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Burghley House in Stamford, Lincolnshire was the location chosen to represent Rosings, Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s home in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It might at first appear to have been an odd choice. Rosings in the text is clearly referred to as a modern house-
It was a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground
-all done no doubt to subtly throw doubt on the age of Sir Lewis de Boughs “noble” origins. Burghley is so obviously an Elizabethan house, built in the late 16th century for Queen Elizabeth I’s loyal minister, William Cecil, and therefore could never have been thought of as “new” in 1796 ,when this adaptation was set.
However, it was convenient. It is to be found on the outskirts of the town of Stamford, which was the real town used as the setting for Meryton in the film (and which I have previously written about here and here)
In this first post of three about Burghley and Pride and Prejudice, I will write about one of the rooms used in the adaptation…the Heaven Room.
This was the setting for Lady Catherine’s drawing-room at Rosings…
where Elizabeth is introduced to a rather formidable Lady Catherine in the company of Charlotte and Mr Collins…and unexpectedly meets Mr Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam , Lady Catherine’s nephews, who were also staying there…
…and where after dinner, we learn that Anne de Bourgh doesn’t play due to her delicate health…
But eventually Elizabeth is persuaded to play..though she does so very indifferently and with a very bad grace….not performing to strangers, indeed.
The Heaven Room,where these scenes were filmed is simply an astounding room. It is almost totally painted,
all the walls and ceiling,with roundels executed in grisaille over the entrances.
Seen in bright sunlight-as on the day I took my photographs- it all encompassing effect is almost overwhelming…
The gods and goddesses disporting themselves amidst tromp l’oeil columns and pediments, the sky seamlessly merging with the painted walls…
…a magically painted rainbow cutting through the scene on the right.
The room was painted by Antonio Verrio, the celebrated Italian muralist,who was patronised by Charles II (my hero)and James II, creating painted interiors at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace but who later fell out of court favour with the accession to the throne of William III.
He stayed at Burghley for some considerable time, painting these magnificent rooms, becoming part of the 5th Earl of Exeter’s social circle, even joining an informal gentleman’s private drinking club known as the Little Bedlam Club, based at Burghley and whose other members included the portraitist Sir Godfrey Kneller and the Earl himself. The club was well named in Verrio’s case ( the rules of the club are still on display in the Billiard Room in the House) for he was(and still is!!) known for causing havoc in the nearby town of Stamford running up tremendous bar bills and gaming debts and “wenching” in a rather George Wickham-like manner. intriguingly he included a portrait of himself in this room, and here it is in close up below….
He is shown without his usual Baroque wig , sketching while sitting in the forge of the cyclops, which you can see to the right of the centre section, shown below the falling rainbow.
Obviously it was logically too hot to wear a wig in such circumstances…
Choosing such grand and Baroque interiors certainly contributed to the impression of the grandness of Lady Catherine’s social situation in this film, emphasising the social gulf between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy’s family and relations, though a modern interior for the time would have been more appropriate, in my opinion.
I should like to thank the Trustees of Burghley House Preservation Trust , Phillip Gompertz, the house manager and the room Stewards for all their assistance , kindness and for granting me permission of photograph the Heaven Room. And also for allowing me to reproduce images 2-5 in this post. Burghley is a magical house, with stunning interiors( more on these in the next post) marvellous grounds and above all a happy atmosphere throughout all the house and the parts of the estate open to the public. If you can, do go and visit, for its welcome is always warm and the contents are always amazing to see, with something new to discover on every trip.
Next in this series, The Bow Room, used as Lady Catherine’s dining room.
We last looked at the history of the Stamford Assembly Rooms in detail in this post, here.
They were seen on film as part of Meryton in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadeyn. I had my own problems with this film- especially with the interpretation of many of the characters- but the look of the film seduced me completely. I’ve always viewed Jane Austen as a Georgian and not a product of the Regency, and as this film was set in the 1790s it had me hooked from the first magical opening scene where we were taken into the Bennet’s down-at-heel but still genteel home.
The St Georges Square and St Mary’s part of Stamford were used by the film for all the Meryton scenes.
This map show the areas ,marked in red, that were used as Meryton for the duration of the filming.
It is an ideal place to film period dramas, as in this area there are no buildings erected later than the mid to late 18th century- and some are much older than that. No modern buildings overhang or block the views. It is easily contained for security purposes, and cutting the streets off from traffic in the town does not incommode residents and visitors too much as there are alternative routes for the traffic to take. The town of Stamford had, prior to the filming of Pride and Prejudice, been used as Middlemarch for the BBC’s famed TV production of Elliot’s novel.
I was there to take photographs and I thought you’d like to see the before, after and during pictures I was able to capture.The work on the production in Stamford began in June of 2004.
The production drawings, above, show the alterations that had to be made to the street scene. The major piece of construction was a colonnade which wrapped itself around the assembly rooms and the Stamford Arts Centre (the old theatre in the town).These are photographs of the construction process.
First scaffolding was erected, along the Assembly Room frontage and into St Mary’s Street.
The colonnade was constructed from wood around the scaffolding poles: care had to be taken not to damage the buildings in the process as they are all listed.
False fronts of china shops were erected unde the colonnade.
And these were stocked with “fine china”…
The finished set….
The entrance to the Assembly Room was eventually converted to a place of wooden shutters
This is, of course, where in the film, Lizzie and Jane meet Wickham for the first time,who appears to have already made the acquaintance of Lydia and Kitty, just before they go on a shopping spree to buy ribbons.
The interiors of the Assembly Rooms were not used as the set for the Meryton Assembly Rooms,though they were used to teach the steps of the country dances needed for the scenes to the cast.
That honour -of being the Meryton Assembly Rooms-fell to a warehouse normally used for storing potoatoes, which is owned by the firm of Gilman and Sons and can still be found on a small industrial estate just outside Stamford. This was the only set used in the filming of the producion ,all the remining filming was otherwise done on location using real rooms.
I adore this scenes and think the set designers did a marvellous job of capturing the atmosphere of a country assembly room of the time.
it is clear , in my opinion, that they were inspired by images such as Rowlandson’s view of the Scarborough Assembly rooms, below, taken from his illustrations found in my copy of the Poetical Views of Scarborough (1812).
My daughter’s then English Master was picked to be an extra in the film and can be seen in a wig “that looked like and felt like a rat” at the commencement of the Meryton Assembly scenes, much to our family’s amusement.
Next in this series, the other scenes filmed in Stamford.