Article by Luke Sproule for the Oxford Mail
STARS of Downton Abbey have reached into their pockets to support a new appeal to save the Old Grammar School in Bampton.
For the past year campaigners have been trying to raise the £250,000 needed to restore the upper floor of the building, seen as Downton Cottage Hospital in the show.
Now stars of the programme including Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael and Samantha Bond have got behind the Downton Mile appeal.
It aims to collect the same number of £1 coins as would be needed to cover the one-mile tour of Downton attractions in Bampton – the equivalent of £70,000.
The sixth and final series of the show starts on ITV tomorrow night.
Downton Mile spokesman and Bampton resident Robin Shuckburgh said: “The Old Grammar School was built in the 1650s and given to the village by Robert Vesey, a wool tycoon.
“At the moment it is only used as the Bampton village library and the headquarters of the Bampton community archive.
“Our plan is to restore the top floor and put the staircase back in and have an exhibition about the filming of Downton in Bampton. It will be a local history centre and it will have all the mod cons.
“It is amazing that the stars have helped us. They have been extremely good guests in Bampton over the past six years.
“We have had some financial support from the stars and they have been very good tweeting about our efforts.”
The building’s second floor has been left to rot since being declared unsafe more than 30 years ago and the roof, which will be replaced before other work starts, has not been repaired in more than 100 years.
The Old Grammar School makes up part of a one-mile loop around the village which also includes famous Downton sites such as Mrs Crawley’s house and The Grantham Arms.
Mr Shuckburgh said the trail, which is used by tourists visiting the sites of the series, had inspired the Downton Mile appeal.
The 67-year-old added: “We wanted Downton Abbey fans to be able to make a contribution to our scheme.
“If we have not raised the money by January we will launch it again in America for fans over there.”
Since the series was first screened in 2010 Bampton has become a major tourist destination and Mr Shuckburgh said 35,000 visitors were expected to pass through by the end of this year.
Last year the figure was about half that total but even more are expected next year.
If the Downton Mile raises as much money as organisers expect they hope major benefactors such as the Big Lottery Fund will get involved.
Mr Shuckburgh said: “Bampton has never, ever been a tourist destination of any kind and suddenly it became one overnight.
“We have people walking around the churchyard asking where Matthew Crawley’s gravestone is. There is a real blurring of reality and fiction which is amazing.”
To find out more about the Downton Mile visit downtonmile.co.uk