The Aeronauts Filming Locations: Merging Histories Over London

The Aeronauts filming locations stay close to James Glaisher’s Greenwich roots – even if this true story takes inspiration from other 19th Century balloonists. In fact, we found aeronautical connections to some unexpected locations too.

Where Was The Aeronauts Filmed?

The Aeronauts was filmed in at Chatham in Kent, Bloomsbury, Oxford, and Claydon in Buckinghamshire. And of course, Greenwich is the perfect place to film James Glaisher’s story.

Look out for filmmakers’ favourite, Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College in The Aeronauts’ Royal Academy scenes too.

Is The Aeronauts Based on a True Story?

The Aeronauts is based on the true story of James Glaisher’s meteorological research. Amelia Wren is not a real person. The Felicity Jones character, also known as Amelia Rennes, takes the place of a real balloonist – Henry Coxwell.

Coxwell goes unmentioned in The Aeronauts. In fact, his brave actions are mirrored by Amelia’s in The Aeronauts.

“It's a great shame that Henry [Coxwell] isn't portrayed because he performed very well and saved the life of a leading scientist.”
Keith Moore, Head of Library at the Royal Society

But instead, the story was merged with other balloonists’ stories – female adventurers from the Georgian and Victorian era.

Coxwell’s female counterparts weren’t so well documented at the time, and The Aeronauts’ Amelia Wren is based on several real people. One in particular, Sophie Blanchard, stands out.

“She was an absolute wildcat, and she used to do these solo flights at night and would set off fireworks as she was taking off... She also completely redesigned the shape of the balloon, because she knew that it could be more aerodynamic…”
Felicity Jones, Amelia Wren

Her husband Jean-Pierre Blanchard, was a balloon pilot who recruited his wife as his assistant. Like so many balloonists of the day, he put on a show for the crowds who paid to see the show and took on daring challenges.

At one point, he escaped death by cutting loose the basket, using the balloon as a parachute. But his luck didn’t hold, and Sophie was widowed when he fell to his death.

Sophie carried on alone as the first professional female balloon pilot. And she carried on the tradition with spectacular shows and long distance flights across Europe.

Breaking the world record for the highest altitude is exactly the kind of thing Napoleon’s favourite balloonist might have attempted. Unfortunately she lived over 50 years too early to come to Glaisher’s attention.

And the world flight altitude record was an accidental part of the plan – the meteorologist’s goal was research.

Himesh Patel’s John Trew fills in as a male co-worker, though in a different capacity. He represents one of Glaisher’s colleagues at the Royal Observatory, but again it’s a composite role that suits the story.

In the movie, Eddie Redmayne’s Glaisher is offbeat but likeable. The real meteorologist’s research skills were highly acclaimed, but relations in the Greenwich Observatory are thought to have been fractious at times.

And that leads us to one very accurate element of the story – this filming location.

The Greenwich Observatory

Where better to film the Greenwich Observatory than Greenwich itself?

It’s easy to visit. There’s a museum with generous opening hours throughout the year. You can stand on the Meridian Line, find out about space and of course, learn about meteorological prediction.

You can also find English Heritage’s memorial just a few minutes’ walk from the Greenwich Observatory. James Glaisher’s Blue Plaque is on Dartmouth Hill, where he was living at the time of his balloon flights.

The Royal Society

Convocation House. Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
The Aeronauts’ Royal Society filming locations are found in and around London – including another part of Greenwich.

You’ve probably seen the Old Royal Naval College before. It’s a screen regular, appearing in everything from Starter for 10 to Thor: The Dark World.

Look out for the colonnades, where Felicity Jones shot scenes that highlight inequality in the Victorian era. Amelia is seen asking where she can find Glaisher, only to be told that women aren’t permitted on Society premises.

If you stand on the same spot, you can look up the hill to a clear view of the Observatory at the top. Actually, the ORNC is very easy to visit – so you can try this out for yourself.

Other Royal Society filming locations are further afield though. Convocation House in Oxford’s Bodleian Library was used as the meeting room where James Glaisher puts forward his findings. The exterior seems to be the library’s courtyard.

The Launch

The launch scenes were filmed around Regent’s Park and at Wrotham Park.

Elder Street in Spitalfields is the modest Georgian terraced street you see in the sequence running up to the balloon launch. It’s parallel to Blossom Street, a Mary Poppins Returns filming location (Jack bicycles along it during the opening sequence).

In The Aeronauts movie, the Mammoth takes flight from London. You might know the imposing mansion from The Crown, Gosford Park or The Riot Club. Wrotham Park’s extensive grounds are the filming location used in the pleasure gardens scene where the balloon actually takes off.

Though in reality the landmark journey started in Wolverhampton. London might be the obvious choice for a scientist based in Greenwich, but its proximity to water was too risky if the balloon went off course.

Wolverhampton residents were understandably put out at the change. But if you take The Aeronauts as a broader view of the times, London’s not a bad choice. Glaisher made subsequent flights from Crystal Palace, and wrote:

“The illuminated dials of Westminster clock were like two dull moons… [Commercial Road] appeared like a line of brilliant fire”
James Glaisher

So the movie’s adventurers are staying true to history when they marvel at flying over the Capital.

The Ball

Claydon House. mym / Middle Claydon House
The Aeronauts’ ball scene is one of the few times when we see James and Amelia mingling in a social setting. It explains how the pair met, with the innovators looking equally awkward in the grand setting – actually Claydon House, Buckinghamshire.

Sir Ralph Verney bought the manor in 1463, and Claydon has been the home of the Verney family ever since. Early generations expanded out to form a larger mansion.

In the 18th Century, the interiors were richly decorated – though some features have turned out to be too ornate. And while the grand makeover has been preserved for centuries, it’s not totally stood the test of time.

You can see the distinctive ornate plasterwork on the mantelpieces and cornices in The Aeronauts’ ball scene. But one of the most heavily decorate surfaces is actually overhead.

Look up and you’ll see that the Library’s ceiling is covered in rich plasterwork. Unfortunately, it’s so weighty that it’s been steadily bowing the ceiling, and now it’s part of a £60,000 restoration project.

Claydon is a National Trust property so this is a filming location you can visit easily. But it’s also a family home, so the East Wing is the only part open to the public.

When the Find That Location team visited, the upstairs tour had been cancelled. So if you’re travelling a long way, we recommend pairing it up with a trip to one of the many other local National Trust properties.

Amelia’s Family Home

We don’t see much of Amelia’s family home, but look out for the room where her relatives wait for news on the balloon flight. The scene looks like it was shot at Hatfield House’s Library.

The Library has previously appeared in the likes of The Crown.

The Balloon Factory

Chatham Dockyard - Covered Slip 3. Chatham rating [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
The Aeronauts’ filming location for Amelia’s balloon workshop is the Slip 3 Mezzanine at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent. It’s a short way down the Thames from Greenwich.

Felicity Jones filmed the scenes where she shows her sister and nieces around the workshop at the Dockyard. And later in the movie, Eddie Redmayne’s Glaisher appears to check on progress.

But we think you probably noticed this unusual industrial building. Or you might have recognised it from movies like The Golden Compass, where is appears in a similar capacity. In fact, it’s something of a go-to balloon factory.

“When presented with a brief to find a balloon factory location, there was really no other choice than The Historic Dockyard in Chatham… There are very few places left with an authentic Georgian timber structure that have stood the test of time.”
Christian Huband, Production Designer

The No. 3 Slip was the largest wide span timber structure in Europe when it was built in 1838. It’s an ideal setting for The Aeronauts’ story, looking the part and linking the dramatised story with a real innovation.

The Balloon Flight

As you’ve probably guessed, the balloon flight scenes were filmed in a studio. The Aeronauts’ London base was West London Film Studios in Hayes, where the likes of The Imitation Game and Good Omens have been filmed.

With the all-important aerial scenes taking up a sizeable chunk of screen time, this part of the shoot alone took at least two months.

“We had the balloon set up in a studio, we were shooting in a studio - it felt endless - for about eight weeks…”
Felicity Jones

And that’s before the stunt team was brought in for the most daring shots.

The Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery. www.CGPGrey.com [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
The Aeronauts’ cemetery filming location is Brompton Cemetery in West London.

In the flashback scene, Amelia is seen visiting the grave of her late husband. Brompton Cemetery dates back to the 1830s, making it an accurate choice.

Its residents include famous historical names from history such as Emmeline Pankhurst. There’s also a fitting connection to the dangerous world of the Victorian hot air balloonists.

An unfortunate balloon accident victim, Vincent De Groof, was buried at the cemetery after a stunt went wrong over Chelsea in 1874.

Like The Aeronauts’ world record attempt, the balloon took off from crowded pleasure gardens. Joseph Simmons, the balloon’s pilot, then lost consciousness at high altitude and narrowly escaped a similar fate himself. Though he would eventually die in a balloon crash a decade later.

Glaisher’s Parents’ Shop

Glaisher’s parents’ shop in The Aeronauts is a shopfront from Woburn Walk, London.

In real life, his father is recorded as either a tailor or a watchmaker. A neighbour who worked at the Observatory was the one who introduced him to the skies. But onscreen, it’s Glaisher’s father, played by Tom Courtenay, and we see Eddie Redmayne’s character visiting the family shop.

The bow-fronted exterior looks almost too perfect to be true, so you’d be forgiven for thinking the bow-fronted window was built on a set. But no, this Dickensian gem is hidden just around the corner from Euston Station.

Bloomsbury’s lanes are increasingly popular with film crews.

Serle Street and Carey Street popped up in Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime in 2015.

Wonder Woman and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society filmed on distinctive Sicilian Avenue to the south of Bloomsbury. And the car chase from Disney’s Christopher Robin was filmed on nearby Duke’s Road.

They obviously look the part for a London-set period drama, because they’re the real deal. But who would have guessed all these carefully-preserved Georgian locales still exist, tucked behind some of London’s busiest roads?

Author: Jane
Article published: November 10th, 2019