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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Channel 4's stately test
Edwardian Country House
Drudgery: Life downstairs wasn't easy
Some of the participants in television's latest social experiment discovered they'd let themselves in for a gruelling experience - literally. The BBC's James Bregman reports.

For three months, Channel 4's The Edwardian Country House placed 19 volunteers in a stately home, authentically refurbished and organised to match the conditions and strict social hierarchy of turn-of-the-century Britain.

While some volunteers enjoyed a life of luxury as the family of the house, those assuming the roles of the lower orders endured realistic degrees of hardship.

Rob Daly took on the job of the estate's second footman, and temporarily faced a stark diet of gruel when a staffing crisis left the kitchen maid without time to cook for the servants.

"That was a low point. Gruel is a salty, fatty, lardy broth. You felt really sick and whenever you burped it tasted of pig fat. It was a continuous cycle of starvation and wanting to throw up," he said.

After about a week you got completely absorbed in the whole project, and the 21st century became strange

Rob Daly
While the housekeeping staff worked around-the-clock and took just one bath a week, senior members of the resident Olliff-Cooper family adjusted to their new lifestyle with similar enthusiasm, albeit without the physical grind.

'Even deal'

"About halfway through they seemed to get more Edwardian, which meant they did absolutely nothing. But that was as important as our commitment to work solidly - if they'd decided suddenly to do everything for themselves it would have completely lost the whole point of the project."

Despite the discrepancy between lifestyles within the house, Mr Daly didn't regret volunteering to become one of the lower order.

"Everyone had an even deal - I wouldn't have swapped with those upstairs if I'd had the choice. Boredom was their biggest problem, and just as bad as working 20 hours a day. Some of them found that really difficult.

"All the upper servants and the footmen had responsibility for a particular member of the family on top of general duties, and you got quite attached to them."

Edwardian Country House
Lording it upstairs
The production team completely renovated Manderston House, a stately home on the Scottish-English border near Berwick-upon-Tweed. All 21st century luxuries were removed, and Manderston's isolated setting made it easy for participants to forget modern life and embrace their new environment wholeheartedly.

"We lived in a 56-acre landscaped estate, so you'd look out the window and just see acres of garden and the odd horse and carriage," he recalled.


"It was incredible how much you got caught up in the Edwardian frame of mind. After about a week you got completely absorbed in the whole project, and the 21st century became strange."

According to Mr Daly, the programme sheds intriguing light on changing attitudes to British class and etiquette over the past century.

"The project tells us how we've changed as individuals and as a society, and how some parts of Edwardian life - life as an Edwardian servant - like the lack of responsibility for yourself, are very liberating.

"It looks at the relationship between 'upstairs and downstairs', the role of the house within the local community, and the social hierarchies, both among the servants and within the family, as well as between the two."

The Edwardian Country House is on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 2100 BST.

See also:

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