Stately Homes in Fiction and Films

geograph-3402782-by-steve-daniels-highclereThe other day I mentioned Downton Abbbey in a blogpost which reminded me of the building’s extraordinary architecture.

Of course, Downton Abbey doesn’t really exist. The TV series was filmed in part at Highclere Castle in Hampshire but the exterior of Highclere Castle has now become synonymous with Downton Abbey.

The same has happened with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

Castle Howard in Yorkshire and Brideshead are interchangeable to such an extent that the York Theatre Royal started their new season in 2016 with a stage adaptation of Brideshead Revisited solely because Castle Howard is nearby.

A less well known Evelyn Waugh adaptation is the 1988 film of A Handful of Dust.

This film used Carlton Towers in Yorkshire as the location for Hetton Abbey.

In the novel the house is a Victorian reconstruction in neo-Gothic which is the pride and joy of the main character, Tony Last.

Tony is a contented but shallow English country squire. He is betrayed by his wife and having seen his illusions shattered, seeks solace by joining an expedition to the Brazilian jungle. Here he becomes trapped in a remote outpost as the prisoner and plaything of an insane settler. Tony’s beloved home at Hetton Abbey / Carlton Towers becomes a distant memory.


We loved the BBC adaptation of Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford.

Around the time of the First World War, a love triangle develops between the old-fashioned Christopher Tietjens, his vindictive wife Sylvia and young women’s suffragist Valentine Wannop. As the war drags on, Christopher goes to fight in France and leaves behind Sylvia; a son who may or may not be his; and Valentine.

Christopher must ultimately decide with whom he will spend the remainder of his life: the beautiful yet manipulative Sylvia or the adoring Valentine.

Christopher is associated with the fictional Groby Hall in Cleveland. In the TV adaptation of Parade’s End the location for Groby Hall is the lovely Duncombe Park in Yorkshire.


I’ve no photo to show you of Melthorpe Hall in East Yorkshire, the home of Lady Isabella Fernshawe: just Tony Forward’s first impression when he went there to interview her Ladyship.

There, directly ahead of Forward, about a quarter of a mile distant, lay Melthorpe Hall. He instantly recognised it as Queen Anne. As he neared the house the open parkland gave way to formally laid out gardens. The gravel drive went over a stone bridge which separated two large and grandiose lakes. On either side of the bridge, in the centre of each lake, was a working fountain from which spumes of water cascaded.

After the bridge, Forward drove on between two large parterres until the road entered a square courtyard and ended in a turning circle at the front of the house.

Forward parked the BMW, got out and stared up in admiration at the imposing edifice built in grey stone. Then he climbed a set of steps and stood before the massive double doors. Immediately he heard bolts being shot back and both doors were opened by a tall, fair haired young man. His formal butler’s uniform of black jacket and grey, striped trousers was in ludicrous contrast to his youthfulness. He looked like a young boy at a society wedding.

Forward stepped into a vast vault of an entrance hall that was nearly two storeys high. Confronting him was a wide, wooden staircase. Forward followed the butler up this to the first landing. The butler then went left down a long gallery until he came to a set of double doors which he opened for Forward.

Forward found that he’d entered a magnificent library. It was an immensely long room and three of the walls were lined entirely with dark bookshelves that went from floor to ceiling. These were mostly crammed with antique books bound in various hues of brown, gold and green leather. One set of bookshelves had, however, been reserved for books of more recent publication. The floor was completely covered by a sumptuous Axminster carpet dominated by a design of huge circles and other, smaller, geometrical motifs in red and cream. Around the edges of the room were a number of antique tables on which stood either an elaborate flower arrangement or a vase of cut flowers. Forward glanced up at the ceiling and caught his breath. It was in gilded stucco and inset with circular paintings of Greek Gods.

“Detective Chief Inspector Forward of the East Yorkshire Police,” announced the butler.

Thanks for visiting my blog today. For more about DCI Tony Forward go to and read the free sample.


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