The autumn equinox has passed and with it has come the return of two of the highlights of my year; Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey. Who cares if it’s cold and dark outside when you can sit in the comfort of your own living room and lose yourself in the glamour of spray tans and sequins on a Saturday and dramas of the people at Downton Abbey, both below and above stairs, on a Sunday. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of Downton, as once again, I’ve been fortunate enough to be on site at Cogges, alias Yew Tree Farm, during the filming that took place here earlier this year.
On a cold , but sunny day in March, the Victorian kitchen at Cogges, was once again transformed into the home of Farmer Drewe and his family.
The following day, the actors arrived. Farmer Drewe, his wife Marji and the twin girls, who play Marigold, were among them. This intrigued me as at the end of series five, Marigold was happily living up at the big house, with Lady Edith. What was even more intriguing was the presence of Lord and Lady Grantham, aka Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern, and Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith.
Most of the filming took place inside the house so we couldn’t really see what was going on. But there were a couple of scenes filmed outside, in front of the house. In one of them, Lord Grantham arrived at the farm driving a car that also contained Cora, Edith and Mr Drewe. During one of the takes of this scene, I was in the toilet block near where this was being filmed and had to stay in the block until the filming was finished.
After this, I saw Cora and Edith sitting in the car while Mr Drewe and Lord Grantham were in the house. I assumed that they were just keeping warm. But in the second episode of series 6, there is a scene where Lord Grantham goes into the house on his own , leaving them waiting in the car. I should have realised that it was part of the filming as, earlier on they had all been standing around wearing identical full length, white padded coats over their costumes to keep them warm between takes, and they were in costume when sitting in the car.
The technicians had set up the sound and recording equipment behind the wall where the filming was taking place. I was standing beside them and during a break in filming Andrew Scarborough, who plays Farmer Drewe appeared beside me. He was wearing his full length padded coat as, where they’d been filming was in the shade and he’d become very cold during the filming. But where I was standing, the sun was shining and it felt much warmer. He struck up a conversation with me about how much warmer it was in the sun. I was a bit star struck and muttered some inane comment about the weather, but he was very down to earth and friendly and put me at ease.
Later on that day Mrs Drewe and the two Marigolds, made their way into the house to do some filming. By this time my mind was in over-drive trying to figure out what the storyline might be. Why were Lord and Lady Grantham and Edith at Yew Tree Farm? Why was Marigold there?
At the end of the day’s filming, Hugh Bonneville and some of the others, said goodbye and thank you as they passed through reception on their way back to the car park. But before she left, Emma Lowndes, who plays Mrs Drewe wanted to buy one of the Yew Tree Farm mugs we sell in the shop. She wanted one as a souvenir as this was to be her last time filming at Cogges and she’d enjoyed her time here very much. Colin, the director of Cogges gave her one free of charge. So now we knew that she. at least, was leaving the series.
After they’d gone, I was chatting to Colin about what the storyline might be. I came up with the theory that Lord Grantham might want the Drewes to leave because he was worried that Mrs Drewe might cause trouble as she was so upset about losing Marigold. Well, guess what happened in episode two? I should be a script writer.
Later on in the year we had three more Downton actors, who’d never been here before, filming at Cogges. I can’t say anymore at this time as I don’t want to give the story away. Suffice to say, I was once again correct in my predictions.
In total, they filmed on four separate occasions and I was around for most of them, I was even involved in helping on the last day of filming. One of the hair and make up guys had forgotten his hair spritz bottle and I improvised one for him out of an empty bathroom cleaner bottle. I also had to do my usual gig of chicken wrangling. The chickens naturally, wouldn’t stay in shot during filming, then wouldn’t stay out of shot when they were no longer required. The Director said that, ‘they had fallen under the Downton spell.’
It was a very sad day for us all when the Director called, ‘cut’ for the last time. I’ll miss the excitement of knowing that they’re coming once again to film. But over the past couple of years we’ve started having groups of Downton Abbey fans coming to see the location of Yew Tree Farm. This summer, I started working as a Downton Abbey tour guide, taking groups of these fans around the house and grounds, showing them where the filming has taken place and telling them some of the funny incidents that happened during filming. At least I’ll still be able to do this for the foreseeable future.
I still haven’t given up hope that Julian Fellowes will change his mind and decide to write another series. Maybe I should contact the producers and offer to continue to write the scripts for them. Now wouldn’t that be an adventure?
If you would like to visit Yew Tree Farm, you can find out all about us at:- http://www.cogges.org.uk/ If you click on the videos link. you’ll be able to see a time-lapse video of the kitchen at Cogges being transformed into Yew Tree Farm.
Photos Isabel’s own or taken from photographs kindly donated to Cogges by Downton Abbey.
Isabel Johnstone 2015 ©