Inside Evermoor Manor: Warrington reaps benefits from the Downton effect as Disney comes to town

Filming of a children’s fantasy drama has already created local jobs – and could attract fans to the area

“You could step outside this door and nobody would have any idea what’s happening inside,” says Bede Blake, with all the melodrama of a line from a Walt Disney production, as he walks out into the windswept car park of an industrial estate in Cheshire.

Behind him, disguised by the anonymous facade of Unit 31, is a film set of remarkable artistry funded by the world’s most famous children’s entertainment brand. Mickey Mouse has come to Warrington.

Inside the warehouse is the replication of the grand hallway of an English stately home, where suits of armour preside at the foot of a wooden staircase dressed with a red carpet. Beyond the hallway is a warren of other sets; an ancient fireplace, a 20ft-high spooky moorland ruin, the meticulously decorated bedroom of a teenage girl.

This is Evermoor Manor, the setting for Evermoor, the Walt Disney Company’s first British production for the Disney Channel in America. The fantasy drama, about an urban American girl who finds herself living with British relatives in a grand English country home, will be shown in 160 countries around the world when it launches in the autumn. The four-part series, written by Blake, which is being made by Liverpool-based Lime Pictures, is of major importance for the creative sector in the north of England and the local economy in the corner of Cheshire where filming is taking place.

As general manager of Arley Hall, the 15th-century stately pile that has provided the exterior shots for Evermoor Manor, Steve Hamilton is rubbing his palms in excitement at a potential Downton Abbey effect.  “We battle to bring coach operators here but at Highclere [Castle, where it’s filmed] they actually turn them away,” he says in reference to the transatlantic interest in ITV’s hit period drama.

Although Arley Hall has previously featured as a backdrop in television adaptations of Cluedo and The Forsyte Saga, Evermoor offers unprecedented international exposure. In the two months since news broke of the Evermoor project, the Disney pixie dust has already caused a surge in wedding bookings. Hamilton has told staff at Viscount Ashbrook’s family seat that for the first time in 50 years they must be prepared to work beyond October, to allow Disney Channel viewers to see the house. “For this opportunity we are having to rethink our entire way of operating.”

Rachel Wilkinson,  who runs a family ice-cream business in the nearby hamlet of Great Budworth – also featured in Evermoor – says she will be “happy to serve” a cornet to any American tourists who arrive in the Domesday Book-listed settlement. “We feel honoured that Disney chose this beautiful village.” Steve Hamilton of Arley Hall is hoping fans will visit the stately home, where ‘Evermoor’ is being filmed Steve Hamilton of Arley Hall is hoping fans will visit the stately home, where ‘Evermoor’ is being filmed

Claire Poyser, joint MD for Lime Pictures, which also makes Hollyoaks and The Only Way is Essex, said the production is employing up to 100 people, including specialist scenic artists, joiners and embroiderers recruited locally. “The North is massively busy at the moment in terms of programme production,” she says. David Levine, Disney’s head of programming in Europe, said the UK was “in active development on multiple projects and looking for more” in the UK, because of the quality of talent.

Evermoor’s cast is overwhelmingly British and includes Belinda Stewart-Wilson (Will’s mum in The Inbetweeners) and Dan Fredenburgh, who appeared in the feature films Love Actually and The Bourne Ultimatum. There are no Americans in the cast and the leading female part of uprooted American teenager Tara Crossley is played by Naomi Sequeira, 19, a successful television host on the Disney Channel in Australia. Tara falls in love with local delivery boy Cameron, played by Manchester actor Finney Cassidy, 18.

The idea for Evermoor has its roots in the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the 13th-century drawing that hung on the wall of Hereford Cathedral where Tim Compton, co-creator of the drama with Diane Whitley,   attended the local school. “I grew up with the Mappa Mundi. It was full of mad stuff like men with no heads or eyes in their shoulders,” he says as he stands on the set in front of the giant tapestry that is Evermoor’s central theme.

“The Mappa Mundi is a primitive culture’s projection of what the world might be like. Our Evermoor tapestry is of a community looking inwards.” The tapestry, mostly painted by scenic artists but with some professional embroidery, is reminiscent of the type of cartography relished by fans of Lord of the Rings. It contains a gold thread, which Tara discovers has magic powers.

Compton is sufficiently confident of Evermoor’s success that he is already scanning the set to identify new plot lines. He waves his hand at the kitchen and says: “There’s a disused well under there – I know it’s there if I need it.”

He hopes that Tara, who enjoys books and wants to “create her own destiny” will be a “positive role model” for Evermoor’s audience, especially his own two daughters.

Chris Cottam, the show’s director, has three weeks to complete the filming and turn a Warrington warehouse and a Cheshire stately home into the eerie world of Evermoor. “I’m always thinking cinematically,” he says. “I’m trying to make these kids look iconic.”

Disney has a track record of turning child actors – such as Zac Efron and Selena Gomez – into stars and Sequeira says: “I would love to be a movie star. I’d love to be a superhero or an action character like Lara Croft.”

It’s the new route to Hollywood – head for Warrington.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor