Sunday, 21 July 2019

Location, location

Despite living not far from either Manchester or Knutsford (the model for Cranford), Elizabeth Gaskell's work had pretty much passed me by until recently. But then a friend recommended the BBC's 2004 dramatisation of North and South, and I decided to take a look. And was confused.

Not long after the opening credits came this shot, which we were assured was 'London'.

London. Or not

Now I'm not aware of any part of London having stonework that colour. But I am aware of a lot of Edinburgh having stonework that colour. Pretty much all of the New Town, in fact. (See this post about why the 'New Town' is not actually that new.) It turned out that quite a lot of the series was filmed in Edinburgh, mostly in parts which I recognized but did not know well. So on my recent trip up there, I set out to investigate. Apologies for some of the screen grabs being slightly blurry.

The first location I checked out was directly opposite the National Museum of Scotland, where the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event took place. These are the steps where Margaret Hale is accosted by the mill workers, and then rescued and helped to a carriage by Nicholas Higgins.

Looking up the steps

Getting into the carriage

The archway just visible in the first picture is a prop, but what really surprised me was just how narrow the street is at the bottom. The shot with the carriage must have been carefully set up so that the pavement on the other side was just out of the frame.

Looking down the steps

This pretty much set the tone for the rest of my exploration. I was fascinated to see how cleverly the locations had been used, admittedly sometimes with a little computer-generated help, to give a rather different impression.

Bizarrely, despite living in or near Edinburgh for 18 years and then visiting regularly for a further 17, I had never been up Calton Hill. In particular I'm amazed that Mr Tulip, who never saw a hill he didn't want to drag me up, had never insisted that we go there. It is at the east end of Princes Street, and home to the old city observatory and various monuments.

The Dugald Stewart Monument, with the Old Town to the left and Princes Street to the right

Various characters are seen walking here throughout North and South.

Margaret Hale, with the Dugald Stewart Monument in the background

With Milton/Manchester in the background

A similar view - albeit with restoration work going on

This seemed very odd, until I came across this image. It was used (sadly without any details) in this article about the novel Mary Barton, so I assume that it is a drawing of Manchester, where both novels are set. What runs under the bridge in Edinburgh is actually the railway station, not a river, but there are certain similarities - including Braid Hills standing in for the Pennines in the background!

Tall buildings and wide-span bridge

There is a lot of death in North and South, which I assume is why all the tombstones were added to Calton Hill.

Margaret talking to Bessie Higgins

In reality, the Calton Burial Ground is at the foot of the hill.

The burial ground seen from the hill

This was somewhere else I had never visited. Although it mostly contains gravestones, around the edges are these elaborate family tombs. I assume that they once had roofs, but now there are signs dotted around the burial ground warning that the structures are unsafe.

Two of the family tombs

Stockbridge, on the north side of the city, is another area I didn't visit when I lived there. This may have been because it's at the bottom of a very steep hill, which I would have to climb back up again! More recently I've become acquainted with it via the fabulous photoshoots which Debi of Ms1940McCall has staged around there - I love playing 'Guess the location' with her Edinburgh-based posts.

St Stephen's Church is partway down that hill. If you look down to it, both parts of north Edinbugh and the hills of Fife are visible behind it. Plus, the buildings to the right of the church are quite modern.

St Stephen's Church, with background

Shoot it close to, looking upwards, and with a conveniently placed cart to the side - and it becomes the institute where Mr Hale lectures.

A different view

The biggest surprise however was the street where the Hales live.

The busy, if not prosperous, street

The archway with 'Stockbridge Market' over it made it quite easy to find.

A bit of a giveaway

The area behind the arch was covered over for filming, which makes it look like there is a market hall there, and the properties on one side were turned into shops.

Baskets, chairs, and other goods for sale

The Hales' home, on the left with the black door, was tweaked a little to remove the very obvious downpipe - either by boxing it in or by computer.
Not the world's most unobtrusive plumbing

Look - no downpipe!

But the thing which amazed me was just how short the street is. There is so much going on in the various scenes shot here, that I had assumed it was a long street. In fact, there are only a handful of properties.

You can see the end of the street in the foreground

You can also see that I took this photograph just as the heavens opened. Faced with a long, uphill walk back to the hotel in a thunderstorm I was forced (forced, you understand) to take shelter in Elaine's Vintage Clothing just around the corner until the rain eased off - and came out with a very nice scarf! Downpours aside, the whole thing left me with a renewed admiration for the people who do all this unseen work in costume drama; those who work out how and where to set the shots up and who tweak real life to allow us to see something totally different.


  1. This is really interesting. Thanks for pointing out the real places used in this TV series. I will watch the adaptation again, this time focusing on the location.

  2. Thank you Deborah. Watching the adaptation again recently, I realised how much I had just assumed that various locations were wider/longer than the section shown on screen, when in fact that was often as much as was usable.