Downton Abbey - a blog by Cogges volunteer Isabel

September 2014

Hi. Let me introduce myself. My name is Isabel and I’m one of the volunteers at Cogges Manor Farm. I’ve been volunteering ever since it reopened in 2011. My job, amongst other things, is to be on the welcome desk. I also pop in most days to feed Patsy, Bonnie and Clyde, the 3 farm cats.

I’m a massive Downton Abbey fan, and it’s the worst kept secret in Witney that Cogges was the setting for Yew Tree farm in the last series (series 4) of Downton. You can imagine then, how excited I was to be fortunate enough to be allowed on site when the filming took place. I’d known for some time about the filming, but I was sworn to secrecy. I was really excited and was bursting to tell people. How I managed to keep the secret, I’ll never know. A notice had been posted a few days earlier to inform people that the farm would be closed that morning for filming. There was much speculation about it and as Downton was being filmed in nearby Bampton at that time, it was tipped as the hot favourite. 

For weeks before hand members of the film crew had popped in to see what had to be done to turn Cogges into an early 20th century farm. Some temporary alterations were made to the site. For example, a small wall was constructed in the farmyard, the purpose of which is unclear as to the best of my knowledge they didn’t actually do any filming in that area. A temporary sheep pen was assembled on the grass in front of the stables. The door to the upper loft of the stables has a hole in it to allow the farm cats access and a hessian sack was draped over the railings in front of it to stop the cats from sticking their heads out and getting in on the action. Finally, the old building that houses the toilets had a wooden dovecot added to it to hide the large security light mounted there.

One of the volunteers, Bob, was asked to be an extra and spent the morning walking around dressed as a 1920's farmer in a tweed jacket and wearing a flat cap. How I would have loved to have been asked to be an extra.

The day of filming arrived. Another volunteer and I were allowed to be on site for the filming. There was a security guard whose job it was to stop any members of the public from entering the site. Our job was to stand with the security guard and hand out free entry vouchers, as compensation, to anyone who came to visit the farm and hadn't heard that we were closed for filming that day. That was the theory. In practice we took it in turns to go into the farmyard to watch the action, such as it was. There was an awful lot of hanging about. If the sun went behind a cloud, filming stopped. If the sun came out, filming stopped, all to ensure the continuity of the shot. Another interruption to the filming, were the planes from Brize Norton airbase that flew over at regular intervals.

During one of these breaks, Allan Leech, the actor who plays Tom Branson, came into the office to ask where the toilets were. I told him that they were in the building in front of which they’d been filming. After he’d gone, Autumn, one of Cogges staff members, asked me why I hadn’t offered to show him the way. Now why didn’t I think of that? I’d met him once before, at a Help for Heroes fundraiser at Highclere Castle. He wouldn't have remembered that, but he did leave this mature lady in a bit of a flutter.

Everyone that passed by that morning asked us if it was Downton that was being filmed. We’d been instructed to say that we could only confirm that it was an ITV period costume drama. But the security guard and film crew were quite happy to confirm that it was indeed Downton. Besides, members of the public had gathered by the white gate at the other side of the site and were watching the filming. So much for keeping it a secret. 

Look out for series 5 launch on ITV this Sunday at 9pm and see if you can spot anything familiar!