Stanley Kubrick: a Hertfordshire Odyssey

The Design Museum in Kensington might seem an odd place to celebrate one of the 20th century’s greatest film directors, Stanley Kubrick. Or perhaps not, given Kubrick’s talent for creating ground breaking cinema, and his flair for imaginative and futuristic set designs?

Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition runs until 15th September, and “tells the story of Stanley Kubrick the meticulous genius, exploring his unique command of the creative design process of film-making, from storyteller to director to editor.” 

Born in New York in July 1928, Kubrick spent over half his life as a resident of Hertfordshire. He and his third wife, Christiane, initially moved to London in 1961, where Kubrick was to direct the film Lolita at studios in Elstree and Borehamwood. With a strong distaste for the Hollywood movie industry, Kubrick was happy to remain in England for his next film project, Dr Strangelove, starring Peter Sellers. In 1965 the couple bought a property called Abbots Mead on Barnet Lane, close to the studio complex at Elstree and Borehamwood, and they remained there for the next 14 years. It was here that Kubrick devoted much of his time to developing special effects techniques and adapting cameras and lenses, as well as editing and managing the production and distribution of four of his best-known films.

In 1978, the Kubricks bought Childwickbury Manor, a mainly 18th century stately home lying halfway between St Albans and Harpenden. Kubrick set about converting the stables and outbuildings into film production and editing facilities, as well as creating the family home in the main house. For many years previously the manor and associated stud farm had been run successfully by racehorse owner Jack Joel and later by his son Jim. Jim Joel is one of the few owners to have won both the Derby, with Royal Palace in 1967, and the Grand National, with Maori Venture in 1987. Both the Queen and Queen Mother are said to have visited the stud at Childwickbury.

Stanley Kubrick’s reputation as difficult and reclusive has been greatly exaggerated. It is true that he rarely left England or took holidays, but much of this is down to his workaholic nature and desire for perfection in his films. In fact, he received a great many visitors and was described as gregarious and convivial, and with a great sense of humour, by his co-screenwriter on the film Full Metal Jacket. Dave Prowse was another visitor, later starring as Darth Vader in the early Star Wars films, and he described how Kubrick enjoyed listening to Test Match Special while eating his favourite M&S sandwiches. Perhaps, Kubrick’s love for Childwickbury is best summed up by the fact that after his death in March 1999 he was buried on the estate, next to his favourite tree.

Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, continues to live at Childwickbury Manor and in recent years has devoted herself to painting. With her daughter Katharina she holds regular painting courses, and for the last fifteen years has hosted an annual Childwickbury Arts Fair showcasing art, music and the creative process, and more recently a Christmas Market.

Stanley Kubrick filmography:

1999 Eyes Wide Shut  – Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman
1987 Full Metal Jacket  – Matthew Modine
1980 The Shining  – Jack Nicholson
1975 Barry Lyndon – Ryan O’Neill
1971 A Clockwork Orange – Malcolm McDowell
1968 2001: A Space Odyssey – Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
1964 Dr Strangelove – Peter Sellers, George C Scott
1962 Lolita – James Mason, Shelley Winters
1960 Spartacus – Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier
1957 Paths of Glory – Kirk Douglas
1956 The Killing – Sterling Hayden
1955 Killer’s Kiss – Frank Silvera

This article is part of our Celebrating St Albans History series. You can view all our historical facts on our Celebrating St Albans History page. If you have a historical fact you would like to add please let us know by using the contact form below or by emailing