The Personal History of David Copperfield Filming Locations: Armando Iannucci’s Dickensian Life

Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield filming locations take us from Norfolk beaches to Yorkshire lanes. And Charles Dickens would have recognised several places we see onscreen.

The author visited two of the movie’s filming locations during his lifetime. He even gave a reading from David Copperfield at one of them.

Where Was The Personal History of David Copperfield Filmed?

The Personal History of David Copperfield was filmed in Hull Old Town, Bury St Edmunds and King’s Lynn. London isn’t a main location, though a lot of the action takes place there. In fact, the biggest London presence comes from Ealing Studios, where several interiors were built.

The Yarmouth beach and harbour scenes weren’t shot at Yarmouth, but they really were filmed in Norfolk. Several settings were recreated in Yorkshire. Hull’s cobbled streets needed the bare minimum of set dressing to recreate the look of Victorian London.

“Hull is an astonishing gem of an old city and filming David Copperfield there was an absolute pleasure… [with a] network of numerous historic cobbled streets which allowed us to recreate 19th century Dickensian London.”
Harriet Lawrence, Supervising Location Manager

Other scenes were shot an hour’s drive away in Suffolk’s Bury St Edmunds, where Dickens was a frequent visitor. If you know what to look for, you can see his old haunts in several street scenes.

They weren’t intended to be part of the line-up at first. The production team had only set out to get a feel for the places Dickens had known – and found themselves standing in front of the ideal filming locations.

“…when we saw Angel Hill and The Athenaeum we knew we just had to use it… I have never seen a more impressive coaching inn than The Angel Hotel, it’s huge and it looks just perfect for what we need.”
Kevin Loader, Producer

The Theatre

Theatre Royal. James Dimelow (talk) at en.wikipedia / Public domain
The Personal History of David Copperfield’s theatre scenes were filmed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. Dev Patel appears on the theatre’s stage in the monologue that frames the rest of the story, as David Copperfield presents his autobiography.

It’s the last functioning Regency theatre in the country. And thanks to its long history, Bury’s Theatre Royal is also the only theatre run by the National Trust.

Fortunately for Dickens fans, that means you can still watch a performance in the historic auditorium or book a tour to find out more about its inner workings and history. Check the website for National Trust deals – at the time of writing, the tour’s free for NT cardholders.

Canterbury Street Scenes

Look closely at the street scenes filmed in Bury St Edmunds and you’ll find several historical easter eggs in the sequence. As he passes smart carriages and society ladies, he’s actually walking through streets his creator, Charles Dickens, new well.

The red brick houses at the end of Churchgate Street are used in street scenes. Look out for Crown Street and glimpses of the Cathedral in the Canterbury scenes.

The Athenaeum on Angel Hill is visible as the characters round the corner. Look for it behind the London to Canterbury coach (£1 per journey, or more according to Mr Micawber).

It would be hard to beat this Personal History of David Copperfield filming location – Dickens himself gave a reading from the original novel at the Aethaeneum in 1861. At the time, the Georgian building was known as the Assembly Rooms.

He stayed at The Angel nearby – another filming location from the Armando Iannucci movie.

David Copperfield Arrives in the City

Keith Evans / The Angel Hotel Bury St Edmunds
When we see David Copperfield in the city as a young gentleman, he approaches a distinctive ivy-covered building. This filming location is The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds and it looks just as striking in real life.

Though if you visit you’ll see a blue plaque commemorating Dickens’ time at the hotel, which for obvious reasons doesn’t make it onscreen. At the time, it was a coaching house.

Yarmouth

The Yarmouth Docks scenes were filmed in King’s Lynn, where Ham, Emily and Joe Peggotty are shown working near the historic Custom House.

The Purfleet has old seafaring connections. And while the wooden barrels and fish hauls were added for the David Copperfield shoot, you can find out more about the area’s real fishing heritage in the town.

King’s Lynn is home to the True's Yard Fisherfolk Museum where you can see a surviving smokehouse and Victorian fishermen’s cottages. Though you might not find a boat house like the Peggottys’.

David Copperfield’s Yarmouth Beach location is on the North Norfolk Coast. The real Yarmouth lies to east, but the coastline is similar enough to convince. Weybourne is part of the Area of Natural Beauty, and the unspoilt shingle beach looks just as it does onscreen.

Fans of British comedy have two reasons to drop by this part of the world. Weybridge Station on North Norfolk Railway was used as a Dad’s Army filming location – look out for it in the episode The Royal Train.

David Copperfield’s London Lodging House

The filming location for David Copperfield’s lodging house in a less salubrious corner of London is further north, in Hull. Exchange Alley is an old, winding alley leading from Lowgate through to Bowlalley Lane.

In reality, the tottering buildings and well-preserved windows look charming. For the film, they’re dressed as a cheaper part of London where David Copperfield lodges when he’s down on his luck.

The network of alleyways was ideal for capturing David Copperfield’s Victorian London streets. Details on the set’s signage put the alleys somewhere near Chancery Lane, an area that pops up in many a Dickens novel.

The Pawn Shop

Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie and Dev Patel filmed the pawn shop scene near Exchange Alley, at Hull’s Land of Green Ginger.

Nobody knows how or why Land of Green Ginger got the enchanting name that’s worthy of Dickens.

It’s a narrow lane that runs through Hull’s old town, with just a touch of set dressing to take it back to the Victorian era.

Mr Wickfield’s School

Kevin White / Dorney Court
Mr Wickfield’s school location is Dorney Court, a Tudor manor house in Buckinghamshire. Sitting near the Windsor border, it’s in prime Etonian country – the ideal setting for a smart school for young gentlemen.

You might have noticed its red brick walls and chimney stacks in exterior shots. Anna Maxwell Martin and Ben Whishaw are seen at the entrance.

Cilla and Dunkirk’s Aneurin Barnard and Dev Patel’s schoolroom scenes were shot in a baronial wood-panelled room. It’s the manor’s own Great Hall. https://dorneycourt.co.uk/ The landscaped garden where the imposing Mrs Steerforth is introduced also belongs to Dorney Court.

And while it’s still the private home of the Palmer family, they’ve opened the doors to the public since the 1980s. You can visit David Copperfield location on one of its open days or tours (and make time to visit the Tea Room).

The Real David Copperfield House

In the film, David Copperfield shuts himself away in a corner of his overcrowded lodging house to write his autobiography. In reality, Dickens wrote A Personal History of David Copperfield at Fort House in Broadstairs, Kent.

The house, and its housekeeper, inspired Dickens when he created Betsey Trotwood and her home for the novel.

It’s now the Dickens House museum. And if you wondered where the idea for the invading donkeys came from, this is the place to find out.

Author: Jane
Article published: March 9th, 2020