What do you do if you are the amazingly sucessful leader of an early twentieth century criminal gang if you want to appear respectable? Well, first you invest your ill gotten gains in legitimate businesses like the nascent Birmingham car manufacturing industry. And then you buy an impressive country pile in the Warwickshire countryside where you can play the country gentleman far away from the insalubrious suburb back in the city where you made your cash. That’s exactly what Tommy Shelby did in Peaky Blinders, the BBC’s immensely successful and critically acclaimed drama about an actual, real life gang of criminals operating in Birmingham a century ago. Having said that the actual gang were nowhere near as cool and well dressed or, indeed, criminal as their TV counterparts.

Although set in Birmingham, much of the programme is made in Manchester. The BBC have a base in the city at Media City of course. But I think they choose Manchester because Birmingham reinvented itself as a ‘modern’ city in the 1960s and is now full of that style of architecture. Manchester was short of cash in the 1960s so the levels of rebuilding weren’t as as intensive so we still have a lot of our photogenic Victorian heritage intact, much beloved of movie and TV crews. We are jealously guarding our Victorian heritage (mostly) in our present building boom. 

In the series Tommy acquires himself a mansion called Arrow House in the village of Arrow in Warwickshire. The TV crew didn’t take themselves down to Warwickshire to film and settled on nearby Arley Hall in Cheshire as a substitute. It’s about twenty minutes from where I live. I’m practically a neighbour of the Peaky F*****g Blinders! They used the exterior for shooting and the interior was used for Tommy and Grace’s wedding. The library was used as Tommy’s study. I didn’t ask about the bloody Christmas Eve murder in the butchering room of the kitchens though. Here are some shots of the house. It’s actually the home of Viscount Ashbrook and his family who still live in it. It’s open to the public (as we love looking round other people’s houses) and gets used for TV and movie work, because a house like this is expensive to maintain.

The gardens are famous and are counted among the top ten of gardens in Europe. Even on a cold, January day with little colour in the garden, they were still lovely to wander around.

Not sure if Tommy ever played tennis.

A magnificent Cedar of Lebanon.

I did get a bit worried when I found myself in a part of the garden with winding paths, slippy steps and frozen leaves! I’m not good on those surfaces.

This is the herb garden where Tommy could send out for plants to flavour his food or his cocktails at one of his parties.

This is the kitchen garden. Nothing much in it now but in the summer it would provide fresh vegetables for the house. The brick walls would soak in heat from the sun and create a microclimate where peaches, grapes and apricots could be grown on espaliered trees (flat against the wall) for the house. In the huge glasshouse exotic tropical fruits like pineapples and bananas would be grown for Tommy’s table. 

Tommy was fond of his horses. In the garden there is a cemetery for favoured horses. One had a very un-PC name that you wouldn’t be able to get away with today. 

The house and gardens are surrounded by an estate of 1000s of acres of rich, Cheshire countryside.

The house is Grade II listed. Important to the country but we do have a lot of buildings like this in the UK. The cruck barn, however, is Grade I listed putting it in the same bracket as the likes of Manchester Town Hall or St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was erected about 1470 making it about 550 years old. The timbers would have been especially chosen from the forests for their shape to make this building. They are the original ones. While we have an idea of how they lived in 1470, the people who built this could have had no idea of how we are living today. 

Tommy does a very nice hot ham and cheese toasted sandwich, some  delicious florentines and some damn fine coffee in his café.

I’m sure Aunt Polly would, no doubt, make good use of their private chapel. They had an awful lot that needed to be forgiven!

The present owners like their Minis. I concur.

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