A Man's Place At Home with the Georgians


A Man's Place

Historian Amanda Vickery explores how the British obsession with our homes began 300 years ago and how the desire for a home revolutionised relationships.


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Transcript


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If there's one thing that unlocks the secrets of the British,

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it's our feelings about our homes.

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We are fixated on buying them, renovating them,

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making them beautiful, and defining ourselves through the way they look.

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You might think that this obsession with having your own house,

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and your own front door, is a very recent phenomenon,

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dating back perhaps to the 1980s.

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Even the 1950s.

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But I've traced this very British love affair back to the 18th century,

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because it was then that home became

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what it remains for most of us to this day.

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Oh!

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The Georgian house remains a hallmark to this day of design and desirability,

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but we're not just drawn to them for their architectural merit.

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We're intrigued by the life that went on inside them.

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To their original inhabitants,

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these houses represented more than just shelter, and expressed more than mere status.

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They reflected your taste, your character, your moral values

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and even the state of your marriage.

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In this series, I'm going to recreate the interior lives of men and women

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from all walks of 18th-century life.

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I'll take you into the palaces of the wealthy,

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the parlours of the middle classes and the attics of the servants and the poor.

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Because the ideas I'll be exploring affected everyone.

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Their stories reveal, in their own words, how many of the Georgians' hopes and fears,

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triumphs and tragedies, were rooted in their homes.

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What happened in these houses changed domestic life and family forever.

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This is Spitalfields in the East End of London,

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laid out in the early 18th century,

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when Britain was in the grip of a building boom.

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Think of these terraces as starter homes for a confident middle class,

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with healthy incomes and new pretensions.

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This is a typical urban terrace,

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the kind of thing that a middling family might reasonably aspire to live in.

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But they didn't have to own the house outright.

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In fact most houses were rented, not owned, in the 18th century.

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But as long as you had your own front door,

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and occupied the whole building,

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you could see yourself as a householder,

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and then you'd have the status of citizen.

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Today, we often assume that the home is simply a trap

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invented by women to tame their men and break their masculinity.

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A domesticated man is a housebroken man.

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Only outside the home can he recapture an exciting whiff of the testosterone he has lost.

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But let me tell you, this is not at all how the Georgians saw it.

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I'd always known how much women longed for the stability of marriage

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and a home of their own.

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At last, they were the mistress of a household.

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Marrying well was the female career in the 18th century,

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but it surprised me just how earnestly, longingly, desperately,

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men yearned for marital domesticity and a home of their own.

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It was men, not women, who were driving this whole process forward.

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Foreigners joked that all a man needed to feel at home in the 18th century was a fire and a wife.

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A man's house was the monument to his maturity and proof of his power.

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He was accepted as a citizen, qualified to vote in many towns.

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Until he could afford to set up a household, there was no way he could attract a wife,

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so he could kiss goodbye to guilt-free sex and legitimate heirs.

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Heading a household was glamorous.

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Men wanted, and needed, this validation of their virility.

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Papa!

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Listen to the first of my real-life Georgians,

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a no-nonsense West Country doctor called George Gibbs.

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In the 1770s, he wrote a letter to his daughter

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confessing what he felt about home.

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"Those who are well disposed will ever take the greatest delight in their own home."

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"And indeed, it is my own opinion that those who are incapable

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"of relishing domestic happiness can never be really happy at all."

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But here's the thing that interested me about Dr Gibbs.

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Domestic bliss didn't just drop into his lap.

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He worked hard to persuade a woman to set up home with him.

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Even at 260 years' distance, reading his ardent courtship letters,

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addressed to a certain Miss Vickery, was a stirring experience.

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One of the reasons why I started looking at love letters

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to think about what men and women believe about home is,

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I needed to get them talking about what they wanted in their homes and what they expected.

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And in most letters, people don't mention it because, you know, why would you? You take it for granted.

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You've no interest in talking about the stairs or the carpet.

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But in courtship,

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when you're deciding what your future life is to be

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that's the moment when the house hoves into view as the topic for discussion.

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"My dearest creature. I have been to look at a house and am buying furniture.

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"Don't be surprised, my dearest, for I shall not make an absolute bargain without your approbation.

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"Much less shall I pretend to fit up the kitchen or the bedchambers."

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George Gibbs spent days traipsing round Exeter,

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looking for a potential house to establish his married life and to satisfy his sweetheart, Ann Vickery.

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He sent endless letters on the subject. Part of which is practical -

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"no respectable marriage can go forward without a house" - but a lot of it is emotional.

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He's showing his solicitude as a future husband

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and he implicating his sweetheart in his choice and in their future life.

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If you think there's something intrinsically feminine

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about fussing over interiors, that not how the Georgians thought.

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No detail of the geography and the decoration of the houses he visits escapes Dr Gibbs.

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"A good parlour, not large, with sashed windows,

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"wainscoted and painted blue.

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"Above, two chambers, tolerably good, and one, if I remember right,

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"hung with paper."

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I imagine she thought,

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"I could sit upstairs in that chamber with the nice paper,

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"all clean and up-to-date."

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If it should not be agreeable to thee, my dearest,

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I would not give 20 shillings a year for it if you dislike it.

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I think when Miss Ann Vickery received this letter,

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she would have been able to judge the consideration of her husband-to-be.

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I would have imagined she'd decide he was a pretty good choice,

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because he's showing a lot of concern for what she would want from home.

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He's not autocratic, dictatorial, he's given quite a lot of thought

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to what her happiness will be in the house and therefore in the marriage.

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"I'm quite weary, my dearest girl, of writing to thee about houses."

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In my mind's eye, he's a little bit of a hero.

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He is worthy of an Austen novel, I think.

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But was my image of George Gibbs just too romantic to be true?

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This is Holwell Manor, the house of a descendent of George Gibbs,

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where I've just found out there are two paintings of my hero, George,

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and so I'm fascinated to discover

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whether or not he is quite the gorgeous hero

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I've built him up to be.

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In the first painting Lord Aldenham shows me, George was just a boy.

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What about him as an older man?

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-Well, he's down the other end if you'd like to have a look.

-OK.

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Oh, how very, very disappointing!

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Oh, no!

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He's a bit jowly, isn't he?

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Oh, I think that's absolutely tragic!

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God, the fantasies your mind can weave on the basis of a few letters.

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It's not at all how I pictured him.

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I know we don't have him his prime, but nevertheless, it's a bit of a let-down.

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Clearly it was the home that George showed himself able to provide,

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and the consideration he paraded,

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rather than his looks, which clinched the deal for Miss Ann Vickery.

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This is the house outside Exeter

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where Dr and Mrs Gibbs experienced decades of happy married life,

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raised a family and founded a dynasty

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who went on to become fabulously-wealthy guano tycoons.

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Everything about him as a successful husband, I think,

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can be read at the outset in his letters about homes.

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You can see just how important house, home and smiling wife

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were to a man's status and self-esteem

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by listening to the voices of men who were lacking them.

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That's why I searched out bachelors' diaries.

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Step forward Dudley Ryder,

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Hackney linen draper's son, budding law student and compulsive diarist.

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Et un, deux, trois...

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This is always a great moment for the historian,

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unwrapping the documents.

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And here they are.

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To add to the intrigue, they're all in code.

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Look at this.

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What exciting things about his life could he possibly be concealing

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in this elaborate cipher?

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What dramas?

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Luckily for me a descendant of Dudley's cracked the code

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and when I read his outpourings,

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it was as if a voice from 300 years ago was confiding in me.

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"I dreamt I was married to a young lady,

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"bedded her, and the next morning found myself in the greatest hurry

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"and confusion of mind in the world, longing to be unmarried.

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"In which trouble, I awakened.

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"I fell asleep again,

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"and dreamt I was married to another young lady

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"and enjoyed her,

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"and then repented again,

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"and regretted exceedingly to find it was only a dream."

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He's really rather hopeless,

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but it's the sweetness, really, of his self-exposure, melts my heart.

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Dudley spent years of his life fantasising about a nice bride

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and cosy fireside, polishing up the kinds of accomplishments he thought might secure them.

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But in the presence of actual marriageable young ladies,

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his confidence deserted him.

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There was one thing troubled me greatly and lay heavy upon my heart.

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And that was the apprehension I was under

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that I am not capable of getting my wife with child...

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if I had one.

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I find I am not very powerful that way.

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It makes me very uneasy to think

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that my wife should have cause to complain,

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that I could almost resolve not to marry. But...

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I don't know how to conceive of being happy in this life without one.

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A wife enters into all my prospects and schemes of happiness.

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The tone of this is so painfully gauche, you might imagine that he young teenager.

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But in fact, he's 24.

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But it underscores a key point about the 18th century,

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that only upon matrimony does a man emerge from his chrysalis

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and become everything that society expects him to be.

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That's when his maturity is in full bloom.

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And Dudley's a law student.

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He's on an allowance from his father. He's not in a position to support a wife.

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So therefore, he's sentenced to years and years of longing.

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The average age a Georgian man married was 27,

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which presented 18th-century Britain with a pressing social problem.

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Until they could marry and settle down, what was to be done

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with the thousands of energetic young bachelors like Dudley on the loose?

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One ingenious solution is found just off Fleet Street in London.

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If you go through this door into the Middle Temple,

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you enter what would have been, in the 18th century, a bachelor ghetto.

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In 1714 and 1715, Dudley Ryder was a law student here,

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still learning to be a man and scribbling in his diary.

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It looks utterly respectable today,

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with the august business of the law going on,

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but in the 18th century,

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the very stones would have been drenched in testosterone.

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Because this was one of many institutions expressly designed

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to warehouse young men in the interval between puberty and marriage.

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Dudley's student life was hardly taxing,

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a bit of reading and a lot of loafing about town.

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But although his serviced lodgings were a roof over his head,

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Dudley was painfully aware that they weren't a home.

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The bachelor's makeshift lifestyle was a longstanding source of humour.

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This is one of my favourite prints.

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Dandies At Tea.

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What I love about it is the depiction of the bachelor lifestyle,

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in these really nasty, squalid, tawdry lodgings.

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They've got these very fancy manners,

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but as you can see by the surroundings,

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everything's kind of grimy and nasty,

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they've got horrid, unmentionable laundry hanging up here,

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and the nasty, ragged tablecloth.

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A lovely, clean tablecloth is a sign of virtue and a well-run household.

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They have no women to love them.

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Other satires on unmarried men depict them as dinner locusts,

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cadging food from their irritated married friends.

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Or gobbling down a solitary meal in a chophouse.

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This is one of the few remaining chophouses in London,

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but in Dudley's day, they would have been ubiquitous -

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the Georgian bachelor's equivalent of the burger bar.

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It was demoralising and lowering, I think,

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for Dudley Ryder to be always having his dinner in a chophouse,

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because it emphasises the contrast between the life that he is living and the life that he wants.

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Domesticity and happiness at home

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is often epitomised by a smiling wife, a well-laid dinner table,

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a lovely fish pie, showing all the happiness, sustenance and comfort you could have at home.

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"It is charming and moving.

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"It ravishes me to think of a pretty creature

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"concerned in being my most intimate friend, constant companion,

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"and always ready to soothe me,"

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take care of me and caress me.

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Ooh, it's "can anybody find me somebody to love"?

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# Can...

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# Anybody... #

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It would take Dudley Ryder 20 more years to find that somebody.

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# Somebody to love... #

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At length, at a ripe 43, he married the daughter

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of a rich West Indian merchant and went on to found the dynasty

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whose house this is - Sandon Hall in Staffordshire.

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Established at last, he could lift up his head,

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puff out his chest and hit his stride.

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Somewhere in here is my Dudley in later life.

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SHE LAUGHS

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Look, he's still pointing his finger,

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he's remembered his ballet lessons.

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Sir Dudley Ryder as Attorney General.

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Look how dignified he is!

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I think he's come into himself, that's what I want to believe,

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upon marriage.

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It is interesting though, because if you just had the paintings of Georgian men,

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you'd have one picture, a very kind of complacent and sober picture of

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power and running households - you just take all of that for granted.

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But once you read his young man's diary, you see that he didn't take any of that for granted.

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He was always worried that he wasn't going to get it.

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The intensity of bachelors' desires meant that eligible brides were at a premium

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as this extraordinary document,

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published anonymously in 1742, reveals.

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One of the most intriguing publications I found in my research is this.

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Basically, it's a Gazetteer to all the available women in the country.

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It's like a stalkers' charter.

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They helpfully listed street by street, area by area,

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rank by rank - and then with their reputed fortune -

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£40,000, £60,000, £50,000.

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Then all the extra money they have in the stocks.

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So it's very comprehensive.

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On and on, down through the ranks - so many women, so much money available to men.

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They're very straightforward and practical, the Georgians, about money.

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They have none of our false modesty about it.

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MUSIC: "Somebody To Love" by Queen

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But if the 18th century was an age of brazen financial calculation it was also an age of feeling.

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It wasn't enough just to have a nice house and expect an eligible bride to come a-knocking.

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Female expectations were rising too, as the diaries of a man who lived here in the genteel

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Georgian market town of Beverley in Yorkshire, inadvertently prove.

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John Courtney lived in a handsome house with his widowed mother, his harpsichord and his organ.

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John Courtney was a man on a mission.

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You have to imagine that this was his field of operations.

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He spent his 20s and his 30s searching for a wife.

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It was his absolute obsession.

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But he wasn't very successful.

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He was rejected on eight occasions.

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He fancied any woman, really, who glided across his path. If she was respectable, young and pretty.

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He loved to see their little white hands going across the piano keys.

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MUSIC: "The Sailor's Song" by Franz Joseph Haydn

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The Assembly Rooms at nearby York were the scene of John Courtney's first attempt at seduction.

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It was to prove a humiliating fiasco.

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Assemblies were famous meat markets,

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where you could see all the marriageable ladies laid out for your delectation.

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And he spotted a delicious Miss N.

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'Tuesday February 3, 1761.

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'This afternoon Miss N and her mother drank tea with us.

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'She is a very fine girl in all respects.

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'From this day I determined to try my fortune.'

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Later on, a couple of days later.

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"At the play I begin to show that I am attached.

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"I sat behind her at the play, and plied her with sweetmeats." Ugh!

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This morning I carried Miss N some music.

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My Song of Innocence and Love, just printed, as also my Cantata, Temple of Flattery, in manuscript.

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She sang, on entreaty, some of them, a little, while I played.

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I treated her with some sweetmeats.

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I daresay the young lady may begin to guess that I like her.

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So finally, he's confirmed in his decision and he gets together the resolution to propose.

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He declares himself to the family - perhaps a mistake -

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but the young girl's aunts ambush him and tell him to desist.

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This afternoon, the old ladies told me they desired I would not think any more about Miss,

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for they were sure it would not be to any purpose.

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I was thunderstruck.

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Courtney isn't the most self-aware of diarists, so it's hard to say why

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women like Miss N kept turning him down, even though this was the house he would be able to offer them.

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But reading between the lines,

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it's clear that it took more than bricks and mortar to secure a graceful young lady.

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I was very sorry they sent back the music in the morning.

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It hurt me much. Miss N said she had a more music than she ever played.

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Much more chagrined today than yesterday and heartily vexed.

0:25:220:25:28

NB, in the morning before all this happened, I made an agreement

0:25:310:25:35

with Haxby for a desk organ with five stops.

0:25:350:25:38

I think the bottom line is that he was absolutely deaf to the subtleties of female communication.

0:25:430:25:50

Every time a woman rejected him he seemed to have no idea that the rejection was coming.

0:25:500:25:55

It all goes to show that there more to marriage than a house.

0:25:550:26:00

You have to invite women in, seduce them into wanting to share it with you.

0:26:000:26:04

'Whatever their personal circumstances, Georgian men were well aware'

0:26:100:26:14

of how much they stood to gain, emotionally and socially, from setting up home.

0:26:140:26:21

But there were other benefits which they were often less up front about.

0:26:210:26:25

Becoming a householder meant new rights and mature responsibilities,

0:26:250:26:32

but it also legitimised an orgy of consumer spending on yourself.

0:26:320:26:38

How couples manage their money is even more mysterious today than husband and wives' sex lives.

0:26:380:26:45

So I was delighted when I discovered some his and hers accounts, some matching accounts

0:26:450:26:51

for a gentleman and gentlewoman called the Ardernes, who lived in Cheshire in the 18th century.

0:26:510:26:57

So I was able to compare what the women spent their money on, and what the men spent their money on.

0:26:570:27:02

And in this case...

0:27:020:27:06

Well, it was an absolute eye-opener that John Arderne, the husband,

0:27:060:27:11

seemed to spend an incredible amount of money on what we might loosely call "tackle".

0:27:110:27:17

A double-girth with leather ends, whip-cord, one coupling-rein,

0:27:170:27:22

mending a bearing-rein, stirrup leathers, it goes on and on.

0:27:220:27:27

So when I totted all their accounts up, I discovered

0:27:270:27:34

that poor Mrs Arderne spent only £12 in a whole year, 1745, on herself.

0:27:340:27:40

That's just 2% of her entire outlay.

0:27:400:27:44

Whereas her husband was spending more than that on leather.

0:27:440:27:48

Mr Arderne's almost fetishistic obsession with horse furniture,

0:27:520:27:56

as it was known, is all the more remarkable given that the family money was Mrs Arderne's.

0:27:560:28:02

But he wasn't unique. One of the largest elements of expenditure in wealthy 18th century households

0:28:020:28:09

was men's spending on transport.

0:28:090:28:13

The horses are only just walking and already I feel sick!

0:28:180:28:23

A carriage like this - well-sprung, well-upholstered, shiny, pulled by

0:28:230:28:31

lovely horses - it says a lot to me

0:28:310:28:35

about the status that a man acquires as a husband,

0:28:350:28:39

heading up his household, taking his family off to church, full of virility, pumping with it.

0:28:390:28:45

To understand the dent a coach and horses like this would have

0:28:520:28:57

made in the family ledger, the modern equivalent isn't really a sports car - it's a helicopter.

0:28:570:29:03

Of course they never get criticised for it, they're never seen as big spenders or consumers.

0:29:030:29:08

They're seen as truly independent men who are interested in travel and the adventure of speed.

0:29:080:29:15

Lot 488, north country tablespoon, bids, start me here at 280.

0:29:260:29:34

I attended an auction of masculine knick-knacks - the kind of thing an

0:29:360:29:41

18th century gentleman householder would have spent his money on.

0:29:410:29:46

I think you can get a sense from these is the number of little gadgets there can be for the fellas.

0:29:460:29:51

There's quite a few bizarre little boys' toys here.

0:29:510:29:55

One thing that gents always tend to buy, they're called bottle tickets.

0:29:550:30:00

I've often wondered what they were when I saw them in account books and here they are.

0:30:000:30:04

Madeira and claret. This is a silver tongue-scraper - can you imagine?

0:30:040:30:12

Last time at 140.

0:30:120:30:14

And then here, rather fantastic,

0:30:140:30:17

some sort of 18th century toothbrush set.

0:30:170:30:22

Neat and ingenious, that's what gentlemen like in their toys.

0:30:220:30:26

Think of the most expensive items in the modern middle class home.

0:30:290:30:33

Chances are the flat screen TV, the laptops and iPod docks have been bought by a male householder, too.

0:30:330:30:39

But of course, they're not consumer trinkets either. They're "equipment".

0:30:390:30:46

At £2,000.

0:30:460:30:48

But in case you're thinking that Georgian men were having it all their own way,

0:30:550:30:58

allow Essex girl Miss Mary Martin to correct you.

0:30:580:31:03

Mary grew up in this house near Colchester.

0:31:030:31:08

What her story suggests to me is that men were well aware that, to enjoy the many benefits of home,

0:31:080:31:14

they didn't just require a blushing bride - they needed an impressive wife.

0:31:140:31:21

You might think from reading sermons and novels and plays that what men really wanted

0:31:210:31:27

was a kind of porcelain doll - wilting, perfect and deferential.

0:31:270:31:32

But in fact what they wanted was a woman like Mary - capable, commanding but womanly.

0:31:320:31:38

A sexy battleaxe.

0:31:380:31:40

The new glamour attached to domesticity raised the status of the home-maker and

0:31:400:31:47

encouraged women to feel they could have a more equal stake in the home.

0:31:470:31:52

It was an opportunity the bustling Miss Martin would grasp with both hands.

0:31:520:31:59

I think we have to get rid of a false, soppy idea about what

0:31:590:32:04

the true 18th century wife would be, and in her place see really quite a powerful figure. A manager.

0:32:040:32:12

This comes across in some of the images of the period.

0:32:120:32:17

This is one called The Good Housewife.

0:32:170:32:21

It shows a woman doing her accounts.

0:32:210:32:24

She's cross-checking.

0:32:240:32:26

She's counting up how many bottles of things she has in store.

0:32:260:32:31

Also implicit in this is her ability to multi-task.

0:32:310:32:37

18th century men want a deputy really, someone they can leave

0:32:370:32:42

behind on garrison duty and know that everything will be safe and secure at home.

0:32:420:32:47

For seven long years in the 1760s and 70s, Mary Martin

0:32:470:32:53

was engaged to her cousin, Colonel Isaac Rebow, who lived here, at Wivenhoe Park in Colchester.

0:32:530:33:00

One of the things that seems to be extraordinary about Mary Martin is

0:33:020:33:06

how much managerial energy she has pumping through her veins.

0:33:060:33:10

And that doesn't really have any professional outlet,

0:33:100:33:14

but she's dying to exercise it for the benefit of her fiance.

0:33:140:33:17

While Isaac Rebow was living at Wivenhoe, Mary was superintending

0:33:170:33:22

the building works at his London house in Duke Street.

0:33:220:33:25

The bossy reports she wrote for him, now in an archive in America,

0:33:250:33:30

reveal a woman positively seething with efficiency.

0:33:300:33:33

Your room was in a fair way of being finished tonight, but fortunately I went up

0:33:350:33:40

this morning to see how it looked, and behold they have painted it stone colour instead of dead white.

0:33:400:33:46

So I wrote away to Mr Snow, and have frightened him out of his wits!

0:33:460:33:49

It shall be painted white tomorrow, and shall be finished quite tomorrow without fail!

0:33:490:33:56

She's very knowing about the fact that she is bossy, and it seems to

0:33:560:34:01

be an in-joke between the two of them that she's so managerial.

0:34:010:34:06

So, at the end of the letter, she says, "I will only add that my breeches hang extremely well.

0:34:060:34:13

"I flatter myself that yours do the same."

0:34:130:34:16

So that's a reference to the kind of power that she's exercising,

0:34:160:34:19

and that they're kind of sharing. They're sharing the breeches.

0:34:190:34:23

But also I think it suggests her kind of teasing friskiness, really.

0:34:230:34:26

I think that she's showing him all the time that she's

0:34:260:34:32

a powerful administrator, but she's every inch a woman.

0:34:320:34:35

Wivenhoe is a hotel now, and under renovation, but you can still get a

0:34:350:34:42

glimpse of why Mary might have fancied being its mistress.

0:34:420:34:47

Wivenhoe Park was built in 1758 for the Rebows.

0:34:470:34:50

From the outside you've lost all sense of what it would have been like in the 18th century,

0:34:500:34:57

but coming into this room, I do get a feel for what some of the glamour entailed.

0:34:570:35:02

I think it would have been quite something to be mistress of Wivenhoe Park.

0:35:020:35:06

Mary's unstinting exertions on Isaac's behalf suggest she felt the same way.

0:35:060:35:14

No.

0:35:140:35:16

But hiring and firing Isaac's servants, taking his socks to be dyed,

0:35:160:35:19

checking his locks, storing his wigs,

0:35:190:35:22

planting his hyacinths, overseeing his provisioning and berating his terrified, cringing

0:35:220:35:28

fishmonger about a smelly turbot, were the least of Mary's worries.

0:35:280:35:32

Yes.

0:35:330:35:36

But sitting within the house was the great obstacle to Mary Martin's ambitions -

0:35:360:35:42

Isaac's mother, Mrs Rebow.

0:35:420:35:44

Isaac had lost his father at the age of four, so his

0:35:440:35:48

mother had been in charge here, the mistress of the house for 46 years.

0:35:480:35:53

That's a lot of time, a long period of power.

0:35:530:35:56

She doesn't want to give that up in a hurry, and she certainly doesn't want to give it up to her niece.

0:35:560:36:03

Isaac's mother put up an endless series of objections to

0:36:040:36:09

relinquishing Wivenhoe and retiring to a house nearby.

0:36:090:36:13

'Madam tells me a long history about her having been after a house, but

0:36:130:36:19

'the necessary alterations came to so much that she was forced to give up all thoughts of it.'

0:36:190:36:23

Mary calmly dealt with the objections one by one, although the process took her seven years.

0:36:230:36:29

She stood the course, and in the end she outwitted her aunt, and she got him.

0:36:310:36:38

To me she seems like a cross between a young Margaret Thatcher and a very sexy Nigella Lawson.

0:36:500:36:56

So she's this wonderful fusion of sex and power. Lucky Rebow!

0:36:560:37:02

They married in 1778.

0:37:090:37:12

When Isaac had to leave her on military business, Mary reminded him of just what he was missing.

0:37:120:37:20

'I did not sleep a wink until 3 or 4am last night.'

0:37:200:37:24

It is entirely owing to the want of my usual method of going to sleep.

0:37:240:37:30

What do you think?

0:37:300:37:32

In case you missed it, that's really a reference to sex.

0:37:320:37:36

That's as close as any 18th century woman is ever going

0:37:360:37:39

to come to admitting that she needs, and likes, to have sex every night.

0:37:390:37:43

So Mary is really as frisky in the bedroom as she is busy on the estate.

0:37:430:37:50

She's the perfect wife.

0:37:500:37:52

Being mistress of a Georgian home was much more than the primarily

0:38:020:38:07

decorative role you might have imagined.

0:38:070:38:09

Housekeeping gave a woman status,

0:38:090:38:12

security and an outlet for her managerial energies.

0:38:120:38:17

There's a revealing demonstration of just how much women relished administrative power in

0:38:170:38:23

the novels of that great chronicler of Georgian domestic life and drawing room politics, Jane Austen.

0:38:230:38:31

In Pride And Prejudice, the heroine Elizabeth Bennett's

0:38:310:38:36

best friend Charlotte Lucas marries the idiotic Mr Collins.

0:38:360:38:41

I am truly honoured to be able to welcome you to my humble abode.

0:38:430:38:48

The staircase, I flatter myself, is eminently suitable for a clergyman

0:38:480:38:54

in my position, being neither too shallow, nor too steep.

0:38:540:38:58

Nice house. Shame about the husband.

0:38:580:39:01

It's a trade-off that depressed me when I first read the book,

0:39:010:39:05

at the idealistic age of 15.

0:39:050:39:07

But it surprises me no longer.

0:39:070:39:10

Observe that closet, Cousin Elizabeth.

0:39:100:39:12

What do you say to that?

0:39:120:39:14

Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself was kind enough to suggest

0:39:140:39:19

that these shelves be fitted exactly as you see them there.

0:39:190:39:22

Pride And Prejudice is essentially a fairy story, in which the heroine

0:39:240:39:29

wins a spectacular mate and a palace.

0:39:290:39:33

But there's also a vein of grim practicality

0:39:330:39:35

which runs through the novel, and that is all wrapped up

0:39:350:39:39

in the experience of Charlotte Lucas.

0:39:390:39:41

When Charlotte Lucas makes a trade with her eyes open.

0:39:410:39:44

I encourage him to be in his garden as much as possible.

0:39:440:39:48

And you prefer to sit in this parlour?

0:39:480:39:50

She becomes "Mistress".

0:39:500:39:52

She's gained a lot of status, she's gained respectability, and control.

0:39:520:39:56

And I think that's something that Charlotte Lucas really relishes.

0:39:560:39:59

I find that I can bear the solitude very cheerfully.

0:39:590:40:03

I find myself quite content with my situation, Lizzy.

0:40:030:40:10

So she puts up with a silly, conceited,

0:40:100:40:12

pompous man, in order to have a house.

0:40:120:40:15

It's even easier to understand the bargain Charlotte Lucas

0:40:230:40:27

was prepared to strike when you contemplate the alternative.

0:40:270:40:30

For a woman to shine at home, she had to be its mistress.

0:40:310:40:36

The prima donna had her stage.

0:40:360:40:39

But what happened if you came lower down the pecking-order

0:40:390:40:42

was brought home to me by a woman who lived here.

0:40:420:40:47

Rufford Abbey is a wedding venue now,

0:40:470:40:50

which is ironic because in the 18th century,

0:40:500:40:53

one of its inhabitants has left us a blistering account

0:40:530:40:57

of how home could feel to a spinster who just didn't fit in.

0:40:570:41:03

I fancy the very walls looked inhospitably upon me

0:41:080:41:11

and that everything frowned upon me for being an intruder.

0:41:110:41:15

FEMALE LAUGHTER

0:41:150:41:20

I say that if was in my power to get my bread by the meanest

0:41:200:41:24

and most laborious employment, I would without dispute choose it.

0:41:240:41:30

Gertrude Savile was the sister of a baronet

0:41:330:41:36

who lived at Rufford in the early 1700s.

0:41:360:41:39

It's a ruin now, but in Gertrude's day

0:41:390:41:42

it was an imposing mansion, befitting grand Nottinghamshire gentry.

0:41:420:41:48

She was everything that sexy Mary Rebow was not.

0:41:480:41:52

She was socially ill at ease,

0:41:520:41:54

she was gauche, timid, shy,

0:41:540:41:57

pockmarked, poor girl, with smallpox scars.

0:41:570:42:00

She lived here on sufferance, living on her brother.

0:42:000:42:05

She felt that he had everything, and as a spinster with no legacy,

0:42:050:42:09

she was left with nothing.

0:42:090:42:11

It is far better to work honestly for my bread than thus to have

0:42:140:42:18

every mouthful reproach me, then thus to be obliged to a brother.

0:42:180:42:23

He has a vast estate and I have nothing.

0:42:230:42:29

To need to go to himself directly, or through somebody else for every gown,

0:42:290:42:33

pair of gloves, every pin and needle.

0:42:330:42:36

To be subject to affronts by his servants,

0:42:360:42:38

to be treated like a hanger-on upon the family.

0:42:380:42:42

Gertrude really struggled here at Rufford Abbey.

0:42:460:42:50

I think it shows that you can have a beautiful home

0:42:500:42:53

and still experience it as a prison.

0:42:530:42:56

An old maid is the very butt for ridicule and insults.

0:43:010:43:06

Miserable are women at the best,

0:43:060:43:08

but without a protector, she's a boat upon a very stormy sea

0:43:080:43:12

without a pilot.

0:43:120:43:14

A very cat, who, if seen abroad,

0:43:140:43:16

is hunted and worried by all the curs in the town.

0:43:160:43:20

Gertrude Savile's plight was actually pretty typical.

0:43:240:43:27

About one in three aristocratic girls

0:43:270:43:30

would never marry in the 18th century.

0:43:300:43:32

There just weren't enough estates to go round.

0:43:320:43:35

Because if an aristocratic girl married down,

0:43:350:43:39

she lost caste, she lost status.

0:43:390:43:41

And, as Jane Austen archly remarked,

0:43:410:43:44

"There are not so many men of fortune in the world

0:43:440:43:47

"as there are pretty women to deserve them."

0:43:470:43:50

I've got here a satirical depiction

0:43:500:43:54

of spinsters going to a cat's funeral.

0:43:540:43:59

So, it's that age-old idea that a girl's best friend is her cat.

0:43:590:44:06

And it's as if these old ladies

0:44:060:44:08

really are only married to their cats.

0:44:080:44:11

Really, this is history from the point of view of the smug marrieds.

0:44:110:44:16

This is grieving owner of the pussy cat.

0:44:160:44:20

Like a pantomime dame.

0:44:200:44:23

This one seems to be a bit beardy, really.

0:44:230:44:28

Look, she's sort of boss-eyed, thick pebble glasses.

0:44:280:44:33

It's supposed to be a joke,

0:44:350:44:37

but I think it's phenomenally cruel,

0:44:370:44:39

and it's a dire warning.

0:44:390:44:41

Imagine looking at this at 18, you'd think,

0:44:410:44:43

"That is not going to happen to me!"

0:44:430:44:46

Saturday 21st. At home. Miserable.

0:44:540:44:59

Sunday. Church. Unhappy. Miserable.

0:44:590:45:05

Unhappy. Extreme miserable.

0:45:060:45:11

"Miserable. Very miserable. Unhappy.

0:45:110:45:15

"Unhappy. Miserable."

0:45:150:45:18

She gives you extraordinary insight into what it is

0:45:190:45:23

to be a clever, but dependent female.

0:45:230:45:28

Fitting in, never allowed to have things your own way.

0:45:280:45:33

Wishing you were married, struggling,

0:45:330:45:37

really, with this level of psychological torture.

0:45:370:45:41

I find it quite hard to look at,

0:45:410:45:44

because really it speaks to me of a woman in extreme pain.

0:45:440:45:49

It's full of agitated crossings-out, so things she must have written

0:45:490:45:55

in what she would have called a passionate fit,

0:45:550:46:00

and then erased after, when in a cooler temper.

0:46:000:46:03

So this is all really a measure of her fury.

0:46:030:46:08

And at some level, it is her rebellion.

0:46:080:46:10

Home! What do I call home?

0:46:140:46:18

I have no home.

0:46:180:46:20

Entirely confine myself to my room.

0:46:200:46:23

Worked chair very hard.

0:46:250:46:27

That, and my cat, all my pleasure.

0:46:270:46:30

But it wasn't just women who suffered the emotional

0:46:450:46:49

and social consequences of domestic exclusion.

0:46:490:46:53

The bleakest of all the diaries I found

0:46:530:46:55

took me to the wilds of Westmoreland.

0:46:550:46:58

Stumbling across this windswept landscape in the early 1700s

0:46:580:47:02

was a man who was only too aware of just what he was missing out on.

0:47:020:47:07

George Hilton was a dissolute Westmoreland squire.

0:47:110:47:15

He spent his time carousing with his cronies in taverns on the Fells like this one.

0:47:150:47:21

But his drinking pals knew better

0:47:210:47:23

than to invite him home to meet their daughters.

0:47:230:47:26

The only woman of his own rank he ever seems to meet is his mother.

0:47:260:47:31

But women of lower rank, wenches who would never grace

0:47:310:47:35

a mahogany dining table, were quite another matter.

0:47:350:47:39

He boasts in his diary about bedding his house-keeper

0:47:390:47:43

on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night.

0:47:430:47:45

Did her to the utmost. And then when he goes to London,

0:47:450:47:48

he picks up a couple of prostitutes,

0:47:480:47:51

but after which he gets a nasty swelling in his groin.

0:47:510:47:54

So he's got a severe dose of the clap.

0:47:540:47:57

So all these encounters were ultimately unsatisfying for him,

0:47:570:48:02

and crowned with a froth of guilt.

0:48:020:48:05

Ugh.

0:48:100:48:11

Hilton's diary, which he kept in the opening years

0:48:110:48:16

of the 18th century, is a precious document.

0:48:160:48:19

It's rare that a drunkard's diary should survive.

0:48:190:48:22

It's near miraculous that a drunkard like him

0:48:220:48:26

was able to keep a diary in the first place.

0:48:260:48:29

It's an extraordinarily self-lacerating diary,

0:48:290:48:33

full of his desperate resolutions.

0:48:330:48:36

Being now 27 years and three months old,

0:48:380:48:41

I am most passionately resolved to have so punctual a guard

0:48:410:48:48

over my inclinations

0:48:480:48:51

as never to lose my reason by immoderate drinking.

0:48:510:48:55

In performance of which, I hereby oblige myself

0:48:580:49:03

to shun all alehouses,

0:49:030:49:06

except when called for business, or some particular friend.

0:49:060:49:10

Never will I know a woman carnally, except in a lawful state.

0:49:120:49:18

But George's inclinations, what he called "stubborn nature",

0:49:220:49:27

soon got the better of him,

0:49:270:49:29

and within a week he'd broken most of his resolutions.

0:49:290:49:33

Laid with a woman, and out till 2 o'clock in the morning.

0:49:330:49:36

Mortally fuddled.

0:49:400:49:43

Sleeping with a woman out of wedlock

0:49:450:49:48

might not seem like such a big deal to us,

0:49:480:49:50

but you know, this is a Christian society.

0:49:500:49:54

It was a form of fornication, and it's a sin.

0:49:540:49:58

So, although he's committing all these roistering sins,

0:49:580:50:03

he's suffering terribly for it, and he hates himself.

0:50:030:50:09

By Hilton's own calculations,

0:50:090:50:12

he was paralytically drunk 220 times in eight years.

0:50:120:50:17

Often so "fuddled", as he puts it, that he got into fights,

0:50:170:50:21

and was prey to robbers and pickpockets.

0:50:210:50:24

If he weren't so desperate, really,

0:50:240:50:28

I'd say he was like a male Bridget Jones.

0:50:280:50:31

Without the happy ending.

0:50:310:50:34

Hilton's house, Beetham Hall, is largely a ruin now.

0:50:360:50:40

But at a nearby house in the Lakes, Townend, you can still

0:50:410:50:44

get a sense of the kind of plain, dark interior he'd have inhabited.

0:50:440:50:50

# Are you lonesome tonight?

0:50:500:50:56

# Do you miss me tonight?

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# Are you sorry we drifted apart?

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# Does your memory stray?

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# To a bright and sunny day...#

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We know from George Hilton's inventory,

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the list of possessions he had when he died,

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that he had quite a modest array of traditional possessions.

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He had lots of this sort of thing - pewter.

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It's very solid, old-fashioned material.

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What he didn't have was any of the newer paraphernalia for hot drinks.

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Tea-pots, no porcelain, and what that tells you

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is that there are no women in his house.

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He doesn't expect to have dinner parties.

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He can't have any polite tea parties.

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So there's no grace and graciousness,

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polite domesticity or happy companionship in Beetham Hall.

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God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

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unperfect family,

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bless me and enable me to conquer the stubborn nature,

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that I, on the last day,

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may be happy.

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Amen. Amen.

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I think George Hilton's story puts paid to the idea

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that the rakish, roistering bachelor is a happy figure.

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He knew well enough that, between sleeping with his servants,

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and getting absolutely blotto on the Fells,

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that really he'd made disgrace his bedfellow and misery his companion.

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George Hilton died alone in 1725, and is buried in an unmarked grave.

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Home, for the Georgians, was a joint, collaborative project

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where men and women came together

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to express what was best about themselves.

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Even those who couldn't live the dream were moved by the fantasy.

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It's a truth brought home to me by the experience

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of the four women who lived here - two spinster sisters,

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their widowed mother and another unmarried woman from the village.

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The two sisters shared a bedroom,

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and would never know what it was to have a room of their own.

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Their parlour was hard by the main road,

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with noisy carriages clattering by

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all day long on their way to the docks.

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This little pony cart was their only means of transport,

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so they were utterly dependent on the men they knew locally

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to get where they wanted to go.

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A grand house a few hundred yards away,

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was an inescapable reminder of their comparative poverty,

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and unimportance as lone women.

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This is where their married brother lived in well-polished splendour.

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Luckily for the spinster sisters,

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their older brother had the big house up the road.

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When he was in residence here, he invited them up for dinner.

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He had 18 servants running about.

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So they could have a sumptuous taste of how the other half lived.

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Of course one of the spinsters who lived here was Jane Austen.

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This is Chawton Cottage.

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So this was a grace and favour house,

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extended on the generosity of the richer brother.

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And this, rather marvellously, is Jane Austen's desk.

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We're in the presence of greatness.

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This is where Austen took up her pen,

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and had really the most productive period of her life.

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It shows you that spinsterhood need not be empty.

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She must have been very happy here, I think,

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to have been so productive as a writer.

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But houses are very central to Jane Austen's view of the world.

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It was at Chawton that Jane Austen revised Sense And Sensibility,

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one of the novels in which she explores the role of homes

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and property in Georgian life.

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It's a story of two disinherited sisters

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losing their beloved Norland,

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and being reduced to a humbler cottage not unlike Chawton itself.

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Each of the heroines ends up with very different sorts of houses.

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Marianne nets the grandest establishment.

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But Eleanor, who's been selfless and self-disciplined throughout,

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is rewarded with a parsonage.

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In social terms it is modest,

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but it will be the cradle of happiness for Mr and Mrs Virtuous.

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The Georgian dream.

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So although houses are statements of power,

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status and lineage,

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they're also expressions of character.

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Setting up home is the project of devoted couples,

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and the reward of virtue is a happy home.

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Jane Austen was well aware that the Georgian dream

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of a home of one's own could be an elusive,

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but the ideal she set out moves us still.

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Home remains the happy ending.

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Next week, I'll be exploring the impact on British homes

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of a revolutionary new concept - good taste.

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Revealing how women transformed their decor,

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and in doing so, they transformed their lives.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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In this three-part series, historian Amanda Vickery explores how the great British obsession with our homes began 300 years ago. Using the intimate diaries and letters of Georgian men and women, previously lost to history, she explores how the desire for a home revolutionised relationships between men and women.

She uncovers some surprising truths: about the lives of spinsters and bachelors, about how the home became crucial to the success - or otherwise - of a marriage and, perhaps the biggest surprise of all, that setting up home in the 18th century was not driven by women (as you might expect) but by men.


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