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Fountains Abbey stars on-screen

On a film set in Fountains Abbey, stacks of wood are surrounded in flames, with cloaked people walking forwards from the background
Dramatic special effects were used throughout the night shoots for The Witcher (2021) at Fountains Abbey | © Netflix

The atmospheric ruins, playful garden and brooding gothic buildings of this vast World Heritage site have featured on film and TV for decades. In recent years, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in Yorkshire have been transformed into the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, a setting for medieval sorcery and a secret garden revisited. Find out where to see them on-screen, and why one film crew created a new water feature.

The Great British Dig (Channel 4, 2023)

In September 2022, Hugh Dennis and the expert team of archaeologists from the TV series ‘The Great British Dig’ set up camp at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal for five days. Their aim was to understand a little bit more of the history of the estate. The episode ‘Studley Royal – the Missing Georgian Mansion’ aired in June 2023 and revealed some of the secrets of the former mansion that stood on the grounds of the deer park.

The Great British Dig 2023 at Studley Royal
Hugh Dennis and The Great British Dig Team at Studley Royal, Yorkshire | © Strawberry Blonde

All Creatures Great and Small (Channel 5, 2021)

Fountains Abbey is famous for the World Heritage Site gardens and vast ruins, but much lesser known and tucked away in a secluded part of Studley Royal Deer Park is a traditional cricket pitch too.

In the spring of 2021, the property welcomed hundreds of cast, crew and creatures to film some exciting scenes for Season 2 of the much-loved Yorkshire drama.

Visitors were treated to a trip back in time as the pitch was transformed into a traditional summer cricket match with a huge dressed marquee, vintage vehicles and of course, some wonderful costumes.

All Creatures Great and Small Series 2 Episode 5 filmed in the Studley Royal deer park
All Creatures Great and Small Series 2 Episode 5 filmed in the Studley Royal deer park | © Channel 5

The Witcher (Netflix, 2021)

Filming a huge series like The Witcher is a serious undertaking in any circumstances. Add in coronavirus restrictions, unseasonably wet weather and a World Heritage Site as a major location, and it becomes even more complicated.

In October and November 2020, around 250 cast and crew moved into a vast unit base at Fountains Abbey to prepare for a packed couple of weeks’ filming.

The mixture of atmospheric medieval ruins and Georgian gardens, filled with crashing cascades and eerie statues, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal gave the perfect backdrop for season two of the fantasy drama.

A technician wearing a surgical face mask holds up a large silver ball and a lighting card. There are flames in the background.
Filming The Witcher: using a VFX ball to capture lighting information | © Netflix

Anne Boleyn (Channel 5, 2021)

This three-part historical drama from Channel 5 is set during the final months of the infamous Tudor queen’s (Jodie Turner-Smith) life at court, as she lives with pressure of her royal marriage dangerously crumbling around her.

Fountains Abbey – with its own downfall closely linked to Henry VIII (played by Mark Stanley) – was a fitting location to film the story of the collapsing marriage.

Where to see Fountains Abbey in Anne Boleyn

If you’re catching up with the show, see if you can spot the exterior of Fountains Hall and the Elizabethan Herb Garden, which were used as filming locations for the series. Fluttering peacocks, galloping horses and sumptuous Tudor costumes completed the unfolding scenes.

You can also see another Yorkshire location, East Riddlesden Hall, where the distinctive house exterior features in some of the outdoor scenes.

The Secret Garden (1993, 2020)

Fountains Abbey has long ties with The Secret Garden. In the 1993 film adaptation, Fountains Hall served as the exterior of Misselthwaite Manor, while a small, gated doorway just opposite became the hidden entrance into the garden.

For the 2020 film, it’s the ancient Abbey ruins that are the stars of the show set in 1947, alongside Dixie Egerickx, Colin Firth, and Julie Walters.

The crew transformed the ruins into a sunken temple complete with vine-covered walls. They constructed temporary pools, which allowed them to cover the ground with water for the children to splash around in, while still protecting the historic site.

Character of Colin sits in a wheelchair looking at the garden, with character of Dickon and Fountains Abbey ruins behind him, for the film The Secret Garden
Colin and Dickon in the ruins at Fountains Abbey | © 2020 StudioCanal SAS, all rights reserved

Gunpowder (BBC One, 2017)

It’s 1603, and England is at war with Catholic Spain. Elizabeth I is dead and King James of Scotland has taken the throne. Several attempts to take the Protestant king’s life have already been made – but failed.

Deep in the heart of the Warwickshire countryside a new plot is brewing, a plot that will leave a mark on a country that will be felt over 400 years later.

See the Fountains Abbey Cellarium and Hall steps on-screen

In 2017, Fountains Abbey was transformed for 10 days to film the BBC drama Gunpowder. The steps of Fountains Hall and the gothic atmosphere of the Cellarium, with its striking vaulted ceilings, gave the backdrop to several scenes in the story, starring Kit Harington and Liv Tyler.

Supporting special places

As well as showing off beautiful locations, filming directly benefits the places in our care that star in the production. The income from location fees goes straight back into conservation work to care for historic houses and landscapes, so that we’ll all be able to see them both on screen and in real life for years to come.

Filming fees at Fountains Abbey have contributed to repairs to the historic fabric of the river walls, and landscaping work that helped restore the garden to its 18th-century heyday.

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