A MYSTERY surrounding the inspiration for Downton Abbey has deepened after its creator denied claims it had been based on a North Yorkshire country mansion.

As the stars of the hit TV costume drama prepare to produce a fourth series, its writer Lord Julian Fellowes has revealed the show’s producers examined shooting it near Ripon, North Yorkshire, before opting to film it in Hampshire and Oxfordshire.

However, speculation has mounted over where Downton Abbey is located as the characters refer to travel times to towns and cities across a section of North Yorkshire.

Fans of the series have attempted to piece together references to Easingwold, Kirkby Malzeard, Kirkbymoorside, Malton, Middlesbrough, Ripon, Richmond, York and Thirsk to produce an address for Downton’s Crawley family.

As the servants go to church in Easingwold, Matthew Crawley talks about becoming a partner in a firm of solicitors in Ripon and an undertaker from Thirsk is employed, there has been a growing belief Downton Abbey is located in the triangle between the two market towns and the city.

Lord Fellowes said yesterday his team considered using the Sir Christopher Wren-designed Newby Hall, near Ripon, as a backdrop and toured the 18th century property.

Richard Compton, president of the Historic Houses Association and owner of Newby Hall, where an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park was filmed in 2007, said: “Julian and his team came round before Downton and let’s just say some the programme is rather familiar.”

The hall was home to a real Lord Grantham, from 1792, who passed the hall to his daughter, Lady Mary, and later became beset by complicated inheritances.

But the Oscar-winning screenwriter maintains that any similarities to Newby Hall in the most successful British costume drama series since Brideshead Revisited, which was filmed at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, were coincidental.

He said: ““I chose [the name] Grantham because when I was 11 I ran away from school and jumped on a train. Grantham was where the police picked me up.”

Lord Fellowes, a former pupil at Ampleforth College, near Helmsley, said his school days had left him with a passion for the county and the local accent, which had played a part in setting the programme in the area.

He said: “Once it had been decided, I put it in that particular area because I was at school at Ampleforth, so the towns of Ripon and Helmsley and Thirsk and Malton, and places like Easingwold and Kirkbymoorside all figured in my childhood and teenage years.“

“I love Ripon, I love all those towns, although I dare say they are rather different now from the places I knew when I was growing up.”