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Belton House has become rather popular as a film location in the past few years. It was used in the recent BBC TV adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson- as Mrs Reed’s house and Celine Varens’ Parisian hotel -and of course was used by the BBC as Rosings for their 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Both exteriors and interiors were used, together with the local parish church, and so I will separate this subject into three posts, so as not to over burden you all at once.
Today, I will deal with the exteriors. But first we ought to consider a little of Belton’s history. It is now a National Trust property but for 300 years it was the home of the Brownlow and then the Cust families, influential Lincolnshire landowners whose families intermarried with the Dukes of Ancaster at Grimsthorpe and the Cecils of Burghley House.
As you can clearly see from the style of the house, -its south front is shown above-it was built in the late 17th century, between 1684 and 1688. It was commissioned by “Young” Sir John Brownlow, seen here as he appears in his portrait which still hangs in the formal saloon of the house.
For years legend had it that the house was designed by Sir Christopher Wren but this is now thought to be false,and that the real architect of the house is more likely to have been a contemporary of Sir Christopher, the soldier, architect and member of the Royal Society, William Winde.
This all, of course, makes it totally unsuitable to appear in the adaptation as Rosings, which was described in Pride and Prejudice as appearing from Mr Collins’ garden as follows:
But of all the views which his garden, or which the country or the kingdom could boast, none were to be compared with the prospect of Rosings, afforded by an opening in the trees that bordered the park nearly opposite the front of his house. It was a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground.
At the time Jane Austen was writing First Impressions (1795) or revising what became Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, it is clear that a house built in the 1680s would not have been considered as being at all modern;-).
Still,it made logistical sense to film at Belton as the majority of the location filming of the series was undertaken throughout the midlands area of England-ranging from Great Sherston in Wiltshire in the west, to Belton in the east, Lyme Park (Pemberley exteriors)in the north and to Lacock ( Meryton) in the south, according to the map included in the book The Making of Pride and Prejudice by Sue Birtwhistle and Susie Conklin.
We first see the north front of Belton House as it is being approached by the clearly terrified Sir William and Maria Lucas, a sanguine Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Collins(nee Lucas)and a fretfully boastful Mr Collins.
The garden on the north front ,known as the Dutch garden, which the group pass through on their way to meet Lady Catherine and her daughter,has undergone a few changes over the last few years since the filming took place.
The planting in the garden is essentially the same but the yew trees which were getting out of control have ,as you can see, been cut back severely. New growth has covered the stumped that remained, and they are now about half the size they once were,but it was a shock to the system when this necessary but seemingly brutal garden maintenance took place a few years ago.
This is the famous limestone sundial that the group pass as they walk towards Rosings. It inspired the children’s book, The Moondial by Helen Cresswell. Viscount Tyrconnell bought it for the garden at Belton, and it was carved by the Danish master carver,Caius Gabriel Cibber who was sculptor in ordinary to William III and who worked on St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Chatsworth House.
The north front is also the scene of Darcy’s hasty retreat after his first proposal of marriage has been rejected by a furious Elizabeth Bennet.
We are shown the west front of the house as he angrily strides back to his aunt’s house ….
…up the steps leading to the entrance to the saloon…
Here is a short video of the scene from the north front of the house looking over the Dutch Garden:
Some of the most lovely shots of the countryside around Belton, complete with hanging woods, are seen in the scenes where Elizabeth Bennet wanders around the grounds and groves at Rosings.
The ground to the east of the house gradually rises to the Belmount Tower, along an avenue of what was once elm trees and are now Turkey oaks.This building cannot now be accessed though the grounds and park of Belton House but it was once very much part of it. A deep ha-h separates it from the Belton grounds, and to gain access to it now you have to go via a road leading from Belton village.
Here it is, with obligingly picturesque deer in the foreground. The tower was built between 1749 and 1751 by William Grey and Samuel Smith. Originally it was flanked by two lower arches but these were removed in the late 18th century. The tower was used as a focal point for the eastern avenue of elms, as seen from the house, and as a high vantage point from which the Belton estate could be viewed. Jane Austen’s distant kinswoman by marriage, Caroline Lybbe Powys, visited Belton in 1757, and while she was dismissive of the house seemed to have been impressed by Belmount, or Belle Mount as she called it:
In the evening we went to Belton House, the seat of Lady Cust. Tis nothing more than a good family house. Two things relative to it we were desired to remember viz that the original of sash windows was at the erecting of this edifice in Charles I’s time: the second that from a temple in the garden called Belle Mount you may see seven counties at once, a thing from one spot thought very remarkable…
It is towards this tower that Elizabeth and Colonel Fitzwilliam walk, when he informs Elizabeth of Darcy’s dreadful interference in Bingley’sromantic affairs, thereby ending Jane Bennet’s hopes of marrying him. Badly done, Darcy.
This high ground is also the point used for the scene where Darcy presents Elizabeth with The Letter,
and where she reads the first part of it…..
The parts of the Belton grounds that were not used in the adaptation, the deer park to the south and east of the house,
the Italian Sunken Garden
and the Jeffrey Wyatville designed conservatory dating from 1810
compete with tender plants…
and goldfish filled pond and statuary
are worthwhile visiting in themselves. As are the interiors of the house and the parish church of Belton village which both featured in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice and will be the next subjects of posts in this series about Jane Austen film and television locations.
I do hope you have enjoyed this jaunt around the Belton exteriors, and have been able to place them in the scenes from the BBC’s last adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.