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.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test