Our most popular film and TV locations
Ever wondered how your favourite places end up as locations on the big and small screens? Each month sees an average of nine film or TV drama shoots taking place at places in our care - all of which are overseen by our two filming and locations managers: Harvey Edgington and Lauren Taylor. Here they share some weird and wonderful stories from behind the scenes, and reveal their favourite locations.
Q: Is it possible to herd toads?
Q: Can we unleash a tiger on this historic staircase?
Q: How much gushing blood are we talking about?
A: Probably more than expected, let's make sure the priceless works of art are covered up.
For Harvey and Lauren, queries like these are just part of the normal working day.
Since 2003 their small team have managed countless shoots at places in our care: from the initial call from the location scout, through to the first recce and working out where the catering truck is going to park. That's not to mention the careful planning required to ensure that these historic buildings and beautiful landscapes are preserved for everyone to enjoy, both on and off screen.
It’s worth the occasional logistical nightmare though, because film and TV shoots raise valuable income which goes straight back to the locations to enable vital conservation work. This could be anything from fixing a leaking 200-year-old roof to restoring a historic garden.
Over the years Lauren and Harvey have collected enough behind the scenes tales and tidbits about our top filming locations to fill a book – so they’ve written one. If you can’t wait to get your hands on a copy, here are a few of their highlights to explore in the meantime.
With nearly 5,000 acres of woodland, rolling chalk downland and lush meadows all within close distance of the major London studios, it’s no wonder that Ashridge has been a big hit with film-makers since its first appearance in The Dirty Dozen in 1967.
Highlights from its extensive filmography include stints as an eerie forest kingdom in Maleficent (2014), and a stretch of snow-covered countryside just outside Paris in Les Misérables (2012), while a 60-metre stone wall was built in the Golden Valley to create a border between the fictional village of Wall and the mysterious realm of Stormhold in Stardust (2007).
Ashridge also appeared in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) as the site of the Quidditch World Cup, although contrary to popular legend it’s never been home to the Whomping Willow.
Fans of period dramas will probably recognise Lacock Abbey and Village, even if they’ve never visited in person. The quintessential English village looks much like it did 300 years ago, with higgledy-piggledy stone and timber-framed cottages lining four main streets.
Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle knew it as Meryton during the filming of Pride and Prejudice (1995), while more recently the real Royal Artillery paraded through the village during the filming of Downton Abbey (2019).
Lacock has also been a mainstay of the Harry Potter universe, with the medieval abbey cloisters used as corridors and classrooms of Hogwarts during both the original film series and the spin-off Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018). A cottage in the village served as Harry’s childhood home at Godric’s Hollow in The Philosopher’s Stone (2001), and the streets also stood in for Budleigh Babberton where Harry and Dumbledore seek out Horace Slughorn in The Half-Blood Prince (2009).
Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire
With its Arts and Crafts garden, ponds and unspoilt countryside surroundings, it would be difficult to find a more romantic medieval country house than Great Chalfield Manor.
Largely unaltered since the 15th century, the manor has proved popular as a location for period dramas such as Wolf Hall (2015) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).
For Poldark (2015-19) the manor and gardens stood in for Killewarren, home of Caroline Penvenen and (eventually) her husband Dr Enys. Careful toad-herding was required in series three when trained Japanese toads were brought in for a scene. To protect both species, our ecologist worked with the crew to ensure that the newcomers didn’t mingle with Great Chalfield’s own non-showbiz toads.
Osterley Park, London
Set on the fringes of west London but a world apart from the busy city, Osterley’s striking red-brick mansion, lakes and parkland have long been favourites of film and TV crews. Transformed by influential architect Robert Adam in the 1760s, this neo-classical masterpiece made its cinematic debut in The Grass is Greener (1960) starring Cary Grant.
More recently, the beautiful interiors were used to represent Wayne Manor in the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – The Dark Knight Rises (2012). A secret door in the Library even became a back door to the Batcave, although the cave’s main entrance was actually around 173 miles to the west: concealed behind Henrhyd Falls in Wales.
It’s not just the opulent rooms that make an appearance either. Osterley’s stable block was transformed into an 1800s army barracks for the filming of Vanity Fair (2018), while the latest adaptation of The Secret Garden (2020) makes use of the kitchens to stand in for those of Misselthwaite Manor.
" Tranquil, atmospheric and romantic; Great Chalfield Manor has to be my favourite location. Luckily film-makers feel the same way so I’ve spent many a happy day there seeing Poldark arrive for a ball, Henry VIII set off for a hunt and Thomas Cromwell make it his home. Who knows who’s coming next?"
Ham House, London
Nestled on the banks of the Thames, the tranquillity of Ham House today belies its 400 years of turbulent history, which included weathering the Civil War. The house still sees its fair share of drama, only now things tend to calm down when they call ‘cut’.
Ham’s lavish interiors were used for several scenes in Anna Karenina (2012), while its striking resemblance to Kensington Palace worked perfectly for The Young Victoria (2009)
Ham also turned its hand to dystopian sci-fi for Never Let Me Go (2010), when it was transformed into the sinister boarding school Hailsham. Several of the rooms were used as interiors, and the gardeners got a three-week holiday from mowing the lawns and trimming the hedges to give the grounds an air of neglect.
The house was also a location for Spice World (1997) – remember when that happened?
Basildon Park, Berkshire
What better location for a fancy ball than Basildon Park? This 18th century manor house was rescued from demolition in the 1950s by Lord and Lady Iliffe, which was lucky as it now provides the perfect location for scenes such as the Netherfield ball in Pride and Prejudice (2005).
This remains one of the biggest filming projects we’ve ever had, involving 10 days, 200 supporting artists, horses, carriages, a scissor lift and a whole lot of dancing. The action was captured in one single take using a steadicam, moving through several rooms to show the guests mingling and drama unfurling.
Much of Downton Abbey’s 2013 Christmas special was shot here too, when Basildon became the Crawley’s family London home, Grantham House.
Montacute House was built in the late Elizabethan era for Sir Edward Phelips, lawyer and Speaker of the House of Commons. The opulent Tudor interiors were used in Wolf Hall (2015) as Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII’s main London seat and the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest. The parkland was also used to host a spectacular joust.
For The Libertine (2004), the mansion became home to the notorious 17th-century rake John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, played by Johnny Depp.
Things were a bit more serene in 1995 for Sense and Sensibility when Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon stopped by on the way back from London. Alan Rickman memorably charged his horse down the tree-lined west drive on a quest to help the gravely ill Marianne, and also popped his head into the Orangery when trying to find her earlier in the film, after she committed the serious error of going out in the rain without an umbrella.
Frensham Little Pond, Surrey
Frensham Little Pond was created in the 13th century as a fishing lake for the Bishop of Winchester. In more recent years it’s twice welcomed Chris Hemsworth for the filming of Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016).
It takes a long time to build a whole village over a small lake – specifically two and a half months. The crew of Snow White then proceeded to burn it down around 20 times over two nights, in order to create one of the film’s biggest battle scenes. Stringent planning and monitoring ensured there was no damage to this Site of Special Scientific Interest, in spite of the ‘fire’ that could be seen as far away as Guildford.
" My most surreal experience was being trapped at the end of a corridor at Osterley, unable to leave because Sir Michael Caine and Christian Bale were rehearsing at the other end. Second was a long discussion about the thickness, speed and mist effects of spurting artificial blood when cutting off a leg. You really can learn something new every day."
Tredegar House, Newport
There’s been a house on this site since medieval times, and for 500 years it was the ancestral home of one of the greatest Welsh families, the Morgans, later Lords Tredegar.
A window through time, it was the ideal location for a total of 11 episodes of Doctor Who between 2005 and 2009 – which explains the Dalek you might encounter if you venture into the stables.
The sweeping parkland at Tredegar later played the part of a First World War British army base for Journey’s End (2018), with the Stable Hall as a convincing army general’s office.
Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Built in the 1500s by the formidable 'Bess of Hardwick’, this striking mansion was a symbol of power for a woman who managed to work her way up the ranks until she was the second richest woman in the country – behind Queen Elizabeth I. Hardwick Hall is known for being ‘more glass than wall’ due to its huge number of windows, which were very costly at that point in the 16th century.
In the right light all that glass can look somewhat sinister, which made Hardwick an ideal stand in for the exterior of Malfoy Manor in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010). A few pointy towers were added in using CGI to ensure the house looked suitably forbidding.
The makers of Mary Queen of Scots (2019) used the house and grounds to represent Hampton Court – which was fitting as Bess and her fourth husband (the Earl of Shrewsbury) acted as Mary’s custodians when she was under house-arrest in England. Mary never stayed at Hardwick, but she was held at other nearby houses owned by Bess, including Chatsworth and Wingfield Manor.
Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire
Once the home of devout monks seeking a simpler existence, the dramatic ruins of Fountains Abbey are a window into a way of life which shaped the medieval world. Founded in 1132, the abbey operated for 407 years until Henry VIII ordered its dissolution in 1539.
The picturesque remains of the abbey are no stranger to big and small screens, having appeared fan favourite such as The History Boys (2006), Death Comes to Pemberley (2013) and Gunpowder (2017), starring Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame.
Built using stone from the abbey, the 17th-century mansion of Fountains Hall is said to have inspired Misselthwaite Manor in the novel ‘The Secret Garden’ – so it was fitting that the Hall played the Manor in the 1993 film version. Continuing the tradition, the abbey ruins also appear in the new 2020 adaptation of the children’s classic.
With so much filming going on, there are plenty of quirky facts and figures that have built up over the years. From working out which actor has done the most shoots at locations in our care, to the longest-running production, here are a few tidbits that might surprise you.
It is a truth universally acknowledged...
…that we love Jane Austen. We’ve appeared in adaptations of each of her six main novels, plus a few spin-offs like Sanditon (2019), Death Comes to Pemberley (2013) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016).
A little more action please
It’s not all period dramas. James Bond visited Stowe for The World is Not Enough (1999) and Holywell for Die Another Day (2002). We also saw stars when Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) filmed over Derwentwater.
Keira Knightley can't stay away...
So far she’s filmed at five places over four films, including for Anna Karenina & Never Let Me Go (Ham House), and The Duchess (Osterley, Kedleston & Basildon).
The ‘reel’ thing
Places that have played themselves include: Chartwell as Winston Churchill's home is The Darkest Hour (2017) and Petworth, which provided inspired Mr Turner (2014) as far back as the 1800s.
Waiting for Spielberg to call...
Some big-name directors have roamed locations in our care. Tim Burton visited Antony for Alice in Wonderland (2010), Ridley Scott wandered Freshwater West and Ashridge for Robin Hood (2010).
Two locations have been used in adaptations of novels written by the authors who once owned them. Greenway for Agatha Christie's Dead Man’s Folly (2013), and Lamb House for E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia (2014).
Long service award
This award goes to Poldark (2015-19) and Downton Abbey (2011-15 & 2019). The former used Botallack Mine in Cornwall for all five seasons, while the latter visited various locations over four series and a film.