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The Forth Bridge in Scotland joined 1,030 places and properties around the world on the UNESCO World Heritage List this past weekend, so today we look at ten World Heritage sites in the UK that have appeared in British TV shows.

Forth Bridge
Forth Bridge – Photo by Andrew Bell (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

1. Blenheim Palace (England)

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace – Photo by gailf548 (CC BY 2.0 license)

Built to honor Englishman John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, the Blenheim “Palace and Park illustrate the beginnings of the English Romantic movement, which was characterised by the eclecticism of its inspiration, its return to national sources and its love of nature,” according to the World Heritage Committee.

Given Blemheim Palace’s proximity to Oxford, it’s no surpise that it is featured in the Inspector Morse episode “The Way Through the Woods” and the Inspector Lewis episode “The Point of Vanishing.”

2. City of Bath (England)

Bath Royal Crescent
Bath Royal Crescent – Photo by Leebrady99 (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

The World Heritage Committee states, “Bath’s grandiose Neo-classical Palladian crescents, terraces and squares […] are a demonstration par excellence of the integration of architecture, urban design and landscape setting, and the deliberate creation of a beautiful city.”

Most viewers of British telly will recognize Bath by its iconic Royal Crescent, which appears in the “Death Is Now My Neighbour” episode of Inspector Morse and the made-for-TV movie Persuasion, starring Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones. For the updated Poldark, the mansion hall and staff room of Prior Park College were transformed into the ballroom and parlour game room seen in Episode 2.

3. Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (England)

Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape – Photo by WillWallis

Speaking of Poldark, the World Heritage Committee describes the Cornwall and West Devon mining landscape as “reflect[ive of] the substantial contribution the area made to the Industrial Revolution and formative changes in mining practices around the world.”

4. Dorset and East Devon Coast (England)

Dorset and East Devon Coast
Dorset and East Devon Coast – Photo courtesy of Literary Lyme Walking Tours

And speaking of Devon, the World Heritage Committee says this: “The Dorset and East Devon Coast has an outstanding combination of globally significant geological and geomorphological features. […] This coast is considered by geologists and geomorphologists to be one of the most significant teaching and research sites in the world.”

British TV fans consider it to be the home of Broadchurch.

5. Durham Castle and Cathedral (England)

Durham Castle
Durham Castle – Photo by Russel Wills (CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

According to the World Heritage Committee, “Durham Cathedral is the largest and most perfect monument of ‘Norman’ style architecture in England. The small astral (castle) chapel, for its part, marks a turning point in the evolution of 11th century Romanesque sculpture.”

And both Durham Castle and Cathedral serve as the backdrops for the hit Brit mystery series George Gently, beginning with Series 5. (Who could forget that cliffhanger!)

6. Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (Scotland)

Edinburgh – Photo by Tilmandralle

Of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland since the 15th century, the World Heritage Committee states, “The harmonious juxtaposition of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character.”

Perhaps that is why so many British TV and films have been set in or shot in Edinburgh, including the mystery series Case Histories, crime drama Rebus, bio-drama Garrow’s Law, and period drama North & South, amongst others.

7. Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church (England)

Westminster Palace
Westminster Palace – Photo by DaniKauf (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

As the seat of the House of Lords and House of Commons that make up the Parliament of the United Kingdom, pretty much any series having to do with national British politics is going to have Westminster in it in some way, even if it’s only referenced in dialogue.

What comes to mind immediately is the UK version of House of Cards, which features the iconic aerial view of Westminster in the title credits. Plus No Job for a Lady, Party Animals, The Politician’s Husband, and The Thick of It, to name a few more.

Even Sherlock has a case directly related to Westminster in “The Empty Hearse” episode.

States the World Heritage Committee, “The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church […] represent the journey from a feudal society to a modern democracy and show the intertwined history of church, monarchy and state.”

8. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (England)

Stonehenge – Photo by Frédéric Vincent (CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

“The monuments of the Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites demonstrate outstanding creative and technological achievements in prehistoric times,” says the World Heritage Committee.

In modern times, Stonehenge was a key location for the Doctor Who episode “The Pandorica Opens,” as well as the 2008 adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

9. Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey (England)

Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey – Photo by Diliff (CC-BY-SA 3.0 license)

“A true masterpiece of human creative genius.” That’s how the World Heritage Committee describe Studley Royal Park and the ruins of Fountains Abbey, adding it “owes its originality and striking beauty to the fact that a humanised landscape was created around the largest medieval ruins in the United Kingdom.”

As far as I can tell, there have been fewer television shows filmed here than at others of the World Heritage sites, but some include the period drama Flambards, and the documentaries Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives and Cathedral.

10. Tower of London (England)

Tower of London
Tower of London – photo by Bob Collowân (CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

According to the World Heritage Committee, “The Tower of London has Outstanding Universal Value” due to its cultural qualities, including its strategic siting on the River Thames, “demonstration and symbol of Norman power,” and “strong associations with State Institutions,” and its being “an outstanding example of late 11th century innovative Norman military architecture,” “a model example of a medieval fortress palace,” and “the setting for key historical events in European history.”

It’s been standing since William the Conqueror had it built in the 11th century, so, similar to Westminster, many British TV shows that center on the monarchy, especially Henry VIII, include scenes that take place at the Tower, including Richard II, The Tudors, and Wolf Hall.

In Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, Queen Elizabeth I imprisons the 10th and 11th Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith) as well as the War Doctor (John Hurt) in the Tower of London in 1562, where concurrently in 2013 it is the site of UNIT’s Black Archives, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s office, and the showdown between Kate, the Doctors, and the Zygons. And Sherlock, too, takes us to the Tower in “The Reichenbach Fall” by way of Moriarty.


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Ten Sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List in British TV Shows
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