WHY PERIOD DRAMAS LOVE LACOCK VILLAGE

While driving to Bowood House in April during Number One London’s Georgian Tour, I realized that we were very close to the historic village of Lacock, the time capsule village that has remained so historically correct, it’s become a favourite of film and television production companies. The village has been used as a location many times, notably for the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, the 2003 mini-series The Mayor of Casterbridge and the 2007 BBC production of Cranford. It has also made brief appearances in the Harry Potter films Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and in the spin-off film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. In the spring of 2012, it was a filming location for the fantasy adventure film Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box. In 2015 it was used for a series of Downton Abbey episodes.

Of course, I quickly made the executive decision that we would stop at Lacock for lunch and a browse after we’d done with Bowood House. It may not come as a surprise that none of the tour group objected to this last minute addition to the day’s itinerary.

Harry Potter and Dumbledor, on set at Lacock Village

Lacock is a village in Wiltshire, near Chippenham, and is almost entirely owned by the National Trust. It regularly attracts visitors due to its unspoiled appearance. Lacock appears in the Domesday Book and most of the surviving houses were built in the 18th century or earlier. The National Trust has taken care to ensure that the historic buildings and streets are preserved and appear just as they would have centuries ago. Frozen in time, the town has become a go-to set for directors and producers of period films and television shows. The National Trust rents out most of the properties to tenants, including the pubs and shops, and all those who live in the village agree to live for the most part in the past – there are (almost) no modern day signs, street lights, aerials, etc.

Therefore, it’s easy to see why production companies love Lacock; there’s almost no chance of making filming bloopers, as happened when Poldark was filming in Corsham, above. As you’ll see by the photos I took on the day below, there really are (almost) no modern day intrusions at Lacock, even when there’s no filming going on.

We had a wonderful pub lunch at the atmospheric George Inn, above, which has one room filled with photos taken during the filming of the various productions shot, at least in part, at Lacock.

The 1996 ITV-movie production of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale, used the village of Lacock as Austen’s “Highbury.”

Emma, 1996
Pride and Prejudice 1995

The BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, made a star of Colin Firth, but Lacock put in a strong supporting role as “Meryton,” the Bennett family’s (fictional) local town.

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle filming Pride and Prejudice at Lacock
The Red Lion, as we saw it in April 2018

Another popular inn, restaurant and pub in Lacock, the Red Lion, has featured in many period films. While we were there at the end of our visit enjoying a drink, the barmaid told us stories about the filming of Pride and Prejudice. Costumed stars and extras spent several weeks filming at Lacock. One warm day, a costumed gentleman was leaning up against the outer wall of the pub and our barmaid opened a window, leaned out, and inquired whether the gentleman would like a cool drink. He accepted and they got to talking and chatted for a quite a while before he was called to the set. You guessed it – that very nice looking chap was Colin Firth who, at that point in time, was neither a household name nor an actor anyone had yet seen very much in film or on telly.

The Red Lion went on to be transformed into a storefront for the popular BBC series The Cranford Chronicles, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins. Fans of the series will recognize the building’s red brick and white windowpanes even without the transformation, and many of the adjacent houses were also used in filming.

Dame Judy Dench filming a period drama for the BBC in the Wiltshire village of Lacock,  April 2007

L to R: Miss Matty Jenkins (Judi Dench), Mrs Forrester (Julia McKenzie), Miss Tomkinson (Deborah Findlay), Miss Octavia Pole (Imelda Staunton)

 

In February 2015, the Downton Abbey crew transformed Lacock’s Church Street into a 1920’s livestock market. Sheep, pigs and a 1-tonne long-horned bull joined the cast, as well as many ‘extras’, creating a bustling market scene attended by Lord Grantham, his family and many of the staff.

We had a wonderful time strolling the period streets of Lacock and looking in it’s various shops. We agree that it’s almost free of 21st century intrusions. However, we did find one thing during our stroll that future production companies might want to remove before filming at Lacock –

 

 

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DETECTOR LOCKS?

When Louisa and I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in May, I saw the item above, labeled as being a “Detector Lock,” which allowed its owner to see if anyone had opened the lock in their absence. I had never seen one before, or knew that such a lock existed, so I did some further research. Here’s the lock’s description from the V&A website:

British Galleries: By 1700 British locksmiths were famous for their technical and decorative skills. Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, probably ordered this lock when he visited England in 1669. It has two dials that indicate how often it has been opened; one is a dummy, to provide extra security.

Object Type
This highly ornate ‘detector’ lock was intended for the door of a private apartment or an office in a royal palace. Such locks were often carried by their owners when travelling and used in different residences.

Historical Association
The lock bears the arms of Cosimo III de’ Medici. He visited London in 1669, the year before he became Grand Duke of Tuscany, and possibly ordered this lock on that occasion. The maker, Richard Bickford, was the most famous locksmith in London and a visit to his shop would have been on the itinerary of an important visitor.

Maker
The lock is signed on the rim by Richard Bickford. He was one of a family of locksmiths who worked for wealthy patrons. A few years earlier the Bickfords had made a jewel casket for Queen Mary, also displayed in the British Galleries.

Design & Materials
The ornament on this lock is similar to other fine metalwork by the Bickfords. It consists of finely chiselled, pierced and engraved gilt brass, mounted above panels of blued steel which provide a vivid and brilliant colour contrast.

Above is another, more elaborate example of a Detector Lock in the V&A collections, created by British locksmith John Wilkes around 1680. You can watch a video that explains how it works here.

 

 

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BOWOOD HOUSE

As part of the itinerary for the Georgian Tour this past April, our group spent a day at Bowood House, home to the Marquesses of Lansdowne since 1754. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer – the original Bowood House was demolished and the Grade I listed Orangery converted to a family home. Compare the photo above to those below:

Bowood House from Morris’s County Seats (1880), as found on Wikipedia

The Bowood estate was originally part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the Crown until the early 18th century, when construction of a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd Earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie. Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st Earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house. In the 1770s, the two parts of the house at Bowood (the “Big House” and the “Little House”) were joined together by the construction of an enormous drawing room.

From Wikipedia: “In World War I, the 5th Marchioness set up an auxiliary Red Cross hospital in the Orangery. During World War II, the Big House was first occupied by a school, then by the Royal Air Force. Afterwards it was left empty, and by 1955 it was so dilapidated that the 8th Marquess demolished it, employing architect F. Sortain Samuels to convert the Little House into a more comfortable home. But before it was demolished, the Adam dining room was auctioned and bought by the Lloyd’s of London insurance market, which dismantled it and re-installed it as the Committee Room in its 1958 building. The room was subsequently moved in 1986 to the 11th floor of its current building, also on Lime Street in the City of London.”

The visitor’s approach to the House is through a portion of the Capability Brown designed landscape and once again, we had glorious weather –

The Italianate terrace gardens on the south front of the house were commissioned by the 3rd Marquess. The Upper Terrace, by Sir Robert Smirke, was completed in 1818, and the Lower, by George Kennedy, was added in 1851. Originally planted with hundreds of thousands of annuals in intricate designs, the parterres are now more simply planted.

Nearly 300 years worth of amazing artifacts and antiques from the family history are on display in the house, but of course, my favourite room was the library.

Above, the family Chapel, located in what was once the laboratory where Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen in 1774.

Note the decorative door knob and keyhole covers above.

One of the most recognizable items on display at Bowood is Lord Byron’s Albanian costume. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, daughter of Admiral Lord Keith, was a close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in Regency-era society. Another good friend was the poet Lord Byron, who gifted Meg with the Albanian costume in which he was famously painted about 1813. Meg was also portrayed in the outfit, that engraving also being on display at Bowood. So how did the original costume come to be at Bowood? Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and was mother to the 5th Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume, photo by Victoria Hinshaw

Several more examples of historic costume are also on display.

Family items in the Bowood collection included jewelry, swords, china and more, but personally, I found this portrait miniature fascinating, as I’d never seen another like it before. I’ve since learned that this type of portrait miniature (above and below) was known as a transformation miniature and featured multiple mica discs that in effect allowed one to change the costume worn by the sitter. From The Royal Collection Trust website: “The mid-seventeenth century saw a vogue for an unusual type of miniature which could be dressed in a variety of different outfits by placing painted transparent overlays on top of the master image. Constructed from very thin slices of the mineral mica, these overlays included male and female outfits with appropriate accessories. When placed on top of the portrait, these semi-transparent discs transformed the costume and hairstyle of the sitter, creating a new composite picture, much like outfitting a modern paper doll. It seems likely that the purpose of such a set was to provide entertainment.”

Once again, a fabulous time was had by all at Bowood, but the day wasn’t over yet –

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: LONGLEAT

As part of Number One London’s Georgian Tour, our group made a day trip to Longleat, family seat of the Marquesses of Bath. The house was built by Sir John Thynne and was designed mainly by Robert Smythson, after Longleat Priory was destroyed by fire in 1567. It took 12 years to complete and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. Surrounded by 4,000 acres, the gardens were designed by Capability Brown. Today, Longleat is occupied by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, a direct descendant of the builder; however, management of the estate and all business passed to his son Viscount Weymouth early in 2010. This article may go some way towards explaining why. And of course Emma, Viscountess Weymouth, wife of the current heir, is Britain’s first black  member of the aristocracy.

But we weren’t there for family matters, we wanted to see the house. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside, so here are a few photos I swiped off the internet –

c Tripadvisor
c Longleat
c kidsandcompass.com

So, by the time we were through seeing the house, the skies looked like this –

Kind of half cloudy, half sunny. We’d been told there was a quaint country pub that did good food just about a mile away, at the end of one of the drives leading from Longleat, and we’d planned to walk there through the park.

“What do you think?” I asked the others.

“It’s definitely going to rain,” answered Andrea.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’m a charter boat captain,” she said, scanning the skies. “Gonna rain. Not that I mind, my jacket has a hood.”

In the end, the consensus was to risk it, and we started off. All was well until this happened –

Louisa and I were bringing up the rear and were also the only two without a hood or a hat. Well, I was wearing this cap, but it did no good.

“Why don’t you take that cap off? The rain is pouring down off the bill in a sheet. It looks like you’ve got a hose attached to your head,” Louisa said at last.

“I was ignoring it. And hoping you would, too.”

“Pretty hard to ignore,” Louisa said.

At last, the Bath Arms hove into view.

Louisa and I shouldered through the door together and found the others already ensconced at a fireside table. They looked at us askance. And well they should. We were both dripping water onto the floor.

“Told you it was going to rain,” said Andrea, as she perused the menu.

After pots of hot tea, generous portions of wine and a hot meal, the sun returned and we went outside to take in the scenery in Horningsham, the tiny village surrounding the pub.

I’m glad to be able to report that sun continued to shine from then on and that a good, if damp, time was had by all.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BATH

Our Georgian Tour this year was a bit of a departure, as it was the first tour on which I opted for a period property as our lodging, rather than a hotel. Though I knew that the townhouse in Great Pulteney Street was well appointed, I was anxious to see how it would be received by my guests. As it happened, it turned out to be the perfect blend of period detail and modern luxury.

Bath is extremely walk-able and this was the route we strolled each day – past Laura Place and over the historic Pulteney Bridge with its period shops and into the centre of the City.

Our first stop was at the Roman Baths Museum –

Afterwards, we visited the Abbey and Abbey Square.

Walking up Milsom Street, we headed for the Fashion Museum, where I was captivated by Princess Margaret’s truly tiny dresses.

Another short stroll brought us to the Royal Crescent and the No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum for some hands-on research regarding 19th century life.

Afterwards, we walked the back lanes . . . .

And arrived at the Jane Austen Centre for a tour.

By this time, we’d worked up an appetite, so we back tracked to the Pump Room for a proper Afternoon Tea.

Later that evening, we relaxed in our drawing room –

and indulged in some wine and cheese –

while I modeled the mask I’d purchased earlier in the day.

 

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