Stepping back in time
PUBLISHED: 13:30 04 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:28 20 February 2013
The trials and tribulations of the good people of Cranford, seen on our TVs this Christmas, were shot in some of the most tranquil and timeless locations in our area, says Tessa Harris
Fans of BBC Ones much-loved dramatisation of Cranford this Christmas may well have known that most of the two-part drama was shot at the National Trusts picturesque village of Lacock in Wiltshire in June.
But this was not the only stunning location used by the production team. The beautiful Wasing Estate, just outside Aldermaston in West Berkshire, also had a part to play, as did the church of St Mary the Virgin in Radnage, near High Wycombe, which was also featured in the original series.
For almost ten days last July the 4,000 acre Wasing Estate, complete with its magnificent mansion, church, stable block, granary, follies and undulating parkland, became home to a film crew and a host of famous faces.
It was staggering, recalls Wasings resident land agent Ian Lindsay. There were so many actors and never less than 60 crew. They set up camp in a field with a huge marquee and several trailers.
The Amazons of Cranford were reunited for the special feature with Imelda Staunton back as Miss Pole, Julia McKenzie returning as Mrs Forrester, and Deborah Findlay reprising Miss Tomkinson. Celia Imrie, playing Lady Glenmire also arrived, making quite an impression on the friends.
The Christmas special was once again written by Heidi Thomas, based on Elizabeth Gaskells novel Cranford, which she wove together with two of her other works.
In this latest episode theres news that wealthy widower, Mr Buxton, played by Jonathan Pryce, has returned to live quietly in Cranford bringing with him his charming ward, and his handsome Eton-educated son. Wasing Place, a magnificent Georgian mansion, built in the 1770s, and surrounded by parkland and uninterrupted views of timeless countryside, is his home, known in the drama as The Glebe.
Locations manager Richard May says he chose the Wasing Estate because of its tranquil surroundings. We were looking for an elegant graceful Georgian country manor house and Wasing Place fitted the brief perfectly. A lot of the scenes were set in the entrance hall and the relationship between the staircase and the main door was fundamental to the plot line. Wasing Place is unusual for a house of the period because the staircase is in the main hall instead of a separate stair hall common in many properties which enabled these scenes to be played as written. Also key were the driveway and garden which have unspoilt views across open countryside.
The crew, consisting of 12 articulated lorries and trailers, plus sundry vans, rolled onto the Wasing Estate in July, just in time to catch some of the worst weather of a very poor summer. Luckily much of the filming was done inside the mansion.
Wasing Place is actually rented out to an American family who use it mainly as a weekend retreat. Luckily they were away when the BBC wanted to film. The other buildings on the estate an 18th century barn, a modern garden room, a church, a granary and an 11- bedroom boutique hotel in a stable block make it a very popular weddings and conference venue all year round.
For a few days before they came we werent allowed to cut the grass, explains Wasings events manager Lisa Buffery, who is also a big fan of the series. Thats because in those days it would have been grazed by sheep and there wouldnt have been any stripe marks.
Barbed wire fencing also had to be disguised with rubber tubing painted black so that it looked like railings. Other than these details, the film crew had very little work on their hands to make the landscape authentic because there are no telegraph poles, pylons or other unsightly 21st century landmarks to spoil the view around the estate.
Inside the crew shot in three rooms. The cameramen particularly liked the hallway, explains Lisa, because it is so big. We took the more modern paintings down, but left some of the period paintings up, along with some of the busts.
The enormous drawing room was given the biggest makeover. The walls were painted a mushroom colour and curtains were replaced with heavier drapes. The cornicing and fireplace details which were highlighted in an acid green paint were also toned down to be of the period. The existing piano was of the wrong era, so another one 50 years older had to be transported especially all the way from Sussex.
The smaller family room became a dining room for the filming and the table belonged to the house. A large book shelf was modified at the front with a fabric screen and various objet dart of the period were added.
Wasing Parks Vicky Bracey was on hand during filming to ensure everything ran smoothly.
What really impressed me was how they managed to hide things like light switches. They made small wooden covers and painted them in the same shade as the wall, she explains.
Ian agrees. When I see a fire screen in shot, Ill know its hiding something. The attention to detail was incredible. They even took out the panes of glass in the front door and replaced them with panelling and a knocker because theres a scene where an actor knocks on the door. They were absolutely determined to get all the period details right.
Of course much of the make-over was executed using temporary fixes, such as MDF and Velcro.
The whole place did look stunning, says Lisa. But we have tenants in here and everything needed to be returned to how the crew had found it. They were marvellous, but we did ask them to leave the walls in the drawing room as they were because they were much nicer than before.
The church of St Mary the Virgin in Radnage once again doubled as Cranford Church. Apparently the church in Lacock was not suitable for filming and a crew member knew St Marys from an earlier shoot. Says Ian Peacock from Radnage: Hed worked on a film called A Month in the Country with Colin Firth back in the Eighties when he was a junior and suggested it as a location.
Filming took place during three days in June and some of the villagers were taken on as extras.
Although Wasing Estate is privately owned, walking and fishing permits, giving access to the parks many lakes, rivers, footpaths and woodland walkways are available.