Guest blog by Helen Wilkinson of P&P Tours
Longbourn – the private house found by the BBC for the ultimate adaptation of Pride & Prejudice in 1995 – has become one of the most famous houses in the world. BBC location manager Sam Breckman knew he had to find a house that could withstand a gruelling 10 weeks of filming, and with a drawing room, dining room, library, large hall, three bedrooms and extensive gardens – all readily adaptable to a look of the 1790’s.
“Longbourn can’t be too grand – it mustn’t threaten the social levels we were hoping to establish. It also needed to sit in its own grounds and be from the correct period.” Gerry Scott – Production Designer P&P 1995
The team had almost given up hope of finding a house that had the right look, and one that wouldn’t exhaust the entire budget to adapt to the period – many of the houses they had found had been over-modernised and the cost of converting their interiors was prohibitive. Gerry Scott solved the problem on a scouting trip around Lacock in Wiltshire – the village that had been selected as Meryton. He had been driving endlessly through the local villages and lanes until he saw a flash of ochre through the trees. Describing his arrival he says “Even before I knocked on the door I knew I’d found it.”
The owner at the time was Angela Horn who had lived in the house since the 1940’s. The house still sits in its simple but well-maintained grounds, and on a manor, just the right size for Mr Bennet. It adjoins the church – which gave the BBC another perfect location – for the wedding of Lizzie and Darcy, and for the opening scene of episode 1 when the Bennet family return from church and discuss the arrival of Mr Bingley. The house sits in a private lane where Sam found he could set Lizzie’s walks, and all within a stone’s throw of the house.
Everything was perfect as far as the BBC and the viewing public were concerned. So perfect that in the first few years after the production aired, hoards of people descended on the village and the house. Owner Angela Horn was happy to allow them access, free of charge, even though the intrusion was becoming a problem. After Angela died the house passed to the next generation who had no connection with the filming, and who found the intrusion unbearable. From that time the house has returned to its former quiet privacy.
“People from all over the world seem to think they have some kind of ownership of our home – because it means so much to them, but they don’t realise how upsetting it can be for the family. We expected the problem to go away but the DVD is still selling all round the world, so we know people are never going to fall out of love with the house.” Nina, grand-daughter of Angela Horn
When I first decided to run tours to all the P&P 1995 locations I knew Longbourn was an essential centre-piece, but I always understood that it would be tough to persuade the family to let us in. Now on every tour my heart still skips a beat when we pull up at the church and I see the house again. I often wondered whether the inside would be unrecognisable from the production, but when we step inside the unchanged hall I swear I can hear Mr Bennet and Lizzie – just down the hall. It’s the best job in the world.
Helen Wilkinson, P&P Tours
P&P Tours have exclusive access to Longbourn for holidays, day events, suppers and an annual ball. Website www.pandptours.co.uk
© 2010 Helen Wilkinson