Behind the scenes, Somerleyton Hall
Somerleyton Hall, near Oulton Broad, is doubling as Sandringham, the Royal Family’s rural Norfolk hideaway, in the current series of The Crown. We talked to the Events Manager, Peter Thompson about turning the Hall into a Royal residence.
When the director of the award-winning Netflix series The Crown rounded a corner and saw the full majesty of Somerleyton Hall, she stopped in her tracks and gasped. This is exactly what the production team had been looking for – an exact double for The Queen’s private country retreat Sandringham House and here it was bathed in autumn sunshine in October 2019.
Standing beside director Jessica Hobbs, feeling pleased as punch, was Somerleyton’s events manager Peter Thompson who was delighted that the hall had been recognised for being something rather special and now it was going to have its moment in the spotlight.
“Somerleyton Hall and Sandringham House share many of the same design roots. Both were originally Jacobean houses that were extensively remodelled in the Victorian era, so they have a very similar feel and sensibility about them,” said Peter. But, as perfect as Somerleyton Hall was, the Hall needed to be completely refurbished, redressed and given a fresh coat of paint before the cameras started rolling.
“It was a mammoth operation because we had to pack away all our furniture, paint the walls to look like Sandringham and then they brought in their own furniture by the lorry load. It took 12 days to strip out the hall and to dress it for just three days of filming – albeit very long days,” said Peter.
Security during the filming was high with only Lord and Lady Somerleyton, Peter and the housekeeper allowed on site. “We couldn’t have any other staff around, so there was no opportunities for cameo appearances by staff unfortunately.
“But, the experience of having the film unit here was amazing. It was a very smooth, very well drilled operation. They knew exactly what they were doing and it was extraordinary what they were able to pack into three days filming at the end of February and beginning of March.”
He said that they shot scenes throughout the ground floor of the Hall as well as shooting further scenes in the gardens.
“It was an eye opening experience to watch them shoot scenes. Emma Corrin was fantastic as Princess Diana and had some really emotional sequences to play which I don’t mind admitting had me in tears as I watched from the side lines.
“I was contacted late last year by Peter Gray, who works as a location scout on behalf of Netflix, and they were looking for somewhere which could stand in for Sandringham. They wanted a good location because they wanted to do a big Christmas at Sandringham sequence in one of the later episodes.
“I first showed Ian Lumsden from The Crown team around the Hall and he seemed very excited. He went away and then I was contacted in January this year and they said that the director wanted to have a look at the Hall. So Jessica Hobbs and several members of her team came down and they were just blown away. They couldn’t believe how similar parts of the building was to Sandringham and how much they could shoot in one place because the grounds were perfect too. They were exactly what they needed.
“The operation was huge I had no idea that filming was such a huge operation. For us the preparation was hugely important because our furniture and fitting are very old, very fragile in some cases and very valuable.
“We have carpets that are 200 years old, so you can’t just roll them up and stick them in a shed and we had cranes lifting one ton statues or huge stuffed polar bears. Everything was photographed so it would all go back exactly as it was. I have to say the removal teams were fantastic.”
Peter Thompson said they were keeping their fingers crossed that The Crown will be back to film the next series although they have heard nothing yet. “We would love to have them back but I dare say that the Covid restrictions are messing them about just as they are for everyone else. But, when they start work on the new series Somerleyton Hall is ready to become Sandringham again.”
Scenes shot at Somerleyton Hall are dotted throughout the current series of The Crown which is available on Netflix.
Editor: Andrew Clarke EADP.