Wolf Hall, one of Wolf Hall’s most successful ever period dramas, depicts the meteoric rise of Thomas Cromwell: the son of a lowly blacksmith who rose through the ranks of the Tudor court to become Henry VIII’s trusted advisor.
The series was not just a triumph for its star Mark Rylance – it also showed the wealth and luxury of Tudor Britain like never before.
Director Peter Kosminsky insisted on filming the entire series on location. “All those small details add up and make a significant difference,” explains series producer Mark Pybus. Some of the properties were actually used by Henry VIII five hundred years ago.
Mark Pybus tells us about his favourites…
Chastleton House, Oxfordshire
Chastleton’s small stone courtyard doubles for Putney, where we see Cromwell as a young man being viciously attacked by his father. The interiors stand in for the Seymour family home, Wolf Hall, where Henry first falls for Jane Seymour. “The Seymours are on the up when we first meet them, before Jane becomes queen,” says Pybus. “It’s one of the only properties in the drama that has a shabby feel. We wanted to get across that they’re not as rich as other people in the show.” It’s possible to visit this ancient house, first built by a rich wool merchant, and now managed by the National Trust.
Dover Castle, Kent
This medieval castle doubles for the Tower of London, where we see Anne Boleyn being executed. “We were looking for a tower, but the problem with the one in central London is that you can end up looking at so much modern stuff [in the background] and have a lot of tourists watching you as you work,” says Pybus, “but Dover has a very similar tower to the White Tower.” The English Heritage site was also used for scenes in Meryl Streep’s new movie Into the Woods. Visitors can also see the fort that’s guarded Britain’s shores from invasion for hundreds of years.
Used for many of the street scenes in Wolf Hall, this atmospheric medieval city is the smallest in England. Pybus and his team were given unparalleled access to the cathedral. “We used the cathedral library, which has never been filmed in before,” he says. “It had books in it that were 400-500 years old. People can also explore the high street and enjoy the teashops and the Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral.”
Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire
Used for the Cromwell’s happy family home in the series, this moated manor was built between 1465 and 1480 by a wealthy clothing trader. It also features in The Other Boleyn Girl and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. “Cromwell is a successful merchant by the time we meet him, and it felt like a house that a merchant in Tudor times might live in.” Visitors can walk around the entire house, including the garden, courtyard, bedrooms upstairs and Cromwell’s study in the series.
Montacute House, Somerset
“It one of the jewels in the National Trust’s portfolio, Montacute House represents Greenwhich Palace in the series,” explains Pybus, “we were looking for stairs and a sense of scale that you don’t often get in period dramas. It felt like the kind of palaces that Henry would have had. Henry the VII was the last king that wasn’t London-based, he would travel around the country. The civil war had ended and Henry VIII actively started building these much grander palaces, with large windows and designs to impress, getting that scale was something we spent a lot of time looking for and we found it a Montacute.”
Penshurst Place, Kent
Once owned by King Henry VIII, the structure of this beautiful fortified house has almost remained the same for 600 years. “There were these huge long rooms that characters could walk through,” explained Pybus, who used the Long Gallery to film shoot the Whitehall scenes. When the weather was abhorrent, Henry would have used the Long Gallery to take exercise, while today, family portraits and furniture from the period are displayed in the room.
Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire and Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire
Both of these magnificent castles were used on screen and have had the same families living in them for hundreds of years. “The people currently running these locations are doing a wonderful job of it and they are carrying on a family tradition” says Pybus, “It feels really nice, as opposed to other locations that may have been bought by an American 20 years ago, and that sense of history has been lost slightly.” Open to the public on certain dates, visitors can wander the estates and experience what it was like living hundreds of years ago.