Market Square in Kirkby Lonsdale takes centre stage in BBC One's Jamaica Inn
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 December 2013 | UPDATED: 22:57 28 April 2016
When the makers of BBC's new drama Jamaica Inn wanted an authentic Victorian location they headed for Kirkby Lonsdale. Roger Borrell reports
It was a far cry from the chariot race in Ben Hur but it was enough to keep the crowds spellbound as horses and carriages driven by men in stovepipe hats trundled around the ancient Market Square in Kirkby Lonsdale. Oh, how they trundled - again and again for take after take in drizzling rain.
It didn’t deter the thousands who turned out to watch a week of filming as one of our prettiest towns was transformed into a 1820s Cornish shanty. Cobbles disappeared under several tonnes of dirt and fine Georgian facades made way for rickety stalls operated by ragged street vendors and whey-faced urchins.
Many of the extras were locals who had responded to appeals in local newsagent shop windows. ‘I’ve spent three days growing this stubble,’ laughed local man
Brian Coope, who was chosen for the film along with his wife Karen. ‘It’s really exciting,’ she added.
A more seasoned extra confided: ‘You never know what’s going to happen or when. We are told nothing. Extras are the lowest of the low!’ Even the Royal Hotel was given a part, doubling as the Customs and Excise Offices.
Kirkby Lonsdale welcomed a small army of actors, extras, camera, sound and lighting techicians, purveyors of hot tea and bacon sarnies plus the odd goose wrangler. They even brought machines to produce rain, which seemed a little unnecessary.
They were there to film Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, a gothic tale of murder and mystery set on bleak Bodmin Moor and the Cornish town of Launceston. Many eyebrows and several voices were raised down there when the film company turned its back on the Cornish town and headed 344 miles north to a town straddling the Westmorland, Lancashire and Yorkshire borders.
According to the film company, parts of Launceston town centre have been modernised and that means it doesn’t quite cut it as an early 19th century location. Local folk can judge for themselves when the three-part BBC drama is aired next Easter.
Allan Muirhead, the chairman of the town council, betrayed a wicked sense of humour when he revealed they had suggested some form of twinning arrangement with Launceston. ‘We proffered the hand of friendship but it doesn’t seem to have been accepted,’ said the former radio journalist with a smile.
‘The production company thought we were the ideal location and the news was greeted here with a mix of excitement and concern because they were talking about affecting traffic, parking and shops being shut. But everyone worked very hard to make it happen and we had public meetings to thrash out the details. The consensus was that it would be good for the town.
‘We were sold the idea of turning the Market Square into a shanty town with mud, smoke, horses, a fair and a jail break. Even so, I don’t think any of imagined what a difference it was going to make to the appearance of the place.
Andy Ryland, the location manager for the Origin Pictures, said: ‘The local people have been fantastic. There has been a real groundswell of support and we have more than 30 local people taking part.
‘A lot of it is being film in Cornish locations but Kirkby Lonsdale works because it is more like 1820s Launceston than Launceston does today.’
Allan added: ‘The whole thing caused enormous excitement and, while turning us back into a 21st century town with a pay and display carpark, took a little longer than they thought all is back to normal.
‘Even some of the sceptics have said they quite liked the film set and were sorry to see it go. Several said they’d like to see it left as it was.
‘It has been a tremendous coup for Kirkby Lonsdale and there is no doubt it has brought in a big influx of people. They have come to see the filming but after a while the slow pace of filming television meant many got bored and went off to explore the shops.
‘It’s good to spread the word about what we have to offer. I’ve been here since 1886 and you don’t realise how the place grabs hold of you. My daughter lives in the south but some of her friends came with her to visit and now they return every year to do their Christmas shopping.
‘We will certainly be using the drama in our future campaigns to market Kirkby Lonsdale. We need to capitalise on this.’
Robin Sadley, of the chamber of trade, agrees.’ Before it has even been broadcast, Jamaica Inn has raised the town’s profile. There has been a lot of interest from outside and the people in the town have embraced it.
‘We plan to have some form of event to celebrate the filming of Jamaica Inn, either to coincide with the filming or as part of our Victorian Fair in September. This is something we will use to invest in the town’s future.’
Who’s in the drama
Emma Frost, of the White Queen and Consuming Passions fame, has adapted the du Maurier story for television and it has been directed by BAFTA-winning Philippa Lowthorpe The main character is a young woman, Mary Yellan, who is played by former Downton character Jessica Brown-Findlay. She goes to stay with her Aunt Patience in Cornwall’s Jamaica Inn only to discover it is being run by cutthroats and ship wreckers. It also stars Matthew McNulty, seen recently in The Paradise
Three to try
Kirkby Lonsdale has more eating places per square metre than most. Here are a few we have tried.
This former Lancashire Life award winner in Market Street still gets rave reviews
The Orange Tree
If you are looking for great beer and hearty pub food this pub just beyond the church at Fairbank is ideal
Relaxed venue in Main Street specialising in rustic Mediterranean cuisine
Be warned – this little town is a shopper’s paradise. Here are a few that tempted us.
A busy emporium packed with ladies’ wear, shoes, jewellery and gifts
Trend-setting ideas in home furnishings in contemporary and stylish surroundings
Award winners with brilliant sausages, locally reared meat and some delicious pies
An eclectic mix of toys, gifts, clothing, books and vintage items in an old sweet shop
This business specialising in top quality chocs and claims to have its own chocolate mine!
A weekend of fun
The quality of independent shops and eating places make Kirkby Lonsdale a great place to visit at any time of the year. But Christmas really brings out the best in this jewel of a town.
The annual Christmas Fair – the picture on this page were taken last year by John Cocks – is described by the chamber of trade’s Robin Sadler as ‘the cornerstone of our year.’ The weekend of fun is on December 7 and 8, starting at around 10am on each day.
‘On the Saturday we have a light switch on, a procession involving Santa and a grotto in the Market Square. People will find street entertainers, market stalls and a fairground.
‘On the Sunday we have a parade of Santas which is a slightly more irreverent take on proceedings. You are more likely to see Santa on a quad bike than a sleigh.’