It was quite a thrill to be driven on an overcast November day down the winding road to Arley Hall in a section of Cheshire genial producer Simon Maloney describes as “the footballer belt … all Barbour jackets, wellies and spaniels”.
The car park is full of trailers and catering trucks. From here, we crunch up the gravel drive to the symmetrical Grade II listed pile. With Maloney and creator Steven Knight as my tour guides, I was escorted through the grand, wood-panelled house, stepping over director Tim Mielants’ dolly-camera rails and taking heed of a threatening notice that has been taped to the side of a large monitor on an lightweight aluminium cart whose brand is ubiquitous on film sets: “No food or drink on the Magliner, by order of the Peaky Blinders.”
Only a very light dressing is required to turn the place into Tommy’s seat of power: a lick of paint, an office created inside a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves through the installation of a large desk.
Arley Hall, Arley village
In the great hall, a huge, stunningly custom-painted portrait in oils of Tommy and his horse Grace’s Secret hangs over the fireplace (it was created using cast photos taken on day one of the shoot in Macclesfield). Maloney says that he warned Cillian, “It’s going to be awkward checking that in on EasyJet.”
Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby in person and in paint
The exterior of Arley is pretty much camera-ready, save for a couple of modern lights mounted above the windows, which I’m told will be removed digitally. There is also technical talk of a digital colourist “doing something with the trees, painting a little bit of green in.” It’s green enough for the London-based Knight, who declares, “I wanna leave London! I’ve had enough!”
The Shelbys have certainly gone up in the world since series two. Their Warwickshire mansion is actually Arley Hall in Arley village in Cheshire, which has been home to the same family for more than 500 years, the Ashbrooks. Tommy Shelby and his gangsters took over for two months in 2015.
Arley’s library became Tommy’s study, while the gallery – where wedding parties usually enjoy their breakfast –doubled as the Shelbys’s dining hall. Before filming began, the crew brought in bespoke portraits, 1920s furniture and painted the hall dark green to suit Tommy’s tastes, but it’s since been returned to how it was before the Shelbys’s tenancy.
Arley Hall is only open to the public during special events including this weekend’s antiques fair. The chapel and gardens are open from March to October and include a sculpture trail, picnic area, woodland walk and adventure play area. Tickets cost £8.50 for adults and £3.50 for children. For information about Arley Hall and visiting hours, go to: arleyhallandgardens.com
The wedding in episode one was shot at St Peter’s Chapel in Tabley, which is open and free to the public from Thursday through to Sunday, from midday to 5pm.
Peaky Blinders begins on Thursday 5th May on BBC2 at 9pm