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Duration: 1 hour

A group of modern shopkeepers and their families are on the journey of a lifetime - they're taking over empty shops in a neglected market square in Shepton Mallet to see if they can turn back time for the British High Street. They'll live and trade through six key eras of history and in this episode they begin their journey in the 1870s, when the high street was born.

The shopkeepers make up the key trades; there's the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker and the grocer. Overseeing it all is an expert Chamber of Commerce, headed up by greengrocer and Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace.

The shopkeepers soon learn that Victorian trading means truly going back to basics. The bakers struggle with back-breaking work and baking through the night. The butcher must sell every bit of a giant pig, and the Ironmonger realises that there isn't much call for mangles and mole traps in 2010. Over at the grocer's, 21st-century customers must wait for coffee to be roasted, tea to be mixed and butter to be patted. While the town finds Victorian produce hard to stomach, all the shopkeepers struggle to keep their customers onside in the run-up to market day.

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  • BBC TV blog

    BBC TV blog

    Producer Tom St John Gray on his job in making The High Street as realistic as possible: "Finding authentic prices in old money for each item was a real challenge."

    Read Tom St John Gray's post on the BBC TV blog
  • Family Highlight: Debbie Sergison, grocer

    Family Highlight: Debbie Sergison, grocer

    The Victorian era was the start of a family adventure that was going to change us all forever. Getting stared was the hardest part - waiting to be told we could enter Shepton Mallet’s high street seemed to last an eternity and my nerves started to kick in.

    Seeing our family name above the shop for the very first time was absolutely amazing as was meeting all the other families that were going on this same journey. Once we were introduced to the Turn Back Time chamber of commerce (Gregg, Tom and Juliet) and they briefed us on what was expected of us, it was time for us to do what we do best - to be grocers. But the biggest shock came when my daughter, Saffron, and I were told we could not be seen on the shop floor during opening hours - but I do believe rules are there to be broken!

    Once I got to grips with all the rules of the era I really did enjoy myself and I gained numerous skills of which I have taken to my own business including tea blending, coffee roasting and soap making. If I’m honest, I was expecting this era to be quite drab but I was pleasantly surprised - we had enough decent food in the shop to cook for my family and our house was surprisingly plush in comparison to the other families’ homes.

    I was so impressed at how our children adapted so quickly to Victorian life especially Harry, he worked all day in the shop, then he did the deliveries by horse and cart and when he got home he had to do the ledger – it’s sure to say he was happy to see his bed at the end of the night. And at least he didn’t have to get up and go to the toilet as he had a chamber pot in his room!

  • Photo: Jack the baker

    Photo: Jack the baker

    For poorer families in Victorian England, bread was a vital part of their diet.

  • Photo: Simon the ironmonger

    Photo: Simon the ironmonger

    Ironmongers and blacksmiths were the principal supplier of metallic implements up until the Industrial Revolution.


Series Producer
Cate Hall
Executive Producer
Leanne Klein


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