Aug 24, 2023

Beautiful National Trust park one hour from London where Pride & Prejudice, Bridgerton and Downton Abbey were filmed

Basildon Park near Reading is where some of Britain's best period dramas were filmed, but before this it was almost transported brick-by-brick to the USA

Nestled in stunning countryside one hour from London lies a National Trust park where Hollywood movies were filmed. Basildon Park is perched in a beauty spot by the River Thames just a short drive from Reading in Berkshire.

The 2005 adaption of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most notable period drama filmed there, along with Downton Abbey and more recently Bridgerton.

The building itself has a very interesting history. This includes becoming a hospital and an army training area. Yet what some may not know is that it was almost lost for good from these shores and transported, brick-by-brick, across the pond.

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It has a remarkable history, from usage in both world wars to being the subject of a rather eccentric plan by a very rich American.

We have taken a look at the history of the building, dating back from when it was built in 1776. Like most homes of its type, it was built for someone very rich and powerful to live in.

That man was Sir Francis Sykes, who was a country landowner and politician who was also Governor of Kasimbazar in India. He owned the park, as well as Ackworth Park in Yorkshire, and had the house built there by architect John Carr.

He ended up as MP for the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford, as did his son, the imaginatively named Francis. Both are buried in the churchyard at St Bartholomew's Church in Lower Basildon.

The house has had many owners, which has left parts of it unfinished. It has also been empty for parts of existence. For example, no one lived there in 1910. As a result of the changes it never got completely finished.

It was handed over by Lord and Lady Iliffe to the National Trust in the late 1970s to ensure it was protected. During the First World War, the house became a convalescent home for officers and soldiers of the Berkshire regiments.

It gave them a place to relax and recover after horrific fighting on the Western Front and other areas of conflict. During the Second World War, the house was requisitioned by the government and turned into a barracks.

It was a training ground for tanks, which led to the already frail building suffering even more damage. It was also used as a prisoner of war camp for German and Italian troops.

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In 1929, the house was purchased by American property developer George Ferdinando, but it transpired his family weren't overly keen on looking after another massive house, and so he put it up for sale for £1 million. It was an absurd amount of money in 1929, and for the price included, believe it or not, a promise to "re-erect" the building across the pond.

It could've been a home, a library, or even a museum. Happily, this preposterously grand plan, which you imagine would've provided a few logistical issues back in those days, never happened.

Instead, he changed his mind about selling it and he and his wife converted an old sawmill on the site. His son lived in a part of the house and oversaw a refurbishment of the building.

Many of the fittings of the original building are now on show in various American museums after being sold off. Before Lord and Lady Iliffe stepped in, the building was in a terrible state.

In 1952, a period of time where a lot of country houses in Britain were being knocked down, it was said: "To say it was derelict, is hardly good enough, no window was left intact and most were repaired with cardboard or plywood." Not the grand surroundings you see there now.

The iconic scene in the 2005 film adaption Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth first danced with Mr Darcy at a ball where filmed at Basildon Park. It was also used in filming for Downton Abbey and an evening party in Bridgerton.

According to the National Trust, the Garden Room and the parterre were both used in filming the latter scene: "In total it took a week to prepare for filming, as the shoot took place in late October whereas Bridgerton’s action is set during the London ‘season’, which traditionally runs from April to the end of August, their information reads. The production design team brought in around 5000 artificial flowers to fill the rose garden with ‘summer’ blooms, and also added more greenery and foliage around the back of the house as well.

"As it was an evening scene the filming all took place during night shoots from 8pm – 5am. A team of staff and volunteers worked around the clock to get everything set up, and to be on hand during the filming. They were also supported by four specialist project conservators, who helped to make sure that the historic surroundings and collection items were all looked after throughout the filming."

Basildon Park is situated just over an hour from London on the train. You can take a direct journey from Paddington to Reading in 23 minutes, before taking the bus from Friar Street to the National Trust site.

If you're driving, take the M4 towards Theale, before turning onto the A4 and A340. Standard visitor tickets for the park cost £15, with child tickets valued at £7.50 and family tickets at £37.50.

Find out more about the National Trust site here, while you can book your travel there using Trainline.

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