There isn’t a more famous place for film locations near where I live than Carnforth Station, which is known for its Brief Encounter film locations.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed this station travelling back and forth from Manchester. It’s a lot. And, only too often, I overhear a person over-60 turn to their fellow over-60 friend and say, “shall we have a brief encounter?” while chuckling at their own hilarious comic wit.
Lol, good one, never heard that before.
Brief Encounter (1945), directed by one of the most famous British directors David Lean, is about an affair between a married woman and a married man. The film follows their chance meeting at a railway station (!) and the subsequent illicit encounters that follow. It’s a British classic that has truly stood the test of time.
Carnforth Station hit the jackpot as one of the most poignant Brief Encounter film locations. And what happens when life gives you lemons? You redecorate, build a tiny cinema and make sure older film fans will travel to Carnforth Station on a Brief Encounter pilgrimage for as long as possible.
Here is everything you need to know about visiting the Brief Encounter film locations at Carnforth Station and visiting the David Lean exhibition there.
Brief Encounter Film Locations in Carnforth
Why did Brief Encounter shoot at Carnforth Station?
I hope you’re ready to nerd out because I find it so fascinating why Carnforth Station was chosen for one of the most important Brief Encounter film locations.
Brief Encounter was set in London and Surrey… so why the heck did they choose Carnforth, a tiny town in the northwest county of Lancashire, and its train station to stand in for Milford Junction?
The effects of WWII
If you’ve noticed the year Brief Encounter was released (1945) then you’ll already suspect had a lot to do with WWII. The film had to be shot at night (22:00-06:00) to avoid real-life train services. This meant lots of bright, cinema lights and lots of electricity being used.
For starters, it would be considered very dangerous in the southeast, where the film was set, to shine bright lights when everything else was in relative darkness. There were a lot of bomb threats and that part of the country was still prone to blackouts.
Not exactly ideal conditions for a film location! Luckily, the threat of bombs in prominent northwest towns had passed by 1944, when Brief Encounter was shot.
Train Station Logistics
The choice of Brief Encounter filming location also relied on having one line for the fast express train, and another line for the local train which was far away from the ‘Refreshment Room.’
There also needed to be extra lines where the film crew could store the prop trains during the day when the real train services were running.
That’s a huge checklist of requirements! And after scouting hundreds of train stations in the north, Carnforth Station was the lucky one chosen to be one of the Brief Encounter film locations.
All the Brief Encounter Film Locations at Carnforth Station
The whole station is essentially a Brief Encounter filming location! There are two platforms in use at Carnforth Station, all seen/used during the film. There is one rail used by freight trains and fast-moving cargo trains only. The clock, in particular, is iconic (and still there).
The Refreshment Room
The ‘Refreshment Room’ appears in several scenes at the beginning, during, and end of the film. Unfortunately, it was recreated in Denham studios so the actual Refreshment Room wasn’t a filming location.
But you could have fooled me! The bar, tables and layout are almost identical (however one door is in the wrong place) and even some of the props on the bar are still there today.
Years after the film was released, the Refreshment Room owners went to huge effort to model the real Refreshment Room on the film’s version (life imitating art!). So, it’s a fantastic place to visit today as a film fan.
The David Lean Exhibition at Carnforth Station
Carnforth Station has a ‘Heritage centre’ which is like a little museum. The majority of which has been transformed into a David Lean Exhibition. Not just a space dedicated to the making of Brief Encounter, but all of his films.
I’ve got to admit, they’ve really made a mountain out of a molehill. The exhibition covers three rooms, and the majority of the first two rooms are filled with general WWII memorabilia. So, it’s not specific to David Lean, just the time period in which he produced films including Brief Encounter.
And then the last room is covered with behind-the-scenes photographs, timelines and the odd David Lean academic book. I would say it’s a bit of a cheeky money-grabber, except the Heritage centre only runs on donations anyway.
Even though the exhibition is thin on the ground, I can see why it’s there. Why not give something else for the people who have travelled all the way to Carnforth for the Brief Encounter film locations more to see?
The Tiny Cinema Screen
This is probably the most endearing part of the whole place. In the David Lean Exhibition, they’ve set up a projector and a few rows of cinema seating which screens Brief Encounter over and over again. All day, every day!
When I visited Carnforth Station for the Brief Encounter film locations, a coach trip from the Women’s Institute was in narrating the whole thing. What is actually a film about the most chaste and dignified affair in history had become a Carry On film the way they were laughing about it.
Enjoy a Brief Encounter at Carnforth Station
Though Carnforth Station is not one of the easiest places to get to, it is still a train station with direct routes to nearby Lancaster and Leeds.
You probably only need about an hour at Carnforth Station, maybe two if you’re eating lunch in the refreshment room. And, if you want to watch Brief Encounter in the tiny cinema as well, then you might have to make a day of it!
The exhibition and cinema are open 10:00-16:00 every day.
I actually really enjoyed seeing how Carnforth Station has preserved and celebrates its film heritage. Clearly, lots of older people (I was the youngest there by about 35 years) really enjoy visiting the station.
Since it’s been voted the 8th most romantic place in the country, perhaps they hope of having a brief encounter themselves!
And that’s everything you need to know about visiting the Brief Encounter film locations at Carnforth Station in Lancashire, UK! Have you ever been to Carnforth? Let me know in the comments below!