Four families, with dreams of escaping the demands of the modern world, will face the challenge of their lives as they head back more than 100 years to try to make a living in a fishing community at the start of the 20th Century in a major new co-production for BBC One Wales and BBC Two.
For four weeks, the families will be exposed to the extremities of the wild waters and unpredictable weather on Llanddwyn, a beautiful, uninhabited tidal island, off the coast of Anglesey. Made by Wildflame Productions, and produced by Alexis Girardet who is known for filming in some of the most extreme conditions in the world such as the Arctic and the Amazon, The 1900 Island is the story of everyday survival, struggle, family conflict and a community coming together. The four-part series starts on BBC One Wales, Thursday, May 2 at 8pm.
It will air on BBC Two in the near future.
Four families from Swansea, Cardiff, the Wirral and Kent will take on the challenge: trying to master the seas and navigate their relationships with one another as they attempt to make a living and put food on the table. It’s a hand-to-mouth existence and hard physical graft, at sea and at home, as they endure the everyday challenges and hardships of this brutal coastal life.
With no running water or electricity, and just a small ration of food to get them started, the challenge is real.
When the weather’s good, Llanddwyn is strikingly beautiful, but when the winds wail and the waves crash onto the rocks, it can be a wild and harsh place to live. It’s no wonder the waters near the island were once described by Admiral Nelson as one of the most treacherous stretches of sea in the world.
The island’s original row of cottages for shipping pilots and lighthouse keepers have been uninhabited for 70 years. In preparation for the filming, Wildflame Productions, embarked on a design and build effort to make the houses ready for the families to live in, 1900 style. They also added a temporary village tavern and school, in keeping with the period. The historic features, rugged coastline and beautiful backdrop of Llanddwyn provide a unique location for The 1900 Island.
The Power family
The Powers are a Welsh-speaking family of five from Cardiff. They are 40-year-old qualified accountant Lydia, 36-year-old husband, sports development officer and church leader Gareth, and their three children. Their 1900 Island cottage is a world away from their three-bed semi.
Gareth says: “I think most people at some point have wondered what it would be like to live at another point in history, so the thought of experiencing life as close as possible to life in 1900 was so exciting and felt like such a privilege. At the same time, it was a real step into the unknown and I can’t say that there weren’t any feelings of nerves or trepidation!”
With three children to tend to, every day was a struggle for the Powers. Lydia says: “The biggest challenges were trying to make sure our children's bellies felt full at each mealtime when food was scarce and as I needed time to prepare everything from scratch - like bread each day for lunch. And also, trying to complete all the daily tasks expected of women in those days before the sun went down!”
Lydia drew on her experience growing up in a cockle-picking area to get the families through the toughest times. She says: “Along with the other women, I went on trips to collect cockles, mussels and laver seaweed - we found that the best cockle bed was a beautiful, yet long five mile walk from home.”
Arwel and Kate
Thirty-eight-year-old geography lecturer Kate Evans and partner 34-year-old blacksmith Arwel John are from Swansea. They’ve been together just over a year.
Arwel, who has lived off grid for several years, says: “Having lived off-grid before, I wasn’t daunted at the prospect of living simply. The boredom was the biggest challenge for me. As a man, I wasn’t allowed to do housework, so sitting and waiting for the weather to improve so that I could go out fishing was hugely frustrating. I did manage to find a few things to do to occupy my time, which may not have gone down well with the other families!”
Kate says: “I’m an independent 21st Century woman and enjoy the social freedom that comes with that in the present day, so the challenge was always going to be stripping away those contemporary privileges. The rigidity of the gender and social roles were a big challenge for me.”
The Davies family
The Davies family of seven are from the Wirral, near Liverpool. They are 39-year-old full-time mum Natalie, 40-year-old operations manager Gavin and their five children. Gavin’s three times great-grandfather was a labourer in a fishing community.
Gavin says: “Before we arrived on the island we felt a real mix of emotions. We were excited as to what was ahead having held a long interest in the Victorian and Edwardian era but also a sense of trepidation at the tough roles we were going to face as a family.
“The biggest challenges were getting the children to eat the blandest, tasteless food... and very little of it too.”
Natalie says: “We fell in love with the life we experienced. Coming back to 21st Century living was hard. We now have a deep appreciation of the simple things in life. Good food, good family and friends and a lasting connection with those who lived that life. We bake and eat simpler foods - we all still love porridge and flat bread. We have slowed down our pace of life and live for the moments shared with family and friends.”
The Barker family
Finally, retirees 70-year-old Clive Barker and his 68-year-old wife Cheryl are from Kent. Clive is a former fisherman and both are keen foragers, so their experience proved invaluable to the other families.
Clive says: “We were born closer to the year 1900 than to modern day, so were the only people in the programme that had actually spent the old shillings and pence!
“Sometimes the other families would come to ask us for our advice, and it was quite nice to be able to give something back. They’d help us out by carrying things for us, and then they’d come and ask us for ideas about something that they were struggling with.”
Reflecting on their time on Llanddwyn, Cheryl says: “The experience has made us appreciate things more and think differently about the way we live. When we came off the island everything felt manic - there was traffic and people everywhere. When we were on the island we were living in a small community and it was very peaceful and you felt quite secure there. But when we got back to real life again everything felt a bit much to start with!”
Producer and director
Series producer and director, Alexis Girardet, says: “I've worked in some of the world’s most extreme wildernesses for extended periods of time, and have been fortunate enough to travel to the South and North Poles with Prince Harry. I've attempted Everest, crossed the Empty Quarter and lived with many tribes across the world, but taking four families back to 1900, to live as a rural fishing community on the wild and remote island of Llanddwyn off Anglesey, has probably been my biggest challenge yet.”