Northern Soul

Missing Peaky Blinders? Don’t worry, you can relive it at locations across the north

October 20, 2019 Arts, TV Comments Off on Missing Peaky Blinders? Don’t worry, you can relive it at locations across the north

To the outside world, Peaky Blinders is filmed at a series of locations in and around Birmingham, places that evoke the spirit of the early 20th century. If you’ve seen the latest series, they are areas that chart the rise of fascism (chiming, it could be argued, with the current political discourse).

But for people like me who live near Arley Hall and Gardens (near Northwich in Cheshire) or have spent many an hour striding through the corridors of power at Manchester Town Hall, it’s a whole different ball game with the familiar sites making the show a televisual location bingo. The much-loved and much-admired programme is a patchwork of locations weaved together to form a seamless cinematic narrative.

The exterior shots of Arley Hall are distinctive – the grand pile, already a popular tourist destination in its own right. The Victorian Great Hall doubles as part of Tommy Shelby’s Arrow House. It is often featured shrouded in mist which adds to the brooding atmosphere of the hit programme. But the large stained-glass windows and distinctive red brickwork are undoubtedly Arley, the home of the 11th Viscount Ashbrook. I was there recently for a food festival, and me and my mum giggled indulgently as we spotted a couple of OAPs wearing Peaky Blinders hats as they walked around.

During filming the walls were painted dark green, and oil paintings and 1920s furniture replaced the usual fixtures and fittings. The Grade II listed library was transformed for Peaky Blinders into Tommy’s office, and eagle-eyed viewers would have seen his likeness in oils, complete with his horse, in a large stately portrait placed there by the producers in the Great Hall.

Arley was in the foreground as Tommy, played by actor Cillian Murphy, was involved in dramatic scenes at the end of series five, a gun pressed to his temple as the credits rolled. Such is the passion at Arley for Peaky Blinders, they sell Thomas Shelby-inspired Peaky Blinders tweed caps in the gift shop as well as posters of the main character in a variety of poses. Although the TV show is set in Birmingham, the filming locations are vast and with a predominantly Northern compass.

There are the abandoned terraces near Liverpool’s Welsh Streets, which were painted black to make them seem part of the Black Country. The distant industrial horizon in the background was created by CGI effects. Called Watery Lane in the BBC programme and featuring as the headquarters of the family’s illegal betting office, it was filmed in real life Powis Street, a stone’s throw from Beatles drummer Ringo Starr’s birthplace at number 9 Madryn Street. The Beatles tour buses pass by this location quite frequently on whistle-stop tours of the band’s key locations. I first noticed the sooty painted bricks when writing about the Welsh Streets five years ago and the penny dropped. Ah, Peaky Blinders.

A few miles away, the popular and distinctive Georgian townhouses of Rodney Street, in central Liverpool, double as London in series two. And St George’s Hall, the city’s neo-classical monolith across the road from Liverpool Lime Street Station, stars in joyous party scenes from previous series.

Then you have the recent political rally scenes in the last episode of series five which were shot at Stockport Plaza. The building was transformed into Bingley Hall for scenes in the series finale featuring far-right politician and vile black shirts leader Oswald Mosely. Nearby, Stockport Town Hall was also a backdrop to a boardroom struggle earlier in the series. Oil paintings of the fictional Shelby family were hung on the dark wood-panelled walls for extra authenticity. Entrance Hall image by Manchester Town Hall press office

Scenes featuring Polly earlier in the series that were set in Birmingham were actually filmed in Harper Street, Manchester. The old Granada TV studios were used for interior shots, such as Tommy’s gin distillery, in series five. Series producer Laurie Borg told the Birmingham Mail that they would “love to shoot the whole thing in Birmingham but, unfortunately, the period locations we need just don’t exist anymore”.

Previous seasons have seen Manchester’s much-loved London Road Fire Station as a backdrop as Tommy and mob moss Luca Changretta battled for supremacy. Production designer Stephen Daly said the site was the perfect location. “It has been a gold mine of a location,” he told the Express. “It worked well for the Reilly’s Gym set”, he added.

Another town hall, this time in Rochdale, featured frequently in series four, for scenes shot tightly in what was supposed to be the House of Commons, beneath a spotlight in the smoke-hazed chamber. It was a great doppelganger for Parliament.

I spotted the stairwells of Manchester’s Town Hall, currently undergoing major refurbishment, in series five, too, during tense scenes. And the restored and Grade II listed Victoria Baths in Manchester was used in the horse fair episode in an earlier season. The pool floor was transformed into an auction ring with the help of huge piles of sawdust.

Formby Beach has featured too, fleetingly, as a teaser for series four with Tom Hardy, along with numerous locations throughout Yorkshire, including Bolton Abbey, Skipton, Leeds City Varieties and Salts Mill in Saltaire.

Let’s not forget that Peaky Blinders has been filmed in the West Midlands, too. The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley was used as a location in various scenes, most recently involving canals and industrial backdrops of the 1930s. The open-air museum encourages visitors to witness the birthplace of the industrial revolution, which I have always associated with Manchester.

Having watched the series five finale, I always enjoy spotting the places I know and love in the mishmash of Peaky Blinders’ backdrops. Bring on series six.

By Helen Carter

 

Peaky Blinders is streaming on BBC iPlayer

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