Edwardian

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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 move into to the elegance of the Edwardian era.

The butcher, the baker, the grocer and the ironmonger are joined by a dressmaker, and together they must provide a modern town with the exceptional service and luxuriant shop displays worthy of the Edwardians.

The baker's family find themselves running an Edwardian tea shop, while the butchers must sell game in all its gory glory to modern customers. The grocer has trained staff, but the challenge of creating an early 20th century wedding breakfast piles on the pressure.

All the shopkeepers struggle with maintaining standards, and it becomes clear that underneath its glossy veneer the Edwardian high street was a tough place for women and children. The arrival of call-up papers reminds the traders and the town of the terrible impact that World War One had on Britain's communities.

  • 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: Andrew & Michael Sharp (centre), butchers

    Family Highlight: Andrew & Michael Sharp (centre), butchers

    Having come from a family with an 800 year butchery heritage and starting my own career in the meat trade at the age of 13, I naturally jumped at the chance to experience first hand, the life and work of my ancestors through different eras of the British high street. I felt it would also be a great opportunity for my son, Michael, to gain a sense of the trade as it once was.

    For me the Edwardian era was a particular favourite because of the formality and etiquette, (starched collars definitely make you stand up straight!) but also one of the worst because of the devastation of the First World War. Providing a formal service to the Shepton Mallet customers highlighted what I think is missing in some shops today, that fantastic one to one personal service which was really valued by customers.

    The change from opulence, service and etiquette to the stark austerity of the war period changed the high street irrevocably and ultimately into the high street we see today; furthermore the enlisting of the majority of men changed the balance of servant- master and father-son relationships which was sad to experience. I myself was conscripted leaving Michael to run the shop alone – but I’m very proud of all he achieved.

    Continued by Michael.

    The Edwardian era was possibly the most exciting for me; as my dad mentioned I got to run the butchers shop alone during this era and was really able to shine; Dad was off fighting and I was left to feed the people of Shepton Mallet. Before the war broke out we had two apprentices which prevented the need for me to work, so I saw the war as a chance to make some money on my own. I even ended up selling more meat on my own than we could’ve ever dreamt of whilst working together.

    A major challenge that we faced during the Edwardian era was having to try and sell game to people who weren’t used to eating it, this was a challenge but one not too big for me and my dad. Our shop was called ‘Sharp and son’, but when dad was enlisted I dubbed it ‘Sharp and no son’!
    Overall for me the Edwardian era was filled with excitement and success and I enjoyed it the most out of all the eras we experienced.

  • Photo: The introduction of the dressmaker

    Photo: The introduction of the dressmaker

    The first decade in the 1900s marked the rise in popularity of haute couture among women. Haute couture became fashionable among all classes as the Industrial Revolution allowed poorer women to emulate the styles worn by the upper class at a cheaper price.

  • Photo: Open all hours

    Photo: Open all hours

    Children in the Edwardian period would live on a basic diet which was high in carbohydrates and low in fresh fruit and meat. This diet meant that the Provision of School Meals Act was passed in 1906 after an MP convinced the House of Commons that hungry children had trouble learning; the Act permitted local authorities to provide school meals.

Credits

Series Producer
Cate Hall
Executive Producer
Leanne Klein

Broadcasts

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