For the second series of The Mill, filming actually took place on one of the machine floors; the Weaving Shed. Darlow Smithson Productions wanted the scenes to look as realistic as possible, and so when the story moved into the Weaving Shed to follow Susannah Bate returning to work, it was important that our historic looms were used in the shot. To ensure that the machines were run properly and gave the best possible effect for the scene, our own National Trust staff became extras!
Clare Brown, our Machine Interpretation Supervisor, was dressed in the costume of a mill weaver and had the part of a non-speaking actor for the scene…
It was an early start on Thursday 1st May; I had an appointment with wardrobe at 7am. My costume fitted perfectly and for a mill workers outfit really well made. Next stop was with the hair and make-up department, to my horror I had my hair slicked back with Vaseline; I had to demonstrate to visitors in the afternoon! The Vaseline was followed by make-up to emphasise my dark circles and black shoe polish on my neck, hands and arms to give the impression I don’t wash regularly.
My main concern was the boot polish then getting on the cloth, being woven on the looms which we sell in our shop, so every time they added some I then wiped as much off on to my apron – very naughty! Breakfast followed with a full English on offer, I went with bacon and toast which was just as well as I hadn’t finished my last bite before we were called up to be inspected. The costumes for all the weaving extras were given the okay and we were then led to the Mill.
A really eerie glow had been created over the Weaving Shed, with all the electric lights removed and the lighting provided by large lamps set up outside on the path. The bottom fence had been removed so there was room for all the filming equipment and camera men, sound man, director, producer etc. Without giving too much away the first scene involved a lot of setting the looms on and then switching them off again. My job was then to reset the looms so they were safe to put back on for the next scene. The time this took between scenes varied depending on the number of reeds knocked out and shuttles trapped. Luckily there was only one broken thread that needed mending, but took longer than normal because of the strange lighting!
The second scene saw the arrival of the character Susannah played by Holly Lucas, and a child. I then had to instruct Holly on what she should be doing to give the illusion she was a proper weaver. This scene was really quick and took very few takes.
The filming in the weaving shed came to an end everybody clapped Holly, apparently it was her last scene. Technically it was mine too, should I have been clapped as well? Back into my uniform and baby wiped clean and hair dry shampooed, I was ready to get back to my day job. I did enjoy the experience, it went a lot quicker than I expected and there were very few takes which helped. I would have liked to have kept my costume on for the rest of the day but to be honest it would have been a bit of a health and safety issue!
You can see our historic looms in action if you come and visit us, and you may even see Clare! http://bit.ly/QBMVI