Call The Midwife Set Tours: Visit The Docks Which Double Up As 1960s Poplar

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 51 months ago

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Last Updated 21 February 2020

Call The Midwife Set Tours: Visit The Docks Which Double Up As 1960s Poplar

Where is Call The Midwife filmed?

Any regular viewers who know London have probably wondered that at least once — is it filmed in the capital? The cosy community drama is set in the East End — Poplar and the Docks to be precise — in the 1950s and 1960s, but its cobbled streets, with laundry strung across them, look very unlike 21st century Poplar.

The truth is, it's not filmed in London. Much of that honour goes to The Historic Dockyard Chatham in Kent. The 400 year old docks double up very nicely as the cobbled back streets of 1960s Poplar, and are used for the majority of exterior shots in the series. Interior shots are filmed predominantly at Longcross Studios in Surrey which isn't open to the public.

Visiting the Call The Midwife set

Image: Historic Dockyard Chatham

The good news for fans of the show is that you can visit the exterior filming area on a Call The Midwife Official Location Tour. These take place at the Historic Dockyard Chatham, and are led by tour guides in 1960s midwife costumes. Photos and stills from the show are provided on the 90-minute tour, to jog your memory so you can compare the buildings in front of you with the scenes they appeared in on TV.

Image: Historic Dockyard Chatham

Find out what changes are made to the docks to make the area look more like the 1950s East End would have looked — Neal Street Productions, the production company which makes the show, has overseen the tours, so everything's accurate and above board.

Finish up in a special exhibition of props and costumes which have appeared on the show, and of course, there's a gift shop where you can spend your dosh on Call The Midwife merch.

Is any of Call The Midwife filmed in London?

Photo: Historic Dockyard Chatham

For early series of the show, St Joseph's College in Mill Hill was used as Nonnatus House, but the redevelopment of the building in 2013 put a stop to that, the change of location explained away by a bomb damage plot in the 2013 Christmas special. Both interior and exterior shots are now filmed at Longcross Studios in Surrey, with a manor house doubling up as Nonnatus House.

The historic-looking area around Theed Street and Roupell Street in Waterloo has also doubled up for mid-century East End in previous episodes.

Opening credits of Call The Midwife. Image: BBC

However, parts of the opening titles do feature London. The ship which looms large over the East End is the QSMV Dominion Monarch in dry dock at the King George V Dock, and the road is apparently Saville Road in Silvertown, close to the Tate & Lyle factory. The image was most likely taken in the 1950s or early 1960s, as the ship was scrapped in 1962.

Does Nonnatus House still exist in Poplar, and can I visit?

Nurses on the steps of Nonnatus House in series 9, episode 1. Image: BBC

Call The Midwife began as a series based on the real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a nurse and midwife working in the East End in the 1950s. Though the series has long-since extended beyond her recollections and into fiction, the TV show is still based in historical fact.

The Sisters of St Raymond Nonnatus are based on Sisters of St John the Divine a real-life religious order in the Poplar and Bow area with whom Jennifer Worth worked. The Order still exists today, though it's based in Birmingham.  

See costumes from the series on the set tour. Image: The Historic Dockyard Chatham

Nonnatus House, as it is portrayed in Call The Midwife, was not a real building. Jennifer Worth's time working with the Sisters of St John The Divine was spent at the London hospital in Whitechapel, before she moved on to Bloomsbury and Hampstead. The Order of St John The Divine worked all over London, though was largely based in Lewisham, before being forced to move to Sydenham Hill, and later out to Hastings. So in short, no, you can't visit the real Nonnatus House — you'll have to make do with the tours in Chatham instead.

Nonnatus House interior scenes are now filmed in Surrey. Image: BBC

In the current series 9, set in 1965, Nonnatus House, like much of Poplar, is under threat of demolition. It's another realistic portrayal of the East End of the time — slums were being cleared and bomb damaged buildings demolished, making way for new constructions like Ernő Goldfinger's Balfron Tower, built in Poplar between 1965-7. So even if Nonnatus House had existed, it's unlikely it would still be standing today.

Call The Midwife Official Location Tours take place at The Historic Dockyard Chatham in Kent on selected dates between 4 March and 31 October 2020. Tickets are £25 for adults/£21 for children and need to be booked in advance.