After much tutting and fretting about the change of presenters and the intrusion of commercial breaks to the show, the Great British Bake Off successfully made its transition from BBC1 to Channel 4 for this year’s series, which reaches its climax next Tuesday. At first I was adamant that I wouldn’t watch it anymore, but I soon found myself sucked into the new format. Yes, the commercials are annoying, but the bakes are as magnificent as ever, the dramas and tears just as poignant, and the surroundings just as lovely. One aspect of the show which was not changed for the move to Channel 4 was the filming location, Welford Park, a privately owned mansion in Berkshire which had already been used twice for the BBC version. As is so often the case, the collaboration between Welford Park and Bake Off came about as a result of a conversation at a party involving the Park’s agent, and filming began there just three weeks later.
|Welford Park House. Photo by Des Blenkinsopp, via Wikimedia Commons|
Anyone wanting to visit the scene of all this baking will have to wait until the New Year, as the estate only opens to visitors between January and March, when the main draw is the magnificent display of snowdrops in the grounds of the estate. The snowdrop season ends just in time for the marquee to be erected in April for the filming of the upcoming series. The same cafeteria used to cater for snowdrop watchers is used to feed the show’s production team. The interviews with the contestants take place in the estate’s gardens, which are much loved by the team for the changes which take place from spring through to summer.
|The snowdrops. Photo by D Gore, via Wikimedia Commons|
Welford Park was built in 1652 for the son of the then Lord Mayor of London. In keeping with the baking theme, additions made in subsequent centuries included the addition of a kitchen block and a very large dining room. Before the creation of the estate, the site was occupied by a monastery and village. Baking was a serious business in those days: the Berkshire Record Office unearthed a document dating from 1337 from the Welford Estate archives described as an ‘assize of bread’. The document gives strict instructions for baking a white bread known as a wastell loaf as well as a simnel cake. This was used as the basis for making sure that bakers were not diddling their customers by falling short of the set standards. If found guilty they were fined or, if persistent offenders, sent off to the stocks for a day. Makes one of those ‘looks’ from Paul Hollywood seem like child’s play in comparison!
Welford Park is just off the M4, to the north west of Newbury.