Ever had to keep a secret so big, so exciting that you thought that you’d just burst. I have! But now I can reveal all.
Last year, 17th May, 2013 to be precise, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to be on site at Cogges when some of the cast and crew of Downton Abbey came to do some filming. As I’ve already said, I was sworn to secrecy. a notice had been posted a few days earlier to inform people that the farm would be closed in the morning for filming. There was much speculation and as Downton was being filmed at the time in nearby Bampton, it was the hot favourite. I should have got an oscar for my performance of keeping a neutral expression on my face so as not to give the game away.
For weeks before hand members of the film crew popped in from time to time to check things out and see what had to be done to turn a historical site in the 21st century into a setting in the early 20th century. The day before filming a wall appeared that isn’t usually there. A temporary sheep pen was constructed on the grass in front of the stables and on the day of filming some of the sheep from the pastures beyond the woodland area were put in this pen. The old building that housed the toilets had a large security light on it and this was hidden by the addition of a wooden dovecot being built over it. The door to the upper loft of the stables has a hole in it and a hessian sack was draped over the railings in front of it to stop any of the 3 farm cats from sticking their head out and getting in on the action. One of the volunteers, Bob, was asked to be an extra and spent the morning walking around dressed as a 1920’s farmer in tweed and wearing a flat cap.
The day of filming arrived. A friend of mine, another volunteer andI had been allowed to be on site for the filming. Our job was to stand with the security guard at the entrance and hand out free entry vouchers to give to anyone who hadn’t heard that we were closed for filming that day. The security guard was to stop any members of the public from entering the site. That was the theory. In practice we took it in turns to go into the farmyard to watch the action, such as it was.
There was an awful lot of hanging about. If the sun went behind a cloud filming was stopped. If the sun came out filming was stoppedto ensure that the continuity of the shot wasn’t compromised by shadows. Then there were the planes from Brize Norton airbase which flew by at regular intervals.
At one point during one of these breaks, I was in the office when the actor who plays Tom Branson came into the office to ask where the toilets were. I directed him back to the area where they’d just been filming. After he’d gone, one of my colleagues asked me why I hadn’t offered to show him the way. Now why didn’t I think of that. I had met him once before at Highclere Castle at the Help For Heroes fundraiser, but of course he wouldn’t have remembered that. But he did leave this mature lady in a bit of a flutter.
Everyone who passed Cogges that morning asked us if it was Downton Abbey. My friend and I said that we could only confirm that it was a costume drama. The security guard and film crew on the other hand were quite happy to confirm that it was indeed Downton! Around the other side of the site there is a white gate leading out to a public path and members of the public had stopped to watch some of the filming anyway. So much for keeping it a secret. But I had been told not to tell anyone and I wasn’t going to risk not being allowed on site if they ever come back to film again.
Finally after about 4 hours of being on site they finished filming. A car drew up at the large green gate and the 3 actors emerged and were whisked away to Bampton to film some more scenes there. The film crew stayed behind gradually dismantling the set and removing all trace of the filming and the doors were opened for business as usual. After weeks of agony at not being able to tell anyone, the new series of Downton started and on Sunday, 20th October 2013, the scenes filmed at Cogges were finally shown and i was free to tell my family and friends about my experience. Poor Bob was edited out. But he was well paid, so he didn’t mind. It was only a brief scene but who knows? Perhaps they’ll need to film more scenes at Yew Tree farm. After all the Crawleys and the farmer, Mr Drewe, are meant to be working in close partnership.
In the Christmas episode of Downton it was revealed that Farmer Drewe and his wife are going to be looking after Lady Edith’s baby. I’m sure that this will be a storyline that the writers and producers will want to pursue. Watch this space!
Photos Isabel’s own.