Beautifully British Mansions In Costume Dramas

Lyme Park, Stockport, United Kingdom
Lyme Park, Stockport, United Kingdom | Photo by Nat Callaghan on Unsplash
Alexandra Newson

The UK is packed full of glorious mansions. Rolling hills, fairytale turrets, secret passageways, sweeping driveways have all graced the screen in some of the best-loved costume dramas. Here, we’ve picked 10 of our favourites. All that’s left for you to do is to don your bonnet and decide which one you’d like to visit.

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Alice in Wonderland: Antony House, Cornwall

Home to the Carew Pole family, this grand 18th century mansion overlooks the beautiful Lynher River. In 2008, Tim Burton fell for its charm and the cast and crew of Alice in Wonderland descended on the West Country. In the opening scenes of the film, Alice attends a garden party and, realising that a marriage proposal is imminent, runs off and down the rabbit hole. The grounds where she stumbles upon Wonderland for the first time were designed by the Georgian landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, and are a stunning example of the Restoration’s taste for the elaborate. A Japanese ornamental pond, formal gardens complete with topiary, and a knot garden are dotted with more recently acquired modern sculptures, including the ‘Water Cone’ by William Pye. Inside, the wood-panelled rooms offer up a fascinating history of the house’s owners (think beheadings, civil war and treason). The collection of portraits includes works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, as well as a famous painting of Charles I during his trial.

Tuesday to Thursday & Sunday 1PM – 5PM (Garden opens at 12PM)

Wolf Hall: Montacute House, Somerset

Montacute House, Montacute, UK

Charting the meteoric rise of Thomas Cromwell from his humble beginnings as a blacksmith’s son, to Henry VIII’s closest advisor and history’s most cunning architect, Wolf Hall was filmed entirely on location. Six National Trust properties starred in the BAFTA-winning BBC drama, with Montague House arguably the most beautiful. A stunning, sandy coloured mansion in the eponymous Somerset village, it doubled as Greenwich Palace and Wolf Hall itself, the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest. The extensive grounds at the late Elizabethan mansion provided a spectacular backdrop to the jousting scenes, and hosted the impressive Royal Tent. Built with local ham stone by Sir Edward Phelips (the prosecutor during the trial of the Gunpowder Plot), Montague’s tall, mullioned windows give the appearance that the outside is made entirely of glass. The house’s Long Gallery boasts over 50 remarkable Tudor and Jacobean portraits, all on loan from the National Portrait Gallery.

Monday to Sunday 11AM – 4.30PM (House) 10AM – 5PM (Gardens)

Brideshead Revisited: Castle Howard, Yorkshire

Unrequited love, the dwindling fortunes of the upper classes, and a young Jeremy Irons playing posh to perfection: and there you have the recipe for one of the most beloved period dramas of all time. When Evelyn Waugh’s nostalgic novel first hit the small screen in 1981, Castle Howard became a star in its own right. The cast of a more recent adaptation, starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Goode, returned to Yorkshire to shoot the feature film and introduced the house to a whole new audience. Both interpretations made full use of the extravagant interiors, from the Long Gallery that hosted Julia’s ball, to the High Saloon’s transformation into a grand dining room. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the house and discover its many charms, including beautiful frescoes, 300 pieces of china, a room covered in Japanese leather wallpaper, and a chapel decorated with intricate William Morris designs. A fascinating year-round exhibition tells the story of how Castle Howard was brought to life on screen, not once but twice.

Monday to Sunday 10.30AM – 4PM (House) 10AM – 5PM (Gardens)

Far from the Madding Crowd: Claydon, Buckinghamshire

Much of the filming of Hardy’s romantic tale took place in his home county of Dorset. But it was in Buckinghamshire that they found the ideal home for William Boldwood, Bathsheba’s most prosperous suitor. Overlooking a lake, the 18th century mansion offered an idyllic setting and sumptuous interiors. In the 1750s, Ralph Varney built the house in order to dazzle his wealthy neighbours and outdo his political rivals. Today, visitors can wander the lavish rooms and see where the pivotal Christmas party scene was filmed, complete with full Christmas dinner, dozens of twinkling Christmas trees and Bathsheba’s gift-wrapped presents. In the summer, you can bring along a blanket and enjoy a picnic on the West Terrace, take a stroll through the gardens and watch the cows (cast along with the house in the film) munching in the fields.

Monday to Wednesday & Saturday to Sunday 11AM – 5PM

Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle, Hampshire

Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey) in Hampshire, England

When the nation’s favourite Sunday night drama aired its final episode, a collective tear was shed. But superfans can walk in the footsteps of Lady Mary and the rest of the cast by taking a trip to Highclere Castle, where the award-winning TV series was filmed. Home to the Carnarvons since 1679, the country house was remodelled in the Jacobean style in the 19th century, complete with fairytale towers and turrets. Visitors can see the Drawing Room where the Crawleys take tea and Maggie Smith doles out her acerbic put downs, marvel at Dutch paintings in the Smoking Room, wonder at the library filled with over 5000 books, and gaze at beautiful artefacts in the fascinating Egyptian exhibition. It’s a good idea to book your ticket early, as the house and gardens are only open for limited periods over the summer.

Sunday 10th July to Wednesday 7th September: Sunday to Thursday 10AM – 4PM (Garden opens at 9.30PM)

Pride and Prejudice: Lyme Park, Cheshire

The Dutch Garden (parterre) at Lyme Park, Disley, Stockport, UK

In 1995, the sight of a sodden Colin Firth emerging from a lake in white shirt and breeches set many hearts a-quiver. A trip to Lyme Park will satisfy anyone wanting to see the exact spot where the infamous dip happened in the BBC’s series of Pride and Prejudice. Nestled on the edge of the Peak District, Lyme doubled as Darcy’s country estate and provided all of Pemberley’s exterior shots. A walk around the main lake to its south-eastern side offers a wonderful view of the mansion, just as Lizzy saw it for the first time when she arrived with her aunt and uncle. In the grounds, there are 15 acres of formal gardens, including a beautiful rose garden. As well as an orangery, there’s a tower called ‘The Cage’ and a belvedere known as ‘The Lantern’. Inside, the rooms hark back to the Edwardian era and are home to an impressive collection of antiquities, from treasured Mortlake tapestries to the finest clock collection in the National Trust, as well as one of the most important printed books in its collection, the 1487 Lyme Caxton Missal.

Monday to Tuesday & Thursday to Sunday 11AM – 5PM

Pride and Prejudice: Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

Lyme Park wasn’t the only country house to play host to Jane Austen’s most famous will-they, won’t-they lovers. The stunning Chatsworth House featured in the 2005 film starring Keira Knightley and is thought to be the real inspiration for Pemberley (Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice whilst staying in nearby Bakewell). Standing on the banks of the River Derwent, it’s surrounded by beautiful Baroque gardens, which give way to heather moorland. Inside, there are over 30 rooms to explore from the magnificent Painted Hall, to the regal State Rooms and the Sculpture Court, where Lizzy spies the bust of Darcy. Chatsworth also houses the Devonshire Collection, one of Europe’s most precious art collections. Voted Britain’s favourite country house several times, this is a real treat for Austen fans.

Jane Eyre: Haddon Hall, Derbyshire

Rochester’s home, Thornfield Hall, has been depicted on screen by Haddon Hall three times, most recently in the 2011 film starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. A medieval manor house, its dark spaces, myriad passageways and hidden rooms were the perfect setting for a story that dealt in secrets. Its rugged interior, dating from the 12th to 17th Centuries, amplified the romance of Bronte’s gothic tale. Set in the heart of the Peak District National Park, the house overlooks the River Wye and is surrounded by beautiful Elizabethan terraced gardens. Next to the hall, a restaurant situated in the 17th Century stable block offers a selection of delicious treats and gorgeous views of the estate. For 200 years, from 1700 until the 1920s, Haddon House lay dormant, until the 9th Duke and Duchess of Rutland realised its importance and began a life’s work of meticulous restoration; now it offers up a unique slice of early English life and history.

10.30AM – 5PM

May to September: Monday to Sunday

October: Saturday to Sunday & Monday and Half-term 22nd to 31st

November: closed

Doctor Thorne: Osterley Park House, Middlesex

London dwellers can still find a few hidden historical gems on their doorstep – and one of the most impressive is Osterley Park House. Surrounded by beautiful park and farmland, this Georgian manor in West London is one of the capital’s last surviving country estates. Osterley has played a starring role in several period dramas, including Great Expectations. It has even appeared as the home of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises. Director Christopher Nolan was especially excited to find a real-life secret passage hidden behind a bookcase in the library: the perfect entrance for a legendary bat cave. Most recently, the house’s interiors were used to film several scenes in ITV’s Doctor Thorne, a three-part adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel, penned by Julian Fellowes. After exploring Osterley’s palatial rooms, servants quarters and the lemon trees in the summer house, don’t forget to make time for a spot of cake in the stables tea room.

Monday to Sunday 11AM – 5PM (House) and 10AM – 5PM (Gardens)

Vanity Fair: Chiswick House, London

Reece Witherspoon traded in her familiar Southern drawl for something altogether more plummy in Mira Nair’s 2004 adaptation of Vanity Fair. As Thackeray’s intriguing heroine, Becky Sharp, she seduces and charms her way up the social ladder. And it’s at London’s Chiswick House that most of the film’s outdoor scenes were filmed. A magnificent neo-Palladian villa, it’s not hard to see why it was chosen; the beautiful grounds feature wide gravel pathways, ornamental plants, manicured rolling lawns and an orangery. Designed by William Kent, they are one of the earliest examples of the English landscape garden. The house itself has a fascinating history having at one time been used as an asylum, and later as a fire station. Thankfully, it’s now been restored to its former glory and its sumptuous interiors are packed full of treasures. Climb the stairs up to the first floor and you’ll find the Blue Velvet room with its gorgeous wall hangings and mosaic ceiling celebrating the Goddess of Architecture. In the summer, Chiswick House plays host to a wide range of cultural events, from the Summer Sessions and Giffords Circus, to the Open Air Cinema.

Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday (House) and Monday to Sunday 7AM – dusk 5PM (Gardens)

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