Even with the estate in ever increasing chaos, it was decided to allow companies to use the property for the filming of period dramas. Perhaps one of the most apt productions turned Tyntesfield House into an asylum for the insane.
When I learnt that the whole of the house exterior was to be taken over by a very large film crew, this naturally drew some safety questions.
Anyone who has walked along Denmark Street in the city centre will be familiar with the size of lorry and number needed for transporting a theatre production. It would not be unreasonable to assume similar sized lorries would be needed for film crews.
I asked questions about the weight of the articulated lorries parking above the old Victorian underground services that crossed the grounds outside of the house.
A very pompous house manage that was in residence at the time informed me – not without an air of self-assured arrogance – that all considerations had been looked at. There was no need for me to be involved. He was sure I was needed elsewhere.
I did double check he had full knowledge about the drains. Like a soggy Jubilee flag flapping in the rain, he waved a scant outline of a few services that had knowledge off. He bid me good day with the parting information that he was more than capable of interpreting a few drain runs thank you very much. So leaving him clutching his bit of paper, thinking I wonder if the fiasco at Gallipoli had been run by a past relative of his, I left him to it.
It was on day two of filming that I was told to go to the front of the house and investigate a collapsed drain.
It didn’t take long to find as they had just pulled a 20 tonnes lorry out of the hole. This resulted in the pennant stone drain top being totally smashed. It was lying at the bottom of a large gully surrounded in the debris of what had once been a Victorian construction to take the largest of horse and carts.
I returned to the office to report on the situation. This presented the opportunity to bring forth some sarcastic remarks I had been saving for a rainy day.
I was asked how much work was involved in putting it back together. It was hard to say at this point. It had to be dug out, the reforming the chamber, the pennant stone top to remake and that was if I could find a stone large enough to work up.
Can you do it all in one day? I was asked.
Well, I supposed if I started early, had no distractions and changed my hands for wands, then yes that would be no problem.
A few days later, I had cause to go to the house, and one the way, I marvelled at the amount of work involved in film making. While talking to one of the set designers, I noticed that the welfare facilities had been placed on top of another drain. The water from the sinks had been plumbed into the gully.
To this, this was an ideal way to say goodbye to hundreds of gallons of foul water. No point in disturbing the house manager who obviously had everything under control. So I went to the office, armed with a new book – Sarcasm in the Heritage Workplace for Dummies. This was like Christmas come early.
I see the film crew have overcome the problem of disposing foul water by running it straight into the drains, I told them. “Yes” was the reply. “And they seemed to be very professional.”
“Ok, so these are the same drains that take away surplus water and store it for future use? The same drains that feed the pond outside your office? In fact we are talking about the very same pond that now has bubbles emerging from the feed pipe. The very same drains that are now poisoning all the fish and other aquatic life?”
Are you sure? Was the reply. Well I’d never seen the mallards looking so clean and the frogs had scrubbed up very well. As for the moorhen, well he’s a whole new duck these days lovely plumage.
So off to the house we went and I explained the problem to the film crew about the does and don’ts regarding the drains.
It was some time later we had specialists come to the estate to survey the ponds for newts. We knew where they were, but the National Trust still likes to pay specialists £150.00 an hour to tell us what we already knew.
It was rumoured they found a new species of newt in the pond by the office. After the initial euphoria had worn off, they realised these were ordinary newts with complex skin conditions, possibly brought on by hand cleaners and bleach.