Downton Abbey star Hugh Bonneville backs plan to bring ex-school back to life

Article by Martin Elvery for the Oxford Times

5th January 2015
Source: Oxford Times

TELEVISION star Hugh Bonneville has backed a campaign to renovate a dilapidated historic building used in Downton Abbey.

Mr Bonneville, who plays Lord Grantham in the period drama, has today called for help in preserving the volunteer-run Old Grammar School building in Bampton, currently home to the village library and village archive.

Viewers of the ITV hit will know the building in Church View as the surgery and Cottage Hospital run by Dr Richard Clarkson, played by actor David Robb.

The committee, which runs the village archive on the building’s ground floor, needs to raise £250,000. This money would help renovate the roof and the second floor, which has not been used since it was declared unsafe 30 years ago.

Mr Bonneville said: “We’re asking the viewers of Downton Abbey to help raise the money we need to bring the upstairs of this wonderful building back into public use.

“For many generations this building has been an important part in the life of Bampton just as it is in the fictional life of Downton.

“But to restore it to its former glory and repair it for the future we’re going to need to raise a quarter of a million pounds.

“If we can achieve that we’re going to be able to create something really special here.”

Mr Bonneville has helped create a promotional video for the campaign and a group of villagers made a website to encourage donations, so far raising £1,085.

The building was given to the community by a wealthy benefactor to serve as the first village school almost 400 years ago and is owned by the Bampton Exhibition Foundation, a charitable trust dedicated to improving education in the community.

Campaign spokesman Robin Shuckburgh, who owned a hotel in the village until he retired last year, said: “Bampton is incredibly popular with visitors because fans of Downton Abbey can recognize so many landmarks from the series.

“However, people want to visit the building and spend far more time here than we can accommodate, which is a shame for them and a missed opportunity for the village.

“Villagers have managed to keep the Old Grammar School going for over 400 years but it’s now in desperate need of repair.

“By restoring the building to its former glory we can make the most of the interest in the village, and provide a wonderful archive for local people and those with ancestors here.”

To help raise the £250,000, a series of Downton-related prizes will be auctioned, including a special edition Downton artwork, luxury hampers and tours.

Main costs in the project will include replacing the staircase, which was removed in the 1960s to stop access to the unsafe top floor, as well as the complete renovation of the roof, which will be carefully restored using its original stone tiles. The first floor also needs to be strengthened so that it meets modern requirements for public use.

The work will be carried out by a team of local contractors appointed by the Bampton Archive Committee, Mr Shuckburgh said.

Any building work would have to be overseen by specialists from the relevant local authorities including West Oxfordshire District and Oxfordshire County councils.

The village museum and archive is open from 10.30am to 4pm Monday to Saturdays, and 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Sundays.

To join the campaign and donate, visit

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