Saturday, 21 March 2015


The television adaptation of Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies and starring Damien Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn, very nearly didn't get made in England.  The makers of the programme, which covers the Anne Boleyn phase of Henry's love life and the pivotal role of Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) as Henry's fixer, originally wanted to film in Belgium where there were tax breaks available, but they changed their minds, deciding that Belgium somehow just didn't look right.  Britain's tourism officials must have been very glad of this change of heart, because the sumptuous historic houses and gardens used in the series, many of them owned by the National Trust, provide the best possible showcase for the country's history and heritage.  The locations are spread across a range of counties, mainly in Southern England.

First off Somerset, where the crew made use of Barrington Court (National Trust), a 16th century Tudor manor house near Ilminster.  The house was restored in the 1920s and was used for evacuees during World War II.  There are no collections or furniture in the interior, so it is up to the visitor to visualise how the rooms would have looked during Tudor times.  The gardens were designed by Gertrude Jekyll.  For Wolf Hall the house portrayed York Place, the home of Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce), with scenes set in the inner and outer privy chambers, while the gardens doubled as Windsor Great Park.  On to Montacute House (National Trust) near Yeovil, an Elizabethan mansion completed in 1601 and built from local 'ham' stone.  A highlight is the Long Gallery (171 feet long) with over 60 Tudor and Elizabethan portraits.  The house was given a majestic air by the architects courtesy of the towering windows.  In Wolf Hall Montacute was used for Greenwich Palace, with the Long Gallery stripped bare for the filming.  The surrounding parkland was used for the jousting scenes.  Further west, near Wellington, is the 14th century Cothay Manor, which was used in the series as the home of Thomas More.

Barrington Court. Photo by Andrew Longton, via Wikimedia Commons
Heading northeast to Wiltshire we come to Great Chalfield Manor (National Trust) near Melksham.  This moated 15th century manor was built by Thomas Tropenell, who graced it with oriel windows and carvings of griffons and monkeys on the roof tops.  The property is surrounded by charming gardens.  For Wolf Hall the house served as Austin Friars, the London home of Thomas Cromwell.  For anyone wanting to relive the Wolf Hall experience there is bed and breakfast accommodation available at the property.  Also in Wiltshire is Lacock Abbey (National Trust), a former nunnery turned country house with various architectural styles.  As well as Lacock Abbey itself, visitors can stroll around the adjacent Lacock Village, with quaint streets, shops, cafes and pubs.  The pioneering photographer William Henry Fox Talbot once lived here, and there is a museum devoted to him.  In the series, Lacock Abbey was used to depict Wolf Hall itself, with outdoor scenes shot in the surrounding woodland.  Wolf Hall fans may have experienced a feeling of deja vu at the sight of this property, as it has been used for filming before, most notably in the Harry Potter films and the Cranford TV series.

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Lacock Abbey cloister. Photo by John Chapman, via Wikimedia Commons
To the north of Wiltshire is Gloucestershire with its county town of Gloucester, where the cathedral, built between 1089 and 1499, was used as the Court of Henry VIII.  During the filming the locals were treated to the sight of members of the cast in full Tudor regalia queuing up at a fish and chip van.  To the south west, near the mouth of the River Severn, is the small town of Berkeley and its castle, which has been the home of the Berkeley family for 850 years, making it the oldest building in the country still inhabited by the family who built it.  The castle, whose origins date back to the 11th century, is built from a warm-hued pink stone, with battlements towering 60 feet above the Great Lawn.  It was one of the so-called 'March Castles' built to keep out the Welsh.  The makers of the series made use of the Bailey Gates and Inner Bailey, The Great Hall, kitchens, buttery and The Long Drawing Room.  Further north in the county in the depths of the Cotswolds is StanwayHouse, a Jacobean manor house known for its single-jet fountain, the highest gravity fountain in the world.  As it happens Thomas Cromwell had close links to this part of the country, and witnessed the destruction of the nearby Hailes Abbey.

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Berkeley Castle. Photo by Philip Halling, via Wikimedia Commons
Zooming across to the south-east corner of the country, there are two locations in Kent which featured in the series.  Penshurst Place is a 14th century hunting lodge near Tonbridge which once belonged to Henry VIII.  It was where Henry courted Anne Boleyn, so that the scenes shot in The Long Gallery were filmed in the very place that the action between the two lovers took place 500 years ago.  Candles were used for the filming, adding an extra air of authenticity, although some viewers complained about the darkness of the scenes on the telly.  Other parts of the property used for filming include the Queen Elizabeth Room, Baron's Hall, The Tapestry Room, The Solar and The Crypt, with scenes depicting York Place and Whitehall.  Two other historical films were made here: The Other Boleyn Girl and Anne of the Thousand Days.  Down on the coast, DoverCastle (English Heritage) with its 83-foot Great Tower played the Tower of London - not for the first time, as it has been used in a number of other productions for the same purpose. The grisly execution scene at the end of the series was shot here.  The castle occupies the site of an Iron Age hillfort which was used by William the Conqueror for the construction of an earthwork and timber-stockaded castle.  The stone castle was begun in the 1180s by Henry II.

These are the main locations used in the series, but there are a number of others: Bristol and Winchester Cathedrals, Broughton Castle and Chastleton House (National Trust) in Oxfordshire, the TitheBarn (English Heritage) in Bradford on Avon, Raglan Castle (Cadw) in Monmouthshire and the beguiling fairytale Castell Coch (Cadw) to the north of Cardiff in Wales.

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