IN MANY WAYS, Stamford is Middlemarch. Approach from the south
and the town rises up from the Welland meadows like a flawless film
set - six medieval spires and a grid of honeyed streets, split by
secret passageways and cobbled lanes.
Scouts from the British Broadcasting Corp., scouring central
England for a suitable location to film the television adaption of
George Eliot's novel, couldn't believe their luck. Nor could
The first episode was watched by more than five million people
in Britain - BBC2's highest-ever audience for a drama series. (Made
in conjuction with WGBH-TV in Boston, the program is airing on
PBS's "Masterpiece Theater," seen in St. Louis at 9 p.m. Sundays
through May 15 on KETC, Channel 9.)
"When we were chosen," says Derek Gladman, president of the
Stamford Tourist Association, "everyone was thrilled to think
Stamford was the nearest thing they got to George Eliot's town."
Stamford even resembles prints of 1830s Coventry, Eliot's model
for the town of Middlemarch. Like its fictional counterpart,
Stamford is grappling with growth and change.
But ironically, where the residents of Middlemarch were
concerned with the coming of the railways, increasing
industrialization and the building of their new hospital, Stamford
is stirred by the loss of its train service, the decline in
industry and the reduction of hospital services.
"Local doctors and people have been fighting for a long time to
prevent things running down," says Dr. Stephen Reiss of the
Sheepmarket surgery in the town center. Like Tertius Lydgate,
Middlemarch's devoted surgeon, Reiss is a young newcomer to the
town. "Both the children's ward and maternity unit have closed in
the past five years," says Reiss.
John Smith, curator of the Stamford Museum, points out that
Stamford's hospital was built in 1828, around the same time as the
New Fever Hospital in Middlemarch.
Smith's knowledge of the town makes him Stamford's nearest
equivalent to the Rev. Edward Casaubon, Middlemarch's most famous
scholar. But Casaubon's congregation was loath to attend his
sermons, while Smith's two forthcoming lectures on Stamford and
Middlemarch are a sellout.
The interest is everywhere. The town's local bookshop reports
sales of the novel - now with Stamford gracing its cover - have
risen from one or two a year to 220 since filming last summer. The
library has had to bus in copies from Skegness and Louth in the
north of England to cope with demand. …