Monday, 14 May 2018


A seemingly inoffensive little film about post-war Guernsey and a writer who takes an interest in what it was like during the occupation has become the unlikely focus of a spat between the island and a Devon aristocrat.  The trouble has arisen because the island of Guernsey is gleefully cashing in on the film, which has enraged the owner of Hartland Abbey in North Devon, where much of the filming took place.  Some scenes were also shot in nearby Clovelly, a picturesque village famous for its steep main street leading down to a pretty harbour.  The corner of North Devon featured in the film is missing out on its share of the publicity, hence the outrage.

So let’s take a look at the actual locations used in the film.  Hartland Abbey is a former monastery dating from the 12th century, and it sits in beautiful grounds including glorious gardens.  The present-day building bears no resemblance to the original monastery, the remains of which can be seen in the basement.  As well as the Abbey itself, there are wonderful grounds to explore.  This time of year is particularly good being bluebell time, as the woodland walk going down towards the sea is redolent with bluebells.  Earlier in the year the Abbey holds a ‘Daffodil Day’ to celebrate the appearance of the yellow lovelies.

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Hartland Abbey. Photo by PJMarriott, via Wikimedia Commons

Clovelly is a privately owned village, which unfortunately means having to pay an entrance fee to go in.  However, the fee does include parking, and it would be a shame to miss out on this delightful place when visiting the area.  On the way down you pass the Donkey Stables, donkeys being longstanding feature of the village, having been used in the past to transport fish from the harbour.  The writer Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, used to live in the village, and there is a museum dedicated to him.  For refreshment there are a couple of pubs and some tea rooms, or at the top next to the entrance area there is a cafe with wonderful views along the North Devon coast.

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Clovelly Harbour. Photo by Franzphoto, via Wikimedia Commons

Other North Devon locations which feature in the film include the nearby town of Bideford and Saunton Sands, which was used for a scene in which a Dakota aircraft comes in to land.

Map of Clovelly.

Monday, 9 April 2018


The star location in the film On Chesil Beach (as well as the novel by Ian McEwan on which it is based) is self-evident from the title.  One of Britain’s most famous and unusual coastal features, Chesil Beach stretches for 29 miles between the base of the Isle of  Portland and the eastern edge of West Bay, hemming in a lagoon known as The Fleet, home to the Abbotsbury Swannery.  Filming began at the beach in October 2016, with the two main characters played by Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle.

In the story a newly-married couple are spending their honeymoon at a hotel on Chesil Beach, but their wedding night is marred by the bride Florence’s antipathy towards the sexual act.  She walks out on the groom, Edward, he follows and they have a row on the beach.  The rest of the novel consists of Edward’s life in the decades that follow and his deliberations on what might have been. 

The weather is overcast and moody for the beach scenes in the film, no doubt reflecting the mood of the couple.  The hotel featured in the film is a fictional one, but there are a number of places to stay near the beach for those wanting to experience the locations from the film.  As well as Chesil Beach, another famous Dorset landmark, Lulworth Cove, makes an appearance in the film’s trailer.  Visitors to Chesil Beach should be aware that it is illegal to remove pebbles from the beach, incurring a hefty fine.  When writing the novel, McEwan was allegedly unaware of this and took some pebbles to keep on his desk while writing, attracting the opprobrium of local conservationists.  However, he returned the stones as soon as he realised his transgression.

Map of the area.

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Chesil Beach from Portland Bill. Photo by StanWray, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 8 March 2018


The central theme of the TV series Gunpowder are the activities of the group of English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and their subsequent gruesome punishments.  The plot was an attempt to assassinate King James I of England and VI  of Scotland during the State Opening of Parliament at the House of Lords, and the most famous of the plotters was Guy Fawkes, who was the inspiration for the enduring custom of "bonfire night" and "penny for the Guy".  Most of the filming of the series took place in a variety of stunning Yorkshire locations.  

One of the most atmospheric locations used was the Cellarium in Fountains Abbey, owned by the National Trust, which plays a key role as the vaults under the Houses of Parliament, where the plotters hoard their gunpowder and plan their dastardly deeds.  The abbey, founded in 1132, is a well-preserved but ruined Cistercian monastery located about 3 miles south-west of Ripon.  In the first episode a Catholic mass is celebrated at Fountains House.  Another National Trust property, East Riddlesden Hall between Riddlesden and Keighley, was used in the scene in which a Member of  Parliament receives a letter warning him of the plot.  The Dining Room and

Great Chamber were stripped of their contents and redone specially for the filming.  The property overlooks the River Aire and was built in 1642.

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Fountains Abbey Cellarium. Photo by Kisha Tracy, via Wikimedia Commons

Students at Bradford College managed to get some hands-on experience when some of the scenes were filmed there, some of them working as make-up artists.  The college itself is ultra-modern, but its Garden Studio was chosen as the site for the construction of a 17th century manor house.  Across at Dalton Mills, a former Victorian textile mill in Keighley, there was another large set depicting a building from the period.  Meanwhile, out and about, two iconic Yorkshire bridges were used in the filming: Lendal Bridge in the centre of York and the turreted aqueduct bridge over the River Wharfe at the Bolton Abbey estate.  The abbey itself also featured.  The rough moorland seen in some of the scenes is the secton of moor between Ilkley and Keighley. 

Oakwell Hall is a magnificent Elizabethan manor house set in a country park in Birstall, West Yorkshire.  The hall was built in 1583 by John Batt, and as such provided a perfect backdrop for scenes from Gunpowder.  The hall is several miles south-west of Leeds.  A bit closer to the centre of Leeds, to the north-west of the city, is Kirkstall Abbey, dating from the 12th century and, like Fountains Abbey, one of the casualties of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.  That the abbey was chosen as one of Gunpowder’s locations is rather appropriate, given that the abbey buildings were bought by a gunpowder dealer from Leeds in the late 1800s.   Another Yorkshire landmark, is Beverley Minster, an impressive church known for its Gothic architecture.  The Minster was begun in the 12th century on the site of a former monastery and updated further in the 15th and 19th centuries.  The Minster was used for scenes depicting the Palace of Westminster.

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Beverley Minster. Photo by Paul Lakin, via Wikimedia Commons

One location used in the series which is not in Yorkshire is Haddon Hall near Bakewell in Derbyshire.  The hall is used to depict Ashby St. Legers in Northamptonshire, which through marriage came into the hands of the Catesby family from Warwickshire, one of whom was Robert Catesby (played by Kit Harington), the leading figure in the Gunpowder Plot.

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Haddon Hall. Photo by Trevor Rickard, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 14 February 2018


With Valentine’s Day upon us, I have come over all soppy and decided to share some British locations associated with some of the many romantic moments featured in our nation’s works of film, TV and literature.  So get out the heart-shaped chocolates and enjoy.

Gunwalloe, Cornwall: Dwight marries Caroline in Poldark

I have already described some of the Poldark locations in an earlier post, including the location of Nampara, where Ross and Demelza build their life together.  I do not tear up easily, but one scene in series 3 even got me going, when Caroline Penvenen and Dr. Dwight Ennis, after a seemingly doomed relationship, finally tied the knot.  The church where the wedding was filmed was the charming and very Cornish Church of St Winwaloe, nestled among the dunes in Gunwalloe near the Lizard Peninsula.  Being of a ‘three hall’ design, the present day church is thought to date from the 15th century, although the original chancel and nave were probably 13th century, and there is a Norman font.  

Valency Valley, Cornwall: Thomas Hardy meets his first wife

Staying in Cornwall, but this time near the north coast, the Valency Valley is a lush hideaway just inland from the picturesque harbour village of Boscastle.  Set in an isolated position on the northern slopes of the valley is the Church of St Juliot.  In 1870 Thomas Hardy, who at the time was an aspiring architect, arrived at the church to perform work on its restoration following the death of the person originally hired to do the job.  While there he met and fell in love with his first wife Emma, the rector’s sister-in-law and their courtship inspired one of his works, the novel ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’. 

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St Juliot's Church. Photo by Steve Wheeler, via Wikimedia Commons

Mapperton House, Dorset: Bathsheba and her triangle of suitors

Continuing the Hardy theme, Bathsheba Everdene in Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd must surely be one of English literature’s most fascinating and complex characters, a woman ahead of her time for her fierce independence.  When she inherits a farmhouse and takes up residence there she find herself pursued by a trio of suitors: Gabriel Oak, a shepherd from her past who asks her to marry him but is rejected – although he gets his girl in the end; Sergeant Francis Troy, who succeeds in wooing her but turns out to be really bad news; and the lonely farmer William Boldwood, who Bathsheba foolishly leads on with a Valentine saying “Marry me” but who eventually succeeds in gaining her hand in marriage only for it to end in tragedy through a fatal spat with Troy.  The 2015 film version of the story, starring Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba, captures all this wooing and wedding perfectly.  Bathsheba’s farmhouse in the film is portrayed by Mapperton House near Beaminster in the Hardy county of Dorset, a Jacobean manor house and home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich.  The house is open to visitors on guided tours only.

Apple Tree Yard, London

The scene of the al fresco knee trembler involving Yvonne Carmichael and her mysterious lover in the book and TV series of the same name actually exists as Apple Tree Yard in real life.  It is an insignificant alleyway behind Jermyn Street in Mayfair.  However, the makers of the TV production were unable to use the yard for the series because of building work going on there for a major redevelopment, so a similar alleyway in the City had to be used instead. 

Romantic locations galore in Four Weddings and a Funeral

The 1994 romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral, starring Hugh Grant and Andi McDowell, takes us on a tour of romantic locations in south-east England for the wedding scenes.  Wedding No. 1 takes place in St Michael’s Church, Betchworth near Reigate, with the reception filmed at a property named Goldingtons in Sarratt, Hertfordshire, which went up for sale in 2015 for a cool £4.5m.  No. 2 is conducted at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, with Luton Hoo Estate near Luton being used for the reception.  The third wedding service was supposed to take place in Perthshire in the film, but was actually filmed at Albury Park, Guildford, Surrey, with the reception at Rotherfield Park near Alton, Hampshire.  The final wedding is scheduled to take place at St Bartholomew-the-Great in Clerkenwell, but turns into a non-wedding when Charles has second thoughts.

A wealth of stately homes: Pride and Prejudice

The 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice has Mr Darcy sneering at everyone in a lavish ballroom, meant to be the Netherfield Ballroom.  His dance with Lizzie on this occasion  marks the beginning of their romance.  Netherfield Park, where the scene takes place, is the home of Mr Bingley, a wealthy gentleman from the city, and the exterior of the property is represented by Edgecote House in Northamptonshire, while the ballroom scene was shot in the ballroom of Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire.  Later on in the series Darcy has an awkward encounter with Lizzie dressed in wet underclothes following a swim in a lake on a hot day.  This scene, which was voted one of the best on British TV, was shot at Lyme Park in Cheshire.

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Edgecote House.  Photo by Ian Rob, via Wikimedia Commons

Teversal Manor, Nottinghamshire: Lady Chatterley's Lover

The racy novel by D H Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is centred on the tragic couple Lady Constance Chatterley and her paralysed husband Clifford.  At night Constance creeps from their  home, Wragby Hall, to spend time with her lover Oliver Mellors the gamekeeper.  The house believed to have provided the inspiration for Wragby Hall was Teversal Manor, near Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which was put up for sale in 2013 for £1m.

Stokesay Court, Shropshire: Atonement

The novel Atonement by Ian McEwen explores the ill-fated romance between Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, the son of the family’s cleaning lady.  In 2007 the novel was made into a film, and the Tallis family home which was the scene of the beginning of the couple’s romance was represented by Stokesay Court in Onibury, Shropshire, built by Victorian merchant John Derby Allcroft.  Not to be confused with the much older Stokesay Castle, an English Heritage site to the north, just south of Craven Arms.

Blackpool: a very Coronation Street romance

The fictional Coronation Street couple Roy and Hayley Cropper were once described as the greatest soap couple of all time.  They were also possibly the most unusual, given that Hayley started out as a bloke and was the first transgender character in a British soap opera.  Unfortunately, the romance between the two comes to a sad end when Hayley is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Following the diagnosis the couple head to Blackpool to try and grab some last happiness together, for example dancing in the Tower Ballroom. Following Hayley’s death, Roy scatters her ashes in the sea at Blackpool.

Carnforth Station: Brief Encounter.

One of the most memorable images from 1940s British cinema is that of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson gazing meaningfully into each other's eyes in a station cafe in Brief Encounter.   Those who want to relive that romantic moment should head for Carnforth, because it was the cafe at Carnforth Station, now known as the Brief Encounter Refreshment Room, which was used in the film with the station acting as Milford Junction.  It is a fitting name, because at that time Carnforth was a major junction in the railway system of the north-west, and during the war thousands of servicemen passed through on the way to their overseas destinations.  However, Carnforth was a victim of the Beeching rail cuts in the 1960s, and the station was turned into a mere branch line station with a lot of the buildings from its heyday falling derelict.  Recent restoration work has resulted in the opening of the Carnforth Station Heritage Centre, incorporating that famous cafe.

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Photo by Deben Dave, via Wikimedia Commons

High Sunderland Hall, Yorkshire: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights, the property at the heart of Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name, is the scene of a classic story of love and revenge, charting the doomed love affair between Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of the property’s owner, and the dark and brooding Heathcliff, an orphan boy brought by Earnshaw to live with the family following a trip to Liverpool.  The inspiration for the exterior of Wuthering Heights is thought to be High Sunderland Hall near Halifax, while the location of the property is assumed to be Top Withens, the site of a ruined farmhouse near the Bronte family’s home village, Haworth.

Tretower Court, Powys: The Libertine

The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp, is a historical romp centred on a drunken, sex-mad poet called John Wilmot, or the Earl of Rochester, a friend of King Charles II.  Wilmot falls in love with an actress he has decided to make into a star.  Much of the film was made in the Isle of Man for tax purposes, but several key scenes were filmed at the 14th century Tretower Court, a medieval courtyard house and adjoining castle near Crickhowell, Powys.   Apparently Depp joined some of the locals for a drink at the Bear Hotel, where some of the crew members were staying.

Cumbernauld: Gregory's Girl.

Gregory’s Girl, released in 1981, is a romantic comedy with a Scottish accent which launched the film acting career of John Gordon Sinclair, who was just 19 at the time of filming.  Much of the action takes place in and around the New Town of Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire.  The site was designated for a New Town in 1955, and the town has since grown to be the ninth most populated locality in Scotland.  Among the industries which have grown up around this population are the studios for the TV series Outlander, which makes much use of the surrounding area.

Thursday, 25 January 2018


Normally when a famous author takes up residence in Cornwall the story is one of idyllic days spent writing while soaking up the beautiful scenery and, hopefully, earning the affection and respect of the locals.  When D. H. Lawrence took up residence in Zennor in the wilds of the far west of Cornwall, however, the outcome was somewhat different.  The problems arose from the fact that the stay took place during the First World War, and Lawrence’s wife Frieda was German.  The locals were convinced that the couple were German spies, and they were eventually hounded out on the orders of the police.  To be fair to the locals, Lawrence had been very cruel in his remarks about the Cornish, describing them as “insects gone cold” and declaring that “they ought all to die”.  Not the best way to endear himself with his new neighbours.

The couple started out staying in the local pub, the Tinners Arms, but they later moved to a property in a tiny hamlet called Higher Tregerthen, near Zennnor, which they rented for the princely sum of five pounds a year.  The marriage was reportedly a rocky one, and the cottage was the scene of some fiery arguments, with Lawrence chasing Frieda around the cottage during one of their fights, and with her smashing a plate over his head on another occasion.  At the time of his stay Lawrence was writing Women In Love, published in 1920 and a sequel to his earlier novel The Rainbow. 

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Photo by Sarah Smith, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tinners Arms is still in business today, providing a welcome respite for walkers roaming this windswept landscape, and  it is so called because this was classic mining country when mining was still a thing around here.  Reminders of that time remain all around the area in the form of ruined engine houses and other mining paraphernalia (a landscape which would be familiar to fans of Poldark).  Before becoming a fully-fledged pub, during the 13th century, the building was used to house some stonemasons working on the local church, St Senara’s, which gives the village its name.  Higher Tregerthen lies close to the B3306, which links St Ives and St Just and is generally regarded as one of the most spectacular roads in the country.

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Higher Tregerthen.  Photo by Rod Allday, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018


Predictably, the latest Christmas and New Year break was punctuated by a number of James Bond films on the telly, and on New Year’s Day it was the turn of Spectre, the 2015 production and the fourth to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond.  As always with the Bond films, the locations are an exotic mix, ranging from Mexico to Rome to Austria, to Morocco, but in between there are glimpses of some of London’s best known landmarks.

The riverside headquarters of MI6 makes an early appearance, looking rather sorry for itself following a terrorist attack in the previous Bond film, Skyfall.  The building finally disappears in a cloud of smoke in an explosion later in the film.  The new Centre for National Security which has been built opposite the ruins of the former MI6 building is portrayed by Riverwalk House on Millbank, which has been transformed into swanky apartments.  As for the interior scene featuring a distinctive spiral staircase, this was filmed in the City Hall building, also known as the headquarters of the Mayor of London.  Early in the film, Bond and M are in a car in the environs of a rather imposing crescent-shaped building.  This is Admiralty Arch, commissioned by the British Government in the reign of Edward VII in memory of his mother Queen Victoria.  The environs of Trafalgar Square also feature in this sequence, which was filmed in May 2015.  Another famous London landmark seen in an aerial shot is the London Eye big wheel.

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Admiralty Arch. Photo by Richard Croft, via Wikimedia Commons

The River Thames features heavily in some parts of the film, with one scene involving Bond and the MI6 Chief of Staff roaring along the river in a speedboat, a scene filmed in December 2014.  They also spend some time on the Regent’s Canal near Camden Lock, home to the famous market.  During a scene involving a helicopter and car chase, Westminster and the Houses of Parliament feature, with the helicopter crashing on Westminster Bridge.  During the filming, smoke was seen billowing from the area, which would no doubt have caused alarm if it were filmed nowadays following the terror attack which took place there last year.  Lambeth Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge also get a look-in during the boat and helicopter chase scene.

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Big Ben and Westminster Bridge. Photo by ktanaka, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest restaurant in London is Rules in Covent Garden, established in 1798 by Thomas Rule.  In Spectre M, Q and Miss Moneypenny are seen meeting in a dining room, a scene which was filmed in Rules.  Also in Covent Garden, the Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street provides the interior shots for the corridors of the British Intelligence Headquarters.

In February 2015 the filming moved to Blenheim Palace, a huge stately pile and estate in Woodstock to the north of Oxford, best known as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, which has been used countless times in film and TV productions.  The palace provides a suitably grand backdrop for Bond’s Aston Martin, which is involved in yet another high speed chase starting from the building, which is meant to be the fictional Palazzo Cadenza in Rome. 

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Blenheim Palace. Photo by Simon Q, via Wikimedia Commons

Map of Central London.

Friday, 22 December 2017


During the ten years (1981 to 1991) that the popular comedy series Only Fools and Horses dominated our TV screens, the show’s Christmas specials were invariably a highlight of the festive period.  For this Christmas special I have picked out three of them, for which a variety of locations around the country were used in the filming.

Our first Christmas special, ‘To Hull and Back’, was first shown in 1985, and quite a few scenes were actually filmed in Hull.  In the story, Del, who is supposed to be acting as courier for a consignment of diamonds from Amsterdam, unwittingly ends up in Hull after hiding in Denzel’s van in order to evade Chief Inspector Slater.  From there, he and Rodney hire a boat and put their trust in Uncle Albert’s naval background to guide them to Amsterdam.  Two of Hull’s docks feature in the episode: St Andrew’s Dock, where Del crosses the road in front of Denzil, and Albert Dock, where the motley crew set off for Holland.  Denzil is seen catching some fresh air on the Spurn Nature Reserve, on the end of Spurn Head at the mouth of the River Humber.  The Humber Bridge also puts in an appearance, with Rodney attempting to use the toll without the correct change.  Two of the city’s streets are seen: Charles Street where the market scene was filmed, and John Street, where Del and Rodney park outside a cafe.

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Albert Dock.  Photo by David Wright, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1989 the Christmas special saw Del, Rod and their friends from the Nag’s Head travelling down to Margate in The Jolly Boys’ Outing, not for Christmas but on an August Bank Holiday weekend.  Margate has long been a favourite with daytrippers from London, the most notorious visitors being the Mods and Rockers who used to gather there in the early 1960s, causing mayhem wherever they went.  One of the main attractions, especially with families, is the Dreamland amusement park, which was closed for a while but has since been redeveloped.  The park, which featured in the Christmas special, held an “Only Fools and Horses” exhibition last year, which was well received by the folks on Tripadvisor. 

The Harbour Arm in Margate is where Del and Rodney are seen discussing an “Eels on Wheels” business.  Cliftonville, to the east of Margate, was used for a couple of the scenes, with the hotel the lads were staying in being filmed at Dalby Square.  The Coachway at Prince’s Walk was the scene of high drama when the coach exploded.  The exterior of Cassandra’s flat was shot in Richard Court, Lower Northdown Avenue.  Further afield, on the way to Margate the daytrippers make a pitstop at a pub.  The pub in question is the Roman Galley, at the turnoff to Reculver on the A299, sadly, like so many other pubs, now closed and turned into ‘luxury apartments’.  The Wyevale Garden Centre at Ramsgate, formerly a greyhound stadium, was used for the market scene, and the police station which featured in the episode was at Broadstairs, but has since closed.

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Dreamland. Photo by Ruth Johnston, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, my personal favourite Christmas special was ‘A Royal Flush’, which had Rodney hooking up with a member of the aristocracy and Del muscling in on the act, with predictably embarrassing results.  The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, is where Del brings his tarty girlfriend along to a performance of Carmen, where she proceeds to show everyone up by throwing up over the person in front after overindulging in sweets, and where Del announces “I know this one!” and sings along loudly to one of the production’s best known songs.  Later in the episode, the action moves to the stately home where Rodney’s new girlfriend lives, and where Del joins them for a spot of clay pigeon shooting and pretty much destroys Rodney’s chances with her father by getting obnoxiously drunk.  The scene of all this mayhem was Clarendon Park near Salisbury, Wiltshire, a grade I listed building and estate.  The house was completed in 1737 and is privately owned.  In the episode, Del visits a gentlemen’s outfitters to get kitted up for the occasion, and this was filmed in Salisbury at a premises in New Canal.

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Theatre Royal. Photo by Andy Roberts, via Wikimedia Commons