Although we may be just over halfway through the BBC’s sumptuous television adaption of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, the reviews and public responses have already hailed it a masterpiece of television, and the viewing numbers from the live broadcasts and online replays have made the series the most popular BBC period drama in ten years.
The scale of re-creating Henry VIII’s court, along with a number of households of his closest servants, including Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell, is certainly a challenge. And filming such a series comes with substantial costs. Some film companies and producers may choose to re-build their own set to mirror that of Henry’s bedchamber or Cromwell’s kitchen. Yet, why would you do that when you have so many brilliant properties on offer to film at in England?
Mark Pybus, the producer of Wolf Hall, has spoken of the importance of bringing Henry VIII’s court to life by using medieval and sixteenth century buildings that still survive in the south of England.
Pybus has said: ‘The advantages of filming in a historic location are massive. …It also helps the actors, if they’re stepping into the buildings that Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell walked around in it helps bring a realness to the project.’
He added: ‘The National Trust has been very supportive and around 40% of our overall shoots have been at Trust places. … It will be a big part of the overall programme, the locations that people see.’
So, with this in mind, we take a look at the houses (and one cathedral) that have played their parts in re-creating the Henrcian court in Wolf Hall.
Montacute House plays the part of Greenwich Palace in the television series. Greenwich acts as Henry VIII’s London Palace, and the scene of Anne Boleyn’s arrest in 1536.
Although Montacute House may be Elizabethan, and therefore a few decades out of date, its extensive gardens and brilliant stone-work stand as a brilliant backdrop to a number of jousting scenes and the set for the glorious Royal Tent.
The house has previously been used as the setting for filming The Libertine and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
During the filming of Wolf Hall, Barrington Court was used as the setting of York Place. York Place originally was the home of Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell’s mentor and dear friend.
Barrington Court holds no furniture or collections on show, allowing its spacious and open rooms to be used to the best of its abilities during the filming. The building was close to ruin at the start of the twentieth century. However, in the 1920s, the Lyle family took it over and restored the Tudor manor.
Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire acts as the home of the Seymour family Wolf Hall in the television series. Both the exterior of the Abbey and the medieval cloisters are used as this country family home.
The Great Hall of Lacock Abbey was also used as Henry VIII’s banquet room and bedchamber for his lodgings in Calais, which you can see in episode three.
Lacock was originally founded as an abbey in the thirteenth century as an Augustrian nunnery. Later on, Henry VIII sold the building to Sir William Sharington, one of his courtiers. Sharington converted the Abbey into a house after the dissolution of the monasteries.
Lacock has previously been used as the set for Harry Potter, Cranford and The Other Boleyn Girl.
The courtyard at Chastleton was used in Wolf Hall as the setting for Cromwell’s violent and vivid childhood memories in Putney.
Along with this, the interiors of the house were used as the Seymour’s family home’s rooms at Wolf Hall.
Between 1607 and 1612, the house was built by a merchant who made his fortune in rich wool. Since it was built 400 years ago, the house has generally remained unchanged.
Great Chalfield Manor and Garden
The interiors of Great Chalfield Manor were used in the television series as Thomas Cromwell’s home, Austin Friars.
The home was built for Thomas Tropenell between 1465 and 1480, and it has its own moat and parish church nearby.
The building has previously seen a number of television and film casts visit it, including the likes of The Other Boleyn Girl, Lark Rise to Candleford and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
Bristol Cathedral was used in place of Westminster Abbey in the series, setting the scene for Anne Boleyn’s coronation in episode three.
The Chapter House was also transformed to be used as The Duke of Norfolk’s home. The Eastern Lady Chapel and Elder Lady Chapel also make appearances in the series.
In 1140 a local resident, Robert Fitzharding (who later became the first Lord Berkeley) founded the Augustinian monastery. The Chapter House dates from around 1160 and the Elder Lady Chapel was added in 1220. Since then, for nearly 1,000 years, people have continued to visit the cathedral for worship.
Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner once described the east end of the cathedral as ‘superior to anything else built in England and indeed in Europe at the same time’.
In the 1530s the medieval nave was being rebuilt, but it was never finished because Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1539. However, with the creation of a number of ‘New Foundation’ Cathedrals, in 1542 building work began again at Bristol. In 1868, after three hundred years without a nave, architect G.E. Street recreated one for the cathedral in a Gothic Revival design.
Wolf Hall continues next week on Wednesday 18th February at 9pm on BBC Two. If you’ve missed the previous episodes, they are available to watch online on BBC iPlayer.