“Delivering” the Call the Midwife Location Tour at The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Just over 1 year ago, two National Treasures came together to launch the Call the Midwife Official Location tours! Working in partnership with the creators of Call the Midwife (Neal Street Productions), The Historic Dockyard Chatham offers a behind the scenes look at the exterior locations of Poplar that have been made famous in this iconic TV series. We caught up with Kelly, one of our very own “Midwives” to find out more about what it’s like to be part of this incredible experience…

© Rickard Osterlund

What can you see on the Call the midwife official location tour?
The official location tour features several impressive buildings, cobbled lanes and river frontage which are used to portray the working docks of Poplar in London’s East End! It’s a unique behind the scenes tour for all Call the Midwife fans. As a guide, I show them different locations around site which were used for filming the hit BBC One series. With the help of picture books, we can re-create the stories from the early series through to the more up-to-date series. 

In 2018, a new exhibition was developed in conjunction with Neal Street Productions to enhance the experience.  What’s in the new exhibition?
The exhibition features two of the original sets from the first Nonnatus House.  It also features a series of props and costumes, all of which are authentic and have been used or worn by the cast - even down to a pair of long Johns’ which were worn by an extra are hanging up on the washing line! It’s always interesting watching people’s reactions to the props, especially the old-fashioned pram who many tell me they owned one similar! Occasionally I get asked to pose for a picture in the gallery which is usually with the bike!

All tours are led by one of our very own “Midwives” in full costume.  How does it feel to wear this iconic costume?
I love wearing the Midwife costume! It really makes you feel part of something special. When I’m getting ready for a tour, sometimes I can still feel a little nervous but the reaction you get from the public or groups when you first walk up to them wearing the uniform is brilliant and soon puts those nerves at ease. It can be tricky on windy days keeping your hat firmly on your head, I use a lot of hairspray and hair clips on those days!

What’s your favourite “behind the scenes” story?
There are many great stories which we share with the tours but here are some of my favourites…

  • Staff have renamed one of the roads in the Dockyard as “chummys hill” after the scene where Chummy (Miranda Hart) lost control of her bicycle and crashed into PC Noakes.
  • Ropes for the washing lines that stretch across the on-screen Poplar streets are made, of course, from the Dockyard’s Victorian Ropery.
  • When the Christmas special is filmed, it is normally in summer and boiling hot! Laura Main and Stephen McGann (Shelagh and Patrick Turner) regularly appear on set in big winter coats with their swimwear worn underneath!

What’s the best reaction you’ve had from fans?
Some fans ask me “how many babies have you delivered today?” whilst others ask whether I was an extra on the show (sadly not, but here’s hoping one day!). I get lots of people who aren’t on the tour come up and have a chat with me as I’m walking around and after the tour when I’m changed back into my regular uniform for the Dockyard, people often can’t believe I’ve just been their Midwife guide!

Have you met the cast of the hit TV show?
We were delighted to meet a lot of the cast on the official launch of the tours last year. Stephen McGann was excited to see the reconstructed sets in the gallery and he took lots of pictures including a selfie with the tour guides! Jenny Agutter was excited to see the sets from the original Nonnatus House as she wondered where they had gone! It was a fantastic day with lots of memories to keep!

More from Kelly...

It felt very special on the launch day, being part of something like Call the Midwife which has had such huge global success. The fan base has grown considerably through the years and we are now meeting people that have travelled long distances to experience our tours. Recently I have met fans from China, New Zealand and America. It’s amazing how popular the show is and quite special that we can be a part of something here at The Historic Dockyard.

There are around 8 trained Call the Midwife guides at the Dockyard, to be a guide means you must obviously be a fan of the series too. I had originally only watched a few of the earlier episodes so when I put my name down to be a guide, I was asked to watch series 1-3 before I was even allowed to see the script! I spent May to December last year watching them all, at one point, my 11-year-old son started watching them with me and we laughed and cried our way through each series.

We’re seeing more young people on the tours these days - the younger generation connecting with the past and being shown an insight to a far simpler childhood. It’s nice to see mothers, daughters and grandmothers experiencing the tours together!

If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to experience the Call the Midwife Official Location Tour, don’t miss your opportunity as spaces are filling up fast in 2019.  Don’t forget that included within your tour is full access to The Historic Dockyard Chatham on the day of your visit – with 3 Historic Warships, 10 Museum Galleries and 80 acres of the most complete dockyard of the age of sail to explore.

Visit https://thedockyard.co.uk/whats-on/call-the-midwife-location-tours/ to find out more and book.