Transforming Grassington into Darrowby for the filming of All Creatures Great & Small
Every year in April or May, the Yorkshire Dales town of Grassington is transformed over a few days into a film set for the popular TV series All Creatures Great & Small. Based on the James Herriot books about the Yorkshire Dales vet, the town becomes the fictional town of Darrowby home to the veterinary practice.
Darrowby in the books was not based on one town, but was a composite of Thirsk, Richmond, Leyburn & Middleham. James Herriot was the pen name of the real life vet Alf Wight who lived and worked out of the North Yorkshire market town of Thirsk. There is a wonderful little museum dedicated to his life in the actual house on Kirkgate where the practice used to be, called The World of James Herriot.
Before this new iteration of All Creatures Great & Small, there was a BBC TV series which aired between 1978 and 1990. In the BBC version, the Wensleydale village of Askrigg played the town of Darrowby.
But when it came to the new series produced as a joint venture between Channel 5 and PBS/Masterpiece the Production Designer Jacqueline Smith discounted Thirsk as it had expanded and “no longer had a village-like feel anymore”. Askrigg too was discounted as logistically it would not have worked as the village lies along the main road through Wensleydale and closing the road for production would have caused too much disruption.
After much location scouting the production team decided upon Grassington as the ideal location for Darrowby. There were a few reasons for this, firstly it was a good base in the heart of the Dales with wonderful surrounding countryside for the drone work and filming other locations.
But as Jacqueline Smith explained “The nice thing about Grassington was that there weren’t any modern houses in the town centre, so we don’t have to change anything completely”.
I was lucky enough to end up in Grassington after a walk with my wife during the filming of series 2. It was fascinating watching the filming process and seeing how many other people outside of the actors are involved in the process.
But, this year I had been tipped off by one of the shop keepers that filming was due to start in the town on 26 & 27th April 2023. By chance I called into Grassington to drop clients off late afternoon the week before and there was a small production unit starting to dress the town.
Skeldale House where James Herriot, Seigfried and Tristan live and run the veterinary practice from in the TV series is a private house in the village. Internal scenes are filmed in a studio but the exterior of this Georgian stone house ends up having a new entrance door and porch added.
You will see this had been added when I arrived with my dog for a recce.
The actual house as you will see below has no pillars outside.
But we witnessed a small cherry picker and teams adding fibre glass columns and a roof on the porch, which was painted carefully to mirror the colour of the Yorkshire limestone.
On the pillar in previous series there was just a metal plaque affixed with Seigriend Farnon M.R.C.V.S Veterinary Surgeon.
You will notice now Mr J. Herriot M.R.C.V.S is now listed.
I also headed up to Grassington the following week and the change was almost complete with the final transformation was taking place with vans full of props positioned in the market square and small tippers depositing dirt over the road around the square to leave just the market square itself’s cobbles visible.
I will talk through some of the changes we witnessed. What was interesting watching the towns transformation for series 4 as opposed to series 2, is the fact that Darrowby for this series has been dressed to appear as it would have done during the 2nd World war, whereas in series 2 it was just a Dales market town.
Most of the shops in the market square of Grassington are given a make-over with new signage. Plus any modern day accessories such as aerials, satellite dishes and alarm boxes have to be covered up or hidden in some way.
A magical transformation
We will start with the 5 shops on the left hand side of the market square, just down the street but on the same side as The Devonshire Arms.
Grassington’s Post Office becomes Wood’s General Store – a shop selling a variety of products including toys, sweets, newspapers & magazines, books, stationery and maps.
The attention to detail is wonderful, the windows are dressed with sweets sold by weight in jars and traditional toys such as a model of Noah’s ark as well as period figurines, dolls, teddies and clowns.
Period sweets are on sale in the window as well as Lorimers tobacco. It’s interesting to note the Kit Kats, still made in York but with their blue packaging.
The next shop doesn’t take too much effort to change – as Robert Bunney Menswear liked the paint job on the side of their shop from earlier series so much they decided to keep it. This traditional gents outfitters plays a gents outfitters in the TV show but for series 4 the windows have the criss-crossed tape across each pane of glass to protect the glass from shattering during an air raid.
As well as the tape – there are also wartime messages about keeping secrets in the corner panes, such as “Keep it under your hat” and “Zipp it”.
Next comes three shops all joined together.
The former Rustic Rabbit/now Hutch shop is actually 3 old cottages knocked together, but for the TV series it is transformed into 2 separate businesses.
Firstly the green fronted Hirst’s Laundry with its old fashioned mangle for wringing water from the laundry and assorted drying racks outside. Posters in the window offer to was Household cotton sheets, bed linen and table linen as well as silk, woollens and lace with care!
The other business which is set in the building is Higgins Bakery and Confectionery.
The sign states the business was established in 1859 and the shop windows state they offer fresh baked pies as well as fresh scones and tarts.
In the window, a selection of loaves, iced buns and cakes are shown to temp people in! There is also a sign letting people know that Ration books are accepted.
Strangely, the shop which is actually a bakers and sandwich shop in real life is next door. Here Walker’s Bakery is turned into Darrowby Ironmongers.
The shutters above the main signs inform that the shop sells, paints, carpentry, joinery and masonry equipment as well as nails and screws.
Outside the shop are a selection of shovels, spades, brushes and carpet beaters. It was funny the morning I was there seeing a workman standing in the doorway eating a freshly made bacon buttie as the shop was still trading even though it was dressed for filming.
The Drovers Arms
The next building on this side of the road is The Devonshire Arms pub. The signage for the Devonshire Arms had been removed and new signage affixed making it The Drovers Arms.
The exterior of the pub features in many episodes where James, Seigfied and Tristan head over for a pint after work.
The outdoor seating is removed and a bench and a few barrels are put outside as props for filming.
Again there is great attention to detail and transfers are affixed inside the windows with The Drovers Arms and Gins & Ales.
The interior shots for The Drovers Arms are not filmed here and used to be filmed at The Green Dragon in Hardraw just outside Hawes. Sadly the pub has closed now, so interiors in the last series were filmed at The Craven Arms in Appletreewick.
But it is still worth a look inside the pub as there is a little corner shrine to All Creatures Great & Small, with pictures the landlord and lady have taken during the filming of the show.
Another reason to visit is to try the Timothy Taylors beers. They are some of my favourite but in honour of the TV series Taylors Golden Best has been rebranded Drovers Best with the images changed to one of the title scenes for All Creatures Great and Small.
More shop transformations…
Next to the pub is usually Helen Midgeley, a high end ladies and gentlemen’s clothes and shoe shop. The shop is changed into C.A. Handley Booksellers. The spines of hardback books showing in the window.
Across the road from here we have a couple more shops on the side of the square.
Love Brownies becomes the red fronted J.A.Dean Drapers & Hosiery. The signage explains they sell boots & shoes, gloves & hats, hosiery, corsets and dresses made to order.
In the doorway is a small sign promoting classes to Learn to mend your clothes every Tuesday at Darrowby village hall – a nod to the wartime tradition of making things last.
In the window we can see a sewing machine, knitting patterns and a rather fetching ladies tank top.
Next to the Drapers is G.F Enleby Grocers. This blue frontage transforms the Stripey Badger Bookshop.
Tables are placed outside for produce and the windows are full of jars, tins and fresh vegetables. In season 4 the signs for Butter and Sugar have a flash across them informing people that they are Rationed.
When I bring my US Guests to Grassington on All Cretaures Great and Small Tours, many visitors want to pop into the Stripey Badger and buy a Herriot novel actually in Yorkshire! The lovely people who run the shop will always stop and talk about filming and one of the gentlemen who works in the shop was given a pipe by Samuel West after West found out the chap collected pipes!
There is a lovely photo from series two of Seigfried, Dorothy and Mrs Hall outside the shop.
On the other side of the Square, just down from Skeldale House, lies 3 former lead miners cottages which have now been converted into the Grassington Museum.
This was where in series 3, James and Tristan queued up to sign up to the war effort. Last week the museum sign was replaced with a hessian sackcloth sign stating Register your Ration Book here. There are also recruitments posters for joining the army or airforce, describing joining the army as the finest job in the world.
On the wall across the road from Skeldale House is a sign encouraging men to Join a Yorkshire regiment.
On another nearby wall are advertisements for Bovril and Lyles Golden Syrup.
During filming a number of period vehicles and buses can be seen in the square and even some military vehicles such as jeeps. With the village now dressed as a wartime village there are lots of reproductions of 1940’s wartime posters to be seen on notice boards and in shop windows.
A final note about the transformation back to Grassington. Filming was completed on Thursday 27th and the production unit had put Friday aside for breaking the set down. I thought there was no way this could be done in just one day.
I turned up at 5pm on the Friday with some guests and whilst there were still a few signs up in the square and a few vans packing up boxes of props it was almost back to normal. There were street cleaners going up and down the roads next to the square picking up the dirt which had been laid down but the speed of the transformation is incredible.
I guess after filming 3 series previously, set up and breakdown is like a finely oiled machine!
I hope if you are a fan of the show, this blog gives you a little window into the world of filming. As a big fan of the show myself, I feel blessed to live just 40 minutes away from Grassington and call in at least a couple of times a week on day tours. It is well worth a visit.
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