Filming Downton….well sort of!

I recently had the opportunity of filming at the fantastic National Trust property, Erddig Hall, for the ITV Wales Coast & Country programme.

National Trust property Erddig Hall
National Trust property, Erddig Hall

This stunning 18th century country manor house near Wrexham is often compared by its visitors to that most loved of TV programmes, Downton Abbey. And it comes down to the remarkable relationship that existed between the upstairs and the downstairs.

And so, of course, that had to be the focus for the piece I was producing. It is to become a six minute item for the programme, presented by Ruth Wignall (@ruthwignall) and filmed by North Wales ITV cameraman, Mark Doleman.

The house holds a stunning collection of treasures – in fact one of the largest ever owned by the National Trust.

The Yorke family, who lived there for 240 years, were hoarders. And it shows! But of course that only makes it a fantastic location for filming – so many delicate treasures and interesting curiosities to focus on. 

National Trust property Erddig Hall
Filming inside Erddig Hall, Wrexham

Most members of the Yorke family were also tee total and vegetarian. It doesn’t sound far fetched in our day and age but this is the Victorian period!

What was really fascinating about the Yorkes though was this relationship they held with their domestic staff – encompassed in the fact that they often had portraits commissioned of their servants and each squire to own Erddig often wrote poems about them. The art works line the walls of the servants hall and passage. The Yorkes couldn’t afford to pay their staff very well, so instead they chose to treat them well – often providing better food and accommodation; and this attitude of gratitude. They would even allow them to enjoy the gardens and watch the sunset on occasions! A sackable offence in most other houses of the time.

But what was really fun during the shoot was linking this to Downton Abbey. And we did it by recreating the opening titles for the start of our programme piece.

As TV producers, we’ve recently had some good news concerning this style of filming. New laws have come into force when it comes to allowing the parody of copyright works. This means we can film something like this without fear – as long as we aren’t damaging the reputation, or defaming the subject. Which in the case of Downton Abbey, of course, you would never do – it would be like criticising a national treasure!

Check it out on Coast & Country – ITV Wales, 8pm, Friday 7 November 2014 

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