On Tour with Hot Fuzz in Wells

In 2007, director Edgar Wright released the second of what would become the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Hot Fuzz. As with its immediate predecessor Shaun of the dead which served as an homage to the zombie genre that had blossomed during that period, so Hot Fuzz acted as an expression of love towards Hollywood action films. To appreciate the complexity and depth of this film does require some passing knowledge of its foundations however, equally it is an enjoyable film in its own right with a clear chemistry between its two central characters and a plethora of well known actors that are instantly recognisable to an audience beyond these shores. The film’s principle photography was completed in the Somerset city of Wells, an adorable historic market town that shares much of the character and charm as depicted on screen. Indeed walking its cobbled streets you do have an immediate sense of familiarity with a place you may never have visited principally because of its depiction in this movie.

With many of the interior shots switching production back towards London and surrounding areas, notably The Crown pub, supermarket and hotel interior, there is still a great many sites to visit that will be recognisable to fans of this film. Well’s sells itself as one of the smallest cities in the country given the presence of the Cathedral which is at the centre of the area and whilst digitally removed from the movie is an impressive building to visit in its own right. You can easily spend a day exploring the city and take in a great many of the filming locations with very little change from its depiction over a decade ago. Whilst being a resident of London affords me the opportunity to see and walk amongst numerous movie locations on a regular basis, given the nature of near constant change and construction in the capital, it can be challenging to visit these places before they fundamentally alter or disappear. Given its historical stature, very little has been amended since filming completed, principally as many of the buildings that served as a backdrop are functioning locations.

Bishops Palace

Located next to the Cathedral is Bishop’s Palace, a beautiful park in its own right and home to the Bishop of Bath and Wells for 800 years. It is an English Heritage site and a great way to spend a few hours on a nice day exploring its gardens and indeed, wells from where the city derived its name. In the fictional world of Hot Fuzz, it serves as the assembly point for the neighbourhood watch group who conduct their clandestine meeting at night to plot their nefarious plans. I had assumed given its depiction in the movie it was further from the town centre, thankfully it really is only a very short distance from the market square removing the necessity to run at full pace to reach there, thankfully a short pleasant walk is the entire exertion you’ll have to expend. It is a paid attraction, adult tickets cost just under £9, for the views and gardens it is a small price to pay for a nice way to spend a couple of hours and of course to see the area where the dramatic scenes were filmed in person.

A few changes were made to the filming location and area, principally of course the stone table and chairs on the greenery replaced by a single stature. You aren’t permitted to walk directly across however there is a short pathway around and it seems a nice, pleasant, quiet area to just enjoy the palace and gardens with a number of benches on the perimeter affording a moment’s peace and quiet. In the bright sunshine it does perhaps lack some of the haunting menace and threat as its depicted in the film with the ethereal aesthetic missing entirely. But its a beautiful building and ruins to explore at your leisure and the gardens around the wells are a lovely location to visit in their own right with some stunning reflective areas for budding photographers. The stone walls of the palace are surrounded by a moat of sorts that serves towards the beginning of the film as the character of Sergeant Angel is running towards the village and the welcoming acceptance of the villagers of Sandford. It’s possible to visit many of the location shots of the film in short order, nearly all the key markers are a short distance from the main square however if you do have time to visit the palace would recommend spending a couple of hours there.

Bishops Palace, Wells

St Cuthbert’s Church

The city of Wells prides itself on being one of the smaller if not the smallest city in England as defined by its cathedral status. The building itself is an impressive structure in its own right though it takes away from the nature of the small village society implied in the nature of the film. As such the spires and structure of the Cathedral visible from the market square were removed in post production. Thankfully, Well’s is blessed with another traditional church only a very short distance away at St Cuthberts. Whilst the spire of Wells Cathedral is used for certain shots, the main exterior of St Cuthberts played host to the fair where the journalist is killed attempting to reveal the conspirators behind the nefarious plot. Its a lovely traditional church to visit, the grounds are peaceful to walk around and is very welcoming of visitors and tourists alike. As with Mdina when we visited the walled city and shooting location for Game of Thrones in season one, you can’t help but pick up and overhear movie fans such as myself who are visiting for the day and impressed with the connections to this movie.

Certainly it lacks the prestige of the Cathedral, but there is a welcome peace and tranquility visiting the parish church, an intimacy you don’t feel when you enter the larger cavernous ornate places of worship. The grounds around the front of the church are open and inviting to sit, only a very short walk from the main high street and markets which on a nice day can feel quite hectic, its nice to have somewhere peaceful to go and sit and reflect on life for a moment. Whether you can avoid a church spire falling down upon you is another question but I did enjoy how the film captured the moment of just sitting and taking in village life if only momentarily and the perfect use of the soundtrack in this moment. There is no fee for entry, this is an active parish church and part of the community so if you find yourself visiting Well’s would suggest stopping by if only for somewhere to stop and just enjoy the space around you.

St Cuthberts

Market Square

The main square of Wells is home to its bustling and extremely popular market offering a variety of local goods and edibles for purchase. Nearly all the external shots filmed in Wells are a stones throw away from this picturesque location with both the opening tracking shot of Angel running around the Bishops Palace and encountering Skinner shortly after before returning towards the end of the film for the climatic gun battle, a world away from the peaceful inhabitants and citizens of Wells. Walking around the town having watched Hot Fuzz, it really does feel like being on a living movie set with a great many familiar locations and settings accessible to see and visit though of course a great many of the internal shots were filmed closer to London including the pub interiors and the supermarket setting. Approaching the square from the north you can follow in the footsteps of Simon Pegg and stare incredulously at the stall holders as you look on in amazement, not a great deal was changed although if you look closely there are a number of Easter Eggs added for reference.

Given the use of the fictional name of Sandford, certain signage and place names were removed to maintain the consistency of the production. Notably, The Crown at Wells isn’t directly referenced or named and the shots used ensure its true identity isn’t revealed although quite clearly it’s fairly easy to see where this was filmed. To the East is the City Council building, used effectively in the final gun battle including traces of the usual market stores that populate this terrace during the week. Further to the south on the road leading to St Cuthberts is the corner shop and fountain where Simon Pegg approaches on his horse before the battle gets under way. If there isn’t an instant sensation of deja vu when you arrive in Wells, you’ll certainly be feeling it by the time you leave the market square. Away from the violence and mayhem of the fictional world of Sandford, it’s also a lovely Somerset market to visit, I’ll admit to buying a few items, the cakes and food are delicious.

The final shot of the film gives us the clearest view of the square even if it comes at blistering speed. Using the tower on the left as a focal point, the spires of the cathedral ordinarily rise up into the sky however here they were removed to maintain the village setting and aesthetic of the film. On the day I visited the, the square was incredibly busy with rows of stalls and visitors, you understand the square is very much the heart of the city, prominent in its as the main shooting location and rightly so. As a flight of fancy whether in gaming, television or movies I find myself on occasion wondering what was behind that locked door we never got to see. As a shortcut in gaming, quite often the door is literally locked and sealed off. In film and television when a scene is shot in a location you are familiar with you know what is around the corner, behind the curtain, it deepens the immersion with the associatory knowledge. It’s fun to watch this film, in particular these scenes in the square as I now know what was through the arch, just out of sight.

The Best Western Swan Hotel

My first location on my visit to wells, the aptly named Swan Hotel which retains its original name even if the signage is somewhat different in real life. I wanted to visit simply to capture the appropriate shot and it didn’t disappoint. Located just off the main high street leading to the square this was my first stop on my Hot Fuzz tour of Wells. It’s easy to find, for my visit I begun with a walk around the Cathedral yard which is a vast open green with some beautiful views of the cathedral tower that served a function alongside the church of St Cuthberts. Leaving the common you arrive on a small thoroughfare connecting to the high street and the entrance to The Swan Hotel, the Best Western sign barely visible in the movie though still present in the middle. In reality its a fairly narrow street with little else to see or do besides gain access to the hotel. This was purely fan service for me and an indistinct hotel entrance. But as a fan, it was fun to see briefly.

Having the luxury of family living only a short distance away in Glastonbury afforded me the opportunity to drive over to Well’s and visit this city and many of the external locations as featured and depicted in the movie to see how they stand today. In short, very little has changed, and if you enjoy this film I would strongly suggest visiting when you can as it is fascinating to explore. The majority of the external shots of ‘Sandford’ are filmed in and around the central market square which is routinely closed off for markets and events affording opportunity to idly explore and capture shots. You do realise how close everything was to shoot during production, the ruins where Simon Pegg’s character for example encounters the NWA group in the robes was shot in the Bishop’s Palace which is connected to the main square and where he runs past in the opening tracking shot at the start of the film. Probably the only location I didn’t have the opportunity to visit was the Somerfields supermarket exterior which is present in the town although given the internal sequence was shot near Slough I can come to peace with that.

Wells is a beautiful city to visit and explore in its own right, the Bishop’s Palace yards and gardens are an idyllic setting for any occasion, a myopic tyrannical village council or just a lazy tuesday morning exploration of this historic setting. The market is bustling and active with some delicious food and gifts on sale by the local community. As a location it is a little more commercial in contrast to Glastonbury which maintains more stricter standards on which shops establish themselves on the high street. I had driven through on a number of occasions to visit Cheddar however this was my first purposeful visit, and entirely because of its use in Hot Fuzz. Exploring the market square was such a great experience for me as a film buff, to adapt a common adage, taking a peak at the wizard behind the curtain and realising the magic is actually very real. A beautiful, inexpensive location to visit with a vast wealth of treasures in the surrounding communities including Glastonbury and Cheddar. Little hand says its time to rock and roll.

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