The Edwardian Country House

"For three months, nineteen brave volunteers immerse themselves in an Edwardian world of social inequality and rigid class distinctions in a grand country house..."

The Edwardian Country House (titled Manor House by PBS) is one of the Historical Reality Series of shows that explores life from an earlier time.
This originally aired back in 2002 (UK) and on PBS and TVO a year later.

PBS: extra features and information

Here are episode synopses from Channel 4:
Episode 1 | Upstairs, Downstairs

Day one and 13 of the volunteers arrive. To help them through the three months ahead they have a rule book outlining their roles and positions in the rigid upstairs-downstairs hierarchy.

A Hampshire family has been chosen to live as the masters of the house. The nine-year-old son is especially pleased to find he has people to order about. However not everyone is satisfied. A week in, there is already a situation vacant in the house.

Episode 2 | Up to Scratch
At a time when industrial and commercial wealth was only just being accepted into the ranks of high society, it was crucial for a nouveau riche family like the Olliff-Coopers to hold and improve their position at the top. In episode two Sir John and Lady Olliff-Cooper set about using their new assets, including their country house, their male servants and their French chef, to maximum affect in that most powerful social weapon - the dinner party.

The family is settling in to their new luxurious lifestyle. Lady Olliff-Cooper feels like a child again. Mister Jonathan and Master Guy are learning to talk to people 50 years their senior while 'looking down their noses' and Sir John is wishing modern society was a little more like it is at Manderston.

Downstairs there is some jostling for position going on. There is a new scullery maid - Kelly Squire and she is not enjoying the job much more than her predecessor.

Episode 3 | The Servants' Revolt
The atmosphere in the Edwardian Country House is tense as our 19 volunteers continue to come to terms with their new Edwardian lives.

Upstairs plans are afoot to host a fund-raising fĂȘte in the gardens to help the local hospital. But the benevolent masters of Manderston may be missing hardships closer to home.

Amongst the staff there are serious complaints about working hours and living conditions. Without time off, they feel they cannot go on. The chef takes matters into his own hands and, breaking all the rules, he takes the two ladies of the house on a tour of conditions downstairs. The mistress of the house takes immediate action. Two new maids are hired, but will it be enough to curb the swell of working class militancy below stairs?

Episode 4 | Cold Comfort
Hunting, shooting and fishing were the mainstay of country house life and the master has no desire to duck out of these Edwardian activities. While the men get back to nature, the women at home begin to question their roles in Edwardian society. Sexual restrictions particularly affect Avril, the unmarried sister of Lady Olliff-Cooper, who has to bear the discomforts of being single and dependent.

The new scullery maid looks like she will have no such problems - already she is the object of the hallboy's affection. But living as they do under the same roof, the relationship must be kept secret if they want to keep their jobs.

Episode 5 | Home and Empire
The Empire is at its height and as a celebration of British achievement abroad, the family is to host a glorious fancy-dress Empire Ball. This means dancing practice, the creation of beautiful costumes and more work in the kitchen.

For Guy the idea of having a role in the Empire is remote, but his Indian tutor, Mr Raj-Singh, caught between the worlds of upstairs and downstairs, is determined to bring the highs and lows of Imperial power back to life. So, before the Ball, Sir John agrees to allow Reji to organise a 'Raj' night as a celebration of the British in India.

In honour of the guests the hosts will serve a glorious curry supper. At least, that was the plan¿ Chef falls ill and upstairs cannot be asked to postpone. A substitute team of Antonia, Kenny and Ellen must prepare the dinner alone. Monsieur Dubiard gives instructions from his sick bed taking them through grinding the spices, cooking the breads and making the bhajis.

Contemporary thinkers including Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Darcus Howe arrive at the house to challenge the jingoistic celebrations and to question the system of command, control and hierarchy within the house. As the glittering Ball gets under way, how long can power remain concentrated in the hands of the few?

Episode 6 | Winners and Losers
Emotions are running high in Manderston as the cast's Edwardian life is drawing to a close and everyone has to face up to going back to his or her normal life in the 21st century. After three months exposure to nothing but Edwardian culture the family and staff consider what their Edwardian future might have been.

A servants' ball brings the family and the staff in direct contact on the staff's home ground. This proves an uncomfortable experience for Sir John who is beginning to realise that the apparent deference of his servants may only have been surface deep.

As they leave the house, tears of joy and sadness flow and we get our first glimpse of the cast in modern dress. The hierarchy is no more and it is hard to see these confident young people allowing it to return. For upstairs as well as down, a way of life at Manderston is coming to an end.

10 comments:

  1. Ooh this was a good one, particularly when the servants revolted. Manor House (Edwardian Country House) and Regency House Party are my favorites.

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  2. I was enjoying this until Episode 1 Part 4 when they decided to stick in nudity. It was completely uncalled for. It ruined a perfectly good and interesting show.

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  3. I watched Manner House when it aired, PBS also did two similar shows that I watched...I thought the how they did things was so very interesting...but was very frustrated by people who sign up to do this and then don't get into their roles, but instead are always trying to break the rules and force their 21st century ideals into the Manor.

    just popping by, don't know how I found you but I love this sight...
    looking forward to what you think of the new Jane Eyre out in March..

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  4. I love Manor House!!! My aunt and I totally agree with you, though, Dapoppins; when people don't act as if it were really that time period, why are they there? Give the people who should actually be there a chance! I so wish American television would do a reality series like this.

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  5. Thanks Dapoppins!
    Glad you dropped by! I also found it frustrating when the participants reacted like the reality shows that currently bombard the airwaves which seem to focus on creating conflict for dramatic effect. When I watch these series, I want to see the reality of what their day-to-day lives would have been like at that time.

    Re: the new Jane Eyre, I'm not as eager as some since I love the 2006 adaptation but will probably watch it just the same.

    Anon, sorry that you thought that scene ruined the show. I don't think it was necessary either.

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  6. Never got to see this. Definitely sounds like the sort of show I'd sign up for when given the chance! I'm sure I'd do a better job than these volunteers, too.

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  7. I really have no patience with those who complain about some of the participants' inability to get into their "Edwardian" roles. These people were not actors. They were stuck in their roles on a 24/7. Thanks to shows like this, it's quite obvious that many of the participants were discovering that life in the Edwardian era or any period in the past, was not some costume drama fantasy. It was difficult . . . especially if you were a woman, part of the middle-class, a minority or a servant. And adjusting from the early 21st century (in which life was difficult enough) to the early 20th century must have been very difficult for many of them.

    But certain viewers don't see this. Instead, they watch shows like this, because they want a fantasy in which the participants revel in living on a country estate during Edward VII's reign . . . as if this was supposed to be some kind of fantasy or movie production.

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  8. With all due respect, RosieP, I disagree. We're not looking for a fantasy or scripted drama. However, some of the volunteers on these programs aren't so much showing us a comparison of then and now; rather they are simply complaining. That, though a part of everyday life for us here in the early 21st century, would not have been tolerated in the early 20th century. As viewers, we can easily see the difficulties without the blatant whining. As I said before, if they weren't ready and interested in the experience for what it was (surely they must have known that it would have been hard), why even volunteer? Why not let those who really feel that yearning to be "in" the past the opportunity? Alas! It is, unfortunately, drama that the masses crave. How else would the media have been able to gain enough viewers to keep the series running? But, those are my two cents; as we all have them. I am only thankful that we, as thinking people can discuss our viewpoints on history and reenactment, as well as projects such as these with etiquette and decorum.

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  9. So what if they are complaining? You act as if they had no right to complain. Why? Why on earth did you expect these people to adjust to Edwardian style living so easily? Or did you simply demand this? Because I find such expectations very unrealistic.

    Someone on YOU TUBE actually stated that he/she was glad that some of the participants - especially the servants - were having such difficulties easing into the roles they had been selected to portray. He/she believed that their difficulties made it possible for viewers to see that such lives were not as easy as many would like to believe.

    Do you see the point of such a lesson? Or do you still believe that they had no business complaining in the first place? If it is the latter, then I rather feel sorry for you that you don't see the point of what their difficulties were really about.

    I like exploring the past as much as any genuine historian would. But I don't fool myself into believing that it was all that wonderful.

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  10. I see your point, but I hold to my own. It was simply not done as I would have hoped; much as it is how you prefer. As I said before: I am glad that we can all share our opinions with respect and decorum.

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