When Netflix set about making The Crown, the original plan was to build most of the sets in studio. However, the team soon realised they were never going to be able to build the extraordinary world the Queen inhabits from scratch.
Instead the cast and crew decamped to some of England’s most opulent stately homes and churches. “Everywhere you look, every detail, I don’t think we would have ever really got that,” explains executive producer Suzanne Mackie.
“What’s wonderful is when you have that incredible scale, beauty and grandeur, as well as something that’s quite intimidating, then you put one of our characters, on their own perhaps, in that vast state room, and suddenly that image can speak volumes for what we’re trying to say.”
Here are eight of the key locations, ranging from a Cambridgeshire cathedral to a clifftop castle in Aberdeenshire.
1. Lancaster House
Even Netflix can’t buy its way into Buckingham Palace, so many of those scenes were filmed in Lancaster House instead. This lavishly decorated townhouse is just a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace on Pall Mall.
Built in the 1820s, it was originally known as York House because it was commissioned by the “Grand Old” Duke of York. Throughout the 19th century, it was at the centre of political and high society. Apparently Queen Victoria once remarked enviously to her close friend the Duchess of Sunderland, when she lived there: “My dear, I come from my house to your palace.”
Nowadays it’s managed by the Government and mostly used for conferences and government hospitality. It’s not usually open to the public, but you can book a place on a guided tour.
For more information: gov.uk/government/history/lancaster-house
2. Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral stands in for Westminster Abbey. It’s the backdrop to the Queen’s wedding, Coronation and the big argument where Philip says: “Are you my Queen or my wife?” And doesn’t want to kneel before Elizabeth. For the Coronation scenes, they filled the cathedral with hundreds of extras, representing the various factions of the military, the Commonwealth, and other international dignitaries and royalty.
This vast cathedral in the small city of Ely in Cambridgeshire dates back to the 7th century, when the daughter of the King of East Anglia, Etheldreda, built a monastery here. After dying of the plague, she was made a saint and medieval pilgrims flocked to her shrine. Work on the present cathedral began after the Norman conquest in 1066, when the first Norman Abbot decided to rebuild the abbey on a much grander scale.
Throughout December, there are daily tours and visitors can also climb the Octagon Tower, which is 170ft-high and crowned by the Cathedral’s famous wood, lead and glass Lantern Tower, which is a masterpiece of medieval engineering.
For more information: elycathedral.org
3. Eltham Palace
This stylish Art Deco house in South London was used for several scenes in episode eight – as the Queen’s quarters of the Royal Yacht Britannia, Bermuda Government House, the HMSS Queen Mary. They also filmed in the Swedish-designed, glass-domed entrance hall (pictured below): it’s where the Queen meets fashion designer Norman Hartnell in his studio.
Eltham Palace’s moat and (aptly named) great hall date back to medieval times, but the rest of the house was built in the 1930s. At the time the design was cutting-edge: there’s even a vacuum cleaner hidden in the walls. There’s also a gold bathroom lined with gold mosaic and onyx, with gold-plated bath taps and a statue of the goddess Psyche. Nowadays, it’s managed by English Heritage.
It was used for the yacht because the first floor looks like cabins in luxury cruise liners would have in the 30s and 40s – with built-in, curved furniture and smooth veneered surfaces.
For more information: english-heritage.org.uk
4. Greenwich Naval College
The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich in southeast London was used for Buckingham Palace courtyard, which we see a lot of: the many comings and goings of Churchill, Elizabeth visiting her parents when she and Philip lived at Clarence House, members of the family visiting the Queen.
It began life as Greenwich Palace, one of the main royal palaces throughout the Tudor period. Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I were all born here, Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn was arrested here, and Shakespeare performed here. The classical buildings visitors see today were originally the Royal Hospital for Seamen, which was built in the 17th century to house retired veterans of the British Navy. From 1873 until 1997, it became the Royal Naval College.
The Old Royal Naval College is free to visit and open daily. For more information: ornc.org
5. Goldsmiths’ Hall
The scene where a room in Buckingham Palace it turned into a makeshift operating theatre and King George has his lung removed was filmed in Goldsmiths’ Hall, which is in the City, a few streets away from St Paul’s. The scene was recreated with real surgeons from Guy’s Hospital, who worked in their spare time to ensure it was realistic.
The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths is one of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of the City of London and received its first royal charter in 1327. This spot has been the headquarters of the Goldsmiths’ Company since 1339, when 19 goldsmiths bought the land. This is the third hall that’s stood here. It was built in the early 1800s and nearly destroyed in 1941 when a bomb landed in the south-west corner.
Goldsmiths’ Hall is not usually open to the public, but there are open days when visitors can sign up for a free guided tour.
For more information: thegoldsmiths.co.uk
6. Shoreham Airport
This wonderful Art Deco airport near Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex is the oldest in England. It was used for many scenes, including when the Queen arrives back from South Africa after her father has died, and when she, Philip and Townsend travel to and from Northern Ireland.
Founded in 1910, Shoreham Airport is now part of Brighton City Airport and is used by flying schools and private owners of light aeroplanes and aircraft. It’s not the first time it’s had a TV role: the 1930s Art Deco terminal building has appeared in several Agatha Christie adaptations and The Da Vinci Code.
7. Slains Castle
In episode eight, viewers will spy Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire when the Queen Mother goes to Scotland in 1952. It stands in as the castle she bought: Castle Mey in Caithness. The Queen Mother restored it and used it as a holiday home for the next half a century.
Slains Castle is also known as New Slains Castle, although it’s pretty old: it was built in 16th century by 9th Earl of Erroll, a Catholic convert who wasn’t a fan of Queen Elizabeth I. It sits atop a cliff overlooking the North Sea, a kilometre down the coast from Cruden Bay village.
Old Slains Castle also belonged to the Earl and lay about six miles south-west. It was blown up with gunpowder by King James VI after Errol backed a treasonous plot.
Nowadays New Slains Castle is a ruin, so you only see exteriors of it in The Crown (the interiors of Castle Mey were filmed elsewhere). If you’re in that neck of the woods, it’s worth a visit for the dramatic vista alone. You can walk to it from the village itself or from the slightly nearer car park on the A975.
8. South Africa
Another key location was South Africa, which doubled as Kenya in the early part of the series. Elizabeth and Philip head to Kenya for a Commonwealth tour and a short holiday, in lieu of her sick father. It’s where she learns of her father’s death, and when she becomes Queen.
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