp Living History collection includes reproductions from the family's manor home, including the crested tea caddy embellished with the Spencer family crest.
Althorp Living History collection includes reproductions from the family's manor home, including the crested tea caddy embellished with the Spencer family crest.
bj gulley

Charles, Ninth Earl Spencer, visited Royal Oak’s Scott Shuptrine Interiors yesterday for afternoon tea and a discussion of the Althorp Living History furniture collection. Inspired by the childhood home of Lord Spencer and his sister, the late Princess Diana, the collection is based on more than 500 years of living history from the family’s manor home in Northampton, approximately seventy-five miles northwest of London.

Charles, Ninth Earl of Spencer discusses Althorp manor and furnishings over tea
bj gulley

In an exclusive interview with The Examiner, Lord Spencer met with us yesterday to talk about the Althorp collection and tea. Tall in stature, and in full possession of patrician grace, he spoke with charm and humor, easily transitioning from speaking to a roomful of guests to chatting one-on-one.

Seated at upholstered chairs alongside one of the elegant desks from the Althorp collection, we began our conversation with tea. Lord Spencer’s favorite is Japanese Green tea. When asked which room at Althorp is his favorite spot for tea, he didn’t hesitate to respond. “The library - it is a grand room and it’s where the family gathers.”

A friend of Julian Fellows, creator of the Downton Abbey series, Lord Spencer said he doesn’t watch the popular television period drama. “I’m probably the only one,” he says with a quick smile. He admits to watching the end of season three which he found “terribly sad.”

The Althorp estate, like the real Downton Abbey home of Highclere Castle, was featured on PBS’ “Secret of Manor House Series”. In “Secrets of Althorp”, Lord Spencer shares memories of visiting the estate as a child and, now, as current resident-in-charge, provides a description of many of the paintings and other collector items in the home, including a chocolate/tea set once owned by Marie Antoinette.

Asked if the family uses the set, Lord Spencer says no. “I’m not sure if the scale came across on the show but it’s very small. It’s delicate – deliciously delicate.”

One of the pieces of special interest to tea enthusiasts from the Althorp collection is the “crested caddy”. Made with rosewood crossbanding, the tea storage box is a detailed reproduction of the original George III (circa 1790) piece, complete with lock and tassel-bearing key. At the time of the original’s construction, tea was expensive and literally kept under lock and key to keep it safe from the servants who may have been tempted to pilfer the contents for profit.

The Althorp crested cady gets its name from the embellished Spencer family crest on the top of the box. There is a gold crown over a Griffen. “We had it long before Harry Potter stole it from us”, the Lord Spencer says with a laugh.

Good looks, charm, and grace combined with a deep respect of history, the Althorp furniture collection is equal to Charles, Ninth Earl of Spencer himself.

All proceeds of the sales of the Althorp furniture collection go the upkeep of the Althorp Manor. See the Althorp Living History furniture collection at Scott Shuptrine website or the Althorp Manor website for more information.