A BBC history TV series, Tales from the Green Valley, explores life on a British farm in the 17th century. This 12 x 1/2 hour television documentary, produced and directed by Peter Sommer was shown on BBC2 in the UK in autumn 2005, attracting large audiences and wide critical acclaim.
”programme of the year… gorgeous, cosy, informative… this series utterly beguiles… There is a genuine sense of watching history brought to life here.” Daily Mail
How do you gauge gas mark 7 when you’re using a 17th century bread oven?
Why did people 400 years ago save up their urine to help with the laundry?
Why did farmers in Britain traditionally plough with oxen and not horses?
These are just some of the questions five historians and archaeologists asked themselves as they spent a whole year working a farm restored to how it would have been in the year 1620.
Tales from the Green Valley follows the five as they labour for a full agricultural year, getting to grips with period tools, skills, and technology from the age of the Stuarts, the reign of James I. Everything must be done by hand, from ploughing with a team of oxen using a replica period plough and thatching a cowshed using only authentic materials, to making their own washing liquid for laundry and harvesting the hay and wheat with scythes and sickles.
Each of the 12 half-hour programmes, made by Lion TV for BBC Wales, follows a month in the life of the farm situated on the Welsh borders. Far from being a reality series, these beautifully filmed programmes revel instead in the period’s rich history, the British countryside as it changes through the seasons, and of course food. Every episode features a dinner cooked up using period breeds and varieties of animals, fruits, and vegetables, according to 400 year old recipes extracted from housewives’ diaries, farming manuals etc.
The five specialists wear period clothing – because they’re practical, real working garments, with the men in breeches so the bottoms don’t get muddy and wet, and the women wearing long thick skirts which protect from brambles and keep them warm.
And when historian Stuart Peachey, costume and social customs specialist Ruth Goodman, and archaeologists Alex Langlands, Peter “Fonz” Ginn and Chloe Spencer don’t have the answers, they call in outside experts: a host of traditional British artisans – charcoal burner, butcher, hedge-layer, candlemaker, dry-stone waller, thatcher … all working with period tools.
Tales from the Green Valley is narrated by award winning Welsh actor, Owen Teale.
Previews and Reviews for Tales from the Green Valley:
“This should be compulsory for all schoolchildren struggling with their history lessons. Never has life in the 17th century appeared more fascinating.” The Telegraph
“this is a fascinating programme: simple, informative, and devoid of the overenthusiasm that afflicts Time Team or Rough Science… blissfully pastoral.” The Sunday Times
“reality TV with educational value, as well as being highly entertaining…A thoroughly engaging concept” Sunday Express
“seductive…a wonderfully restful bit of TV” Daily Mirror
“an admirably wholehearted attempted to reconnect with life on the land…these lovingly filmed programmes revel in the changing seasons” The Independent
“absorbing…high educational content…the attempt by historians and archaeologists to live as Welsh borderland farmers would have lived in 1620 makes delightful television, especially for the enthusiasm and delight with which they approach their tasks… watching them at work makes you feel like you are actually learning something…an unassuming, worthwhile endeavour “ The Times
“A vanished world from a forgotten time neatly surmises the considerable charms of the Valley” The Guardian
“Charming…the archaeologists and historians delight in putting their knowledge into practice” The Sunday Telegraph
“This chronicle of archaeologists, historians, and a rare breeds specialist tending a working farm for a whole year in 1620s style is fascinating” Financial Times
“it’s a real history-come-to-life series that demonstrates you don’t need social strife to make reality TV absorbing. Seeing the experts put their knowledge into practice is surprisingly gripping…there’s also a richness to the photography that makes it quite lovely to watch” Radio Times
Peter Sommer Travels is a small tour operator that provides an intimate cultural and historical perspective on the places visited. The guides are all highly qualified archaeologists who are able to recreate vividly the past from the ruins before you. We have learned so much on each trip. It's like attending a week of lectures at the Smithsonian (Washington, D.C.) or a university but in the fresh air with the places before you.
Jordana Wilson, Washington DC, USA
We give Peter Sommer Travels an unqualified "excellent" rating in all aspects of their Exploring Wessex Tour, from initial contact, to booking, and finally, to the superb planning and site selection by the tour organizers. We also commend the deep knowledge, patience and humor of the guides. Being given special access to the inner circle at Stonehenge was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We look forward to another tour with the company.