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At Home With The Georgians

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Amanda Vickery Amanda Vickery | 10:04 UK time, Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I wrote and presented At Home With The Georgians at the suggestion of Janice Hadlow, controller of BBC Two. She'd heard me give some public lectures on 18th Century private lives and read my new book about homes in Georgian England.

Janice reckoned the combination of characters, stories and interiors would make appealing TV. Or "sex, scandal and soft furnishings" as the trailer promises.

A Georgian lady with Amanda Vickery

The recognisably modern middle class home was taking shape in the 18th Century when Britannia ruled the waves and became the world's leading manufacturing power.

The Gorgeous Georgians thought of themselves as 'a polite and commercial people', a nation of shop-keepers, consumers, and home-makers who loved to socialise and keep up with the Joneses.

Our towns and cities were rebuilt in the 18th Century according to the geometrical rules of classical Rome - all careful proportion, symmetry and clean lines. The Georgian townhouse is still the estate agent's dream ticket.

But inside those immaculate terraces there was a riot of up to date consumer goods - flock wallpapers, chintz curtains, silver plate tableware, Axminster carpets, and Wedgwood vases.

The polite threw open their doors to visitors, inviting the world into their parlours to drink the new exotic hot drinks (tea, coffee, chocolate), to gossip, and to admire the shiny new fixtures and fittings. Home improvements and interior decoration were the craze of the age.

The Georgians had this revolutionary new obsession: good taste. It sounds so quaint and suburban today, something that Hyacinth Bucket or Margo Leadbettermight get steamed up about. But 'taste' was fresh as paint in the 18th Century.

For the first time, quite ordinary middling people saw their interiors as an expression of personality. Your character, your education, morals, even the state of your marriage could all be judged from look of your home. Would your front room stand up to scrutiny? Would your choices cut the mustard?

The whole subject is so visual and colourful it leant itself to TV. I spent the summer getting behind the scenes in National Trust and English Heritage mansions, as well as the store rooms of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of London.

I loved finding hidden closets, back stairs and servants' back kitchens and garrets (some of the best are at Erdigg in Wales).

Amanda Vickery

But there is plenty of full-on design glamour too - like the brilliant yellow Chinoiserie of Claydon House (Bucks), the Neoclassical Bling of Syon House (Middlesex), the magical honey colours of Parham (Sussex), the old-fashioned romance of Townend (Cumbria) and the profusion of Chippendale furniture at Nostell Priory (Yorkshire).

But I'm not just interested in the interior lives of the rich. The Georgians came up with clever ideas for keeping up appearances on a middle income.

Slapping up wallpaper was one way to transform the look of a room for a fraction of the cost of textile hangings, wood panelling or stucco.

And if you were strapped for space, why not invest in some ingenious metamorphic furniture (multi-purpose tables, wardrobes that turned into beds) to get the most out of your bedsit?

Temple Newsam in Leeds has a choice collection - the drop-down bed that folds out of a chest is a wicked spring-loaded contraption that nearly crushed me.

Historians are all natural voyeurs itching to know what really went on behind closed doors. I have spent the last six years toiling in deeply unglamorous local record offices reading diaries, letters, accounts books, criminal records and business papers.

I use them to unlock the secrets of home sweet home and peel back the façade of Georgian elegance.

At Home With The Georgians is the story of men as well as women, master of the house as well as domestic goddess.

Only when he married and set up home did a frustrated boy become a fully fledged man. I used the plaintive diaries of half-baked bachelors Dudley Ryder and John Courtney to show how men yearned for domesticity.

They are so artless in their romantic failures and frailties - I found myself blushing for them. Ryder worried that he had bad breath but was too embarrassed to ask his mother. He even fretted that nerves would make him impotent on his wedding night.

The letters of Mary Martin reveal the Georgian ideal wife, loyal, bossy and frisky - a sexy battle-axe. But the papers of Ann Dormer and Gertrude Savile are painful to read - both were victims behind closed doors. They show that a rich man's house could still be a prison.

Ann Dormer was married to a pathologically tyrannical husband, Robert Dormer of Rousham, in Oxfordshire, who censored her letters, watched her every move and even kicked in the nursery door on the hunt for her.

She enjoyed none of the prestige and power the mistress fully expected to enjoy indoors. So her marriage was a 'yoke', a 'net' and a 'cage'. Rousham was never 'her house'.

Gertrude Savile was a morbidly shy spinster clinging on in her brother's house Rufford Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, dependent on him for "every gown, sute of ribbins, pair of gloves, every pin and needle". Even the servants "treated [her] like a hanger on upon the family".

Constantly made to feel her inferiority, Rufford had no warmth for her "home! Why do I call it home? I have no home".

There were winners as well as losers at home.

It's our attitude to house and home which defines the British as a people. Let foreigners keep their apartments, most Brits want their own front door and a patch of garden.

An Englishman's house is his castle after all. This series gets to the bottom of this very British obsession and recreates the interior lives, hopes and dreams of women and men.

Professor Amanda Vickery is the presenter of At Home With The Georgians and author of Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England.

At Home With The Georgians is on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday, 2 December.

For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Amanda

    I have just finished your book on the Georgians at home. It was interesting, intriguing and surprising but above all it was a most enjoyable read. The inclusion of real life examples was excellent as was the use of fiction from the period to demonstrate your point.

    The chapter on household boundaries, security, multiple-occupation houses and locks was very interesting and the lengths that some tenants went to keep the nosey landlady at bay was reminiscent of my time as a student! I was also amazed by the detail in which some people documented their household accounts and purchases. I do wonder though if historians of the future will be able to piece together our lives so successfully given the use of electronic records and how these will survive.

    Unfortunately, I shall not have the opportunity of watching your programme as I am based overseas with my job however I'm hoping that it will be released onto itunes for downloading.

    With best wishes for a successful programme and I look forward to more things Georgian from you!

    Dominic

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    The scholarship and research shown in the programme are not in doubt, and both the interior and exterior of the buildings wonderful. It is lovely to see houses, rooms, buildings as they would have been, as opposed to those we are accustomed to seeing in films. But why do we need to see scenes quite unnecessary to the subject? It's a waste of valuable time to see the presenter trudging across a misty moor with a ridiculously inadequate umbrella. It spoils the run of serious thought on a fascinating subject. And if I were the archivist in charge of the precious diaries she had access to, I would be furious at the way she leaned all over them.
    Why is such an opportunity to see such lovely places and objects being treated in such a light-weight manner? What a missed opportunity.

  • Comment number 4.

    A wonderful programme, beautifully presented. I love the eighteenth century although I am a naval rather than a social historian. I learned more about life this period for which I am grateful, thank you.

  • Comment number 5.

    Amanda,

    Loved your programme tonight. Brilliant! Not only great entertainment but a real insight into Georgian life and values within a certain social set. Hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking! really looking forward to the next 2 episodes! A breath of fresh air!

    Please make lots more programmes!

    Chris Carden

  • Comment number 6.

    A reading list and bibliography would be most welcome.

  • Comment number 7.

    Amanda

    You have chosen to talk about a fascinating period of history which needs little embellishment to appeal to a broad audience. You must have had access to some fabulous research and buildings. Therefore, I found it odd that you felt it necessary to present much of it in the style of a Mills & Boon novel. Do you have a secret yearning to be the heroine of such a story, I wonder? Certainly the footage of you wandering across the moor in the fog with white parasol suggested that you might.
    For me, the highlight of the programme was when you decided that the poor chap in the portrait was, disappointingly not dashing or handsome for you. What you appeared not to notice was that his descendant, standing next to you at the time, bore more than a passing resemblance to him.

    Fear not, I will watching the next episode. I enjoy a good laugh!

  • Comment number 8.

    I thought the programme was very interesting and well presented. It was good to see history shown in a different way, through personal letters and diaries, rather than the usual stories of monarchs and politicians. Are any of the diaries published?

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi, Just finished watching the first episode of your series. Thought the programme and your presentation were brilliant, bringing the era alive. Involving the personal accounts of middle class in place of the usual areas considered and the added hints of modern times for comparison was masterful. You presented the programme with enthusiasm and insist, giving a refreshing feel to history, can’t wait for the second episode.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Amanda I absolutely loved your first episode, I wish you had been my history teacher. My husband has two vintage motorbikes, a brand new car, and a sports car on the drive...I need a new dishwasher...well apparently there's nothing new under the sun. Thanks for a fascinating series!

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Amanda, I turned on the TV by chance and saw the first episode, and then by chance found this blog. Great TV - it's so good to have a programme presented by someone who knows their subject. I'm not all that bothered about soft furnishings (though I am a but of a Jane Austin fan), but I'm eagerly awaiting the next episode. I really liked the style of your presentation. My only hope is that you stick to history and don't become another generic BBC presenter - "homes under the hammer" doesn't need you.

  • Comment number 12.

    Amanda --

    your programme is a dream come true. I am part of an international project researching the roles and functions of houses in literature (and literary houses). I wish to congratulate you wholeheartedly on your success -- and the flair and professionality with which you present the programme. It is entertainment TV at its very best -- and such a very enticing way for me to catch up, revise, explore, and expand on my favourite topic!
    I would be delighted if you ever were interested to get in touch with my group of "house ladies."
    Meanwhile, well done you and ad maiora!

  • Comment number 13.

    Dear Amanda, I enjoyed your Programme very much. Pity you don't give more access to viewers from Republic Of Ireland as the Georgians,especially the women , as you depicted in your programme were very evident . In Ireland we had the Lennox sisters who controlled and managed huge estates on behalf of their husbands.

  • Comment number 14.

    Dear Amanda, you clearly have a great deal of knowledge & passion for the subject. As an interior designer, I had looked forward to your programme with a great deal of interest. I'm sad to say that watching the first episode left me quite disappointed. Not only was there very little evidence of the "soft furnishings" aspect, I was left with the impression that, as Katherine mentioned above, you would love to find yourself in Elizabeth Bennett's shoes. Furthermore, and for me most disappointing, you seem to have a great deal more sympathy for men of the time than women. I'm at a loss as to how else to explain how you could find Gertrude's plight (no rights, no control, and no prospect of a more positive future) less pitiable than George Hilton's.

    You are of course entitled to your perspective but I find it unfortunate that they were so present throughout the course of the programme overshadowing the facts and conditions of the period with romanticised fancies which for me came too close to 'mysogenistic' for comfort. I wont be tuning in for the remainder of the series.

  • Comment number 15.

    Dear Amanda,

    Congratulations on your excellent series At Home with the Georgians. I find the social history in which you specialize absorbing. Your series on Radio 4 prompted me to purchase your book and whetted my appetite for the television series. Your delight in discovering new information is obvious to viewers and certainly enhances the series.

    Looking forward to the remainder of the series & your future contributions!

    Kind regards,

    Kieran Brady

  • Comment number 16.

    Dear Amanda

    Excellent programme that I very much enjoyed. And delightfully presented as well. Makes a pleasant change from the usual 'stuffy' experts. Cannot wait for the next one. Well done.

    best wishes

    Simon

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Amanda

    I enjoy British social and industrial history, and when I glimpsed a trailer for this series I looked forward to it, but hoped it wouldn't be a lightweight "here's how you can create your own Georgian interiors" style programme; I was delighted that it took an academic and empathetic approach, citing sources and giving a clear line on researched evidence to support your conclusions and turned out to be a really information rich programme. I found the presentation style engaging and thought provoking, and was so drawn by the empathetic way in which you brought the characters to life from their historic manuscripts. I've enjoyed books on various periods by Liza Picard who writes a wonderfully factual and detailed style, again, with a commentry which conveys a real empathy, and often longed to see this type of prose brought to life in some kind of series, so I was not disappointed with this substantial production, and look forward to the next installment, and indeed reading the book and hopefully being able to purchase a dvd of it in due course. A really well crafted piece. Kind regards.

  • Comment number 18.

    In reply to Katherine R wrote:

    I think what Amanda is doing here is trying to break away from the typical Austen type views of the Georgians - not particularly sexy, only married to start families, women constrained by men etc. If the programme is, as you said, in the style of a Mills & Boon novel, this is only because some of the evidence she has come across has been undoubtably raunchy, and this needs to be shown! Also the TV historian always has to think of what the audience wants. You may say the proper historian would not do this but let's face it, put sex into a title and it immediately draws in more viewers, and more attention. Both Amanda and the BBC need to think about this, as well as providing some history for the public.

  • Comment number 19.

    I adored this programme. The part about Jane Austen and her tiny desk actually made me a bit teary. Thank you.

  • Comment number 20.

    i started watching 'at home with the Georgians' a wk ago and find myself somewhat disappointed. Facinating subject but treated very superficially. Where is the context of the period? the need for the conspicuous consumption, wealth and how it was gained, slavery, etc etc. The womans creativity one seemed to ignore the very real prisons women found themselves in. Frittering their lives away on glueing shells on the ceiling hardly seems praisworthy and yet praise it Ms A Vickery did. A bit more context would give the programme more substance. Is ms V trying to be the historians Nigella? slinking through rooms with sideways glances at the camera...

  • Comment number 21.

    I've never been that interested in the Georgians until this short series. Amanda Vickery is so watchable and has such an understated authority. And it's great to see a woman academic on the telly (the chaps do seem to have carved up history and the programming of it). Stylish but substantial, I liked how it didn't just focus on the upper classes. The book of foundlings with the swatches of fabric inside - hopeful for a match one day - was heartbreaking ('A Woman's Touch').

  • Comment number 22.

    My wife and I are big fans of Jane Austen TV adaptations so we were really pleased when Amanda Vickery's At Home With The Georgians graced our screens. We have have enjoyed the first two episodes very much and are looking forward to the third one. We very much hope there will be a follow up series.

  • Comment number 23.

    I am in awe of Amanda Vickery's ability to portray such a colourful period in our history with such passion and accuracy. There are many historians who cover this period but few, in my opinion, who can equal her ability to bring the Georgian's alive allowing us a brief glimpse of their fears and ambitions. Wonderful stuff and a true breath of fresh air

  • Comment number 24.

    Hello everyone, thanks for all your interesting feedback on At Home With The Georgians. I’ve been in touch with Amanda Vickery and she’s asked me to post this reply to you all on her behalf:

    Hi Red John #6 - there’s a reading list and some suggestions for how to take research forward for yourself mid-way down the programme page here (under More Reading): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wkmmj
    I hope you enjoy yourself.

    Thanks to both Katherine R #7 and Sophie Snow #18 for your feedback. I did try to bring a bit of humour to the filming and to share my enthusiasm for the characters I have spent so long researching – I have read their private confessions and detailed testimonies of their triumphs and tragedies. So at this point they are more familiar to me than most of my 21st century acquaintances.

    I am unashamedly interested in emotion, character and choices – this is the subject matter of most fiction, romantic or otherwise, but it is also the stuff of history. When I was researching my book, I was gripped by the papers of a stone mason’s family.

    When 39-year-old Elizabeth Platt lost her husband to diabetes in 1743, she was left with seven children, unhinged by her grief. Fortunately ‘when she obtained a few hours slumber she dreamed her husband was beside her, and used every tender argument to console and comfort her’.

    A widow’s dream may not be as epic as a political speech (though most of these are mundane), but it captures one of the deepest intimacies of a culture, subtleties far more difficult to retrieve than legislation. Where is the minute book for marriage? The Hansard for family life?

    Yes SamuelPickwick #8, Ryder's, Courtney's and Savile’s diaries have been published, but for the rest you can find the full story in my book Behind Closed Doors, or follow up the footnotes and read the manuscript originals for yourself in local record offices.

    Thanks Francesca Saggini #12, I am fascinated by houses in fiction too. Not enough room to do the subject justice in 3 hours!

    You are right BobbyBuckley #13, the Irish material is incredibly rich. I have never visited the Lennox houses but have always wanted to. I gather the shell house survives. How fabulous! But I rather steered clear of them in the series as I felt the sisters were exceptionally well covered by Stella Tilyard’s Aristocrats, which had also been made into a very glamorous TV miniseries.

    I am intrigued by your feedback Daryn #14, so thank you for the food for thought. I am known as a historian of women above all. I think Gertrude Savile’s story is agonizingly painful.

    But in this series and my book I tried to expand to include men in the story as well as women. People often think that the history of domesticity is predominantly about women.

    But peer behind closed doors and you find men’s hopes as much as women’s management. Only upon marriage and householding did a boy become a man, enjoying a huge injection of prestige and privileges. One should not need to say that a subject concerns men to assert its importance, but blokes are deluding themselves if they reckon the history of domesticity has nothing to do with them.

    As George Gibbs concluded over 200 years ago, the good-natured ‘will for ever take the greatest delight in their own home; and indeed it is my opinion that those who are incapable of relishing domestic happiness, can never be really happy at all.’

  • Comment number 25.

    Sorry, but I have to agree with those viewers who found the dumbed-down approach of this particular programme unnecessary and irritating. The narrative from Professor Vickery was silly and often quite patronising. I often wonder why the BBC would never allow such basic language on a radio broadcast about 18th century social culture and manners, and yet it seems almost de-rigueur for the TV audience to be treated like simpletons. Regrettably, I could only manage about 20 minutes of Episode 1 (despite looking forward to the series) and lost patience shortly after Amanda's childish and silly reaction to the Doctor's portrait. That kind of set the tone for the series and I knew it was not for me. TV history does not have to be dry and academic, but I'm sure we can do better than this pretty little primary school-level documentary.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hi Amanda
    I suggest that Cramnalob needs to get themselves a life!
    Great series, with just the right amount of research references, mixed with down to earth comment ... I shall look forward to your next project.
    Simon

  • Comment number 27.

    Wonderful, wonderful series. At last that nursery rhyme makes sense (Lucy Locket lost her pocket....) that was something I never knew before. Thank you Amanda. Also, was that an actual iPad you were using? I want one.

  • Comment number 28.

    Amanda Vickery's At Home With The Georgians: Refreshing to see that the dramatised sections of the programmes show the rooms and furnishings looking new. So many period dramas have scenery and sets that look hundreds of years old, but would have been new at the time of the action. For example Jane Austen entering a Georgian house where the steps are worn down by 200 years of use. There are so many other examples with the props used in period TV dramas and movies.

  • Comment number 29.

    Two gems from the BBC this year - 'At home with the Georgians' and Michael Wood's 'Story of England'

    Best since Channel Four's 'City of Vice'



  • Comment number 30.

    I don't see why a programme can't be both populist and academic in its presentation. This series has got the balance just right and is informative and entertaining in equal measure. Knowledgeable, passionate presenter who brings her subject to life with her captivating insight and a deep understanding of the subject. I found the sensitive and tender interpretation of the personal documentary sources a welcome contrast to the cold analysis one so often finds.
    I do hope a follow-up series is in the works.

  • Comment number 31.

    I really enjoyed this series and especially Amanda Vickery's engaging and clear presentation. Her use of a wonderful selection of primary source material in the shape of personal diaries made the series all the more fascinating. For anyone interested in the Georgian period the three programmes provided so many new insights into the way the home was run, how it was managed, how it was decorated etc. I hope the BBC get Amanda to write a follow-up series for 2011.

  • Comment number 32.

    I just wanted to say thank you to Prof. Vickery for the segment on her programme relating to the talismans against bad spirits. We are renovating our Georgian cottage, and when we removed the top three stairs to make a turn in them, we were puzzled to find an old rotted pair of leather gloves, two clay pipes and two plaster mouldings of an angel and a rose. Im afraid I wasnt aware of their purpose and threw the gloves away. I did however decide that the plaster mouldings and clay pipes were too interesting to throw away and now ive incorporated them all back into the structure of the house here and there to protect us in the future! Wonderful stuff and so well presented, could listen to her for hours. Please consider another series for another era.

  • Comment number 33.

    Dear Amanda,
    I am attempting to create a Gibbs family tree to show the connection between the Gibbs family, the Vicary family, Tyntesfield, and the Vicary-Gibbs line. I was hoping to have another look at your first program on BBC iplayer but cannot find it there.
    Is it possible for you to let me have the data you mentioned in the program about the Gibbs / Vicary marriage. I know it was to an Ann Vicary but cannot recall the date. Also whether Ann was from Exeter or Crediton.
    Any other information that you might have on this aspect would also be very much appreciated.
    Thanks again for a very interesting series of programs

  • Comment number 34.

    Arriving late at the party, but how interesting it is to see negative comments about this brilliant series. I suppose anybody with personality is going to get up somebody's nose, and Amanda Vickery certainly has that. I was particularly struck by a newspaper reviewer who 'didn't buy' her analysis. Fancy that. A newspaper reviewer thinks she knows more about social history than a professor of social history.

    Perhaps some people don't understand what a professor is, or take the US meaning of anybody who works at a university. Those who commented negatively may not appreciate the level of erudition required to get a chair at a British university. What seems to make Amanda Vickery so special is that she combines the relentless obsession that you need to spend untold hours sifting through obscure ancient documents with an unfailing joie de vivre that enables her to bring out the meaning that was lying locked up in them.

    I must say I agree with those who felt that she was insensitive in expressing such disappointment when she saw the portrait of the man whose diaries had enthused her. That was definitely a faux pas, but still an error born of over-enthusiasm I think, and too much enthusiasm is always better than too little.

    I also felt that the camera was slightly too infatuated with her. I could see for myself that she was pleasant to behold, without the point needing to be over-emphasised. I assume this is down to the Director, but it could rub off on the professor and give an impression of vanity, which wouldn't help the audience accept her as a serious expert.

    All in all, it was an outstanding series, just the kind of thing the BBC is best at. And Amanda Vickery is definitely a star.

  • Comment number 35.

    unfortunately I missed this 3 part series and would love to see it. However, it is not available on BBC iplayer. Can anyone tell me how I can get to see it?

  • Comment number 36.

    While I found this series informative, I would like to state for the record that I found Professor Vickery's attitude towards the men of the Georgian era offensive. She talks down to the men of that time like they are men living in their mother's basement. Rather than acting like a historical expert she instead looks down her nose at how she finds one man unattractive and mocks another for being unable to find a good wife. I'm not sure if she even realizes how patronizing she sounds but it made what could have been another great BBC documentary almost unwatchable.

  • Comment number 37.

    Amanda - just got around to watching this on sky plus and just wanted to say how much I enjioyed this series, particularly as you were my tutor at Royal Holloway and I now manage a Georgian NT house - shame you didn't visit Kedleston for the series! Victoria

  • Comment number 38.

    Why has the first episode "A Man's Place" been withdrawn from iPlayer the day before Episode 2 is to be broadcast on BBC1 at 1:30 Saturday am. It sounds from most of the comments in the blog that this is a great series. Why spoil our ability to enjoy the 2nd episode by deleting the first episode? Is this an attempt to promote future DVD sales?

  • Comment number 39.

    Amanda. I watched all three episodes and thought they were really insightful and i really enjoyed them. I am a huge Jane Austen fan and therefore love the Georgian period and your documentary supplied me with some interesting information and facts. I particularly liked the episode where you visited Jane Austen's house - oh how i wish to sit at her writing desk!
    I am in my final year at university studying English Literature and i am writing my dissertation on Jane Austen. I am looking at how Austen's heroines, and indeed Austen herself could have been either traditional georgian females or more radical and revolutionary. Would any of the sources which you looked at for this documentary be suitable for this study, in your opinion?
    Emily

 

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