Travel back in time to Victorian Britain

The exterior of the Workhouse, Southwell, Nottinghamshire

The BBC series 24 Hours in the Past follows six famous faces as they travel back in time to experience the relentless graft of Victorian Britain. Spending 24 hours in 19th-century workplaces, the series features the New Inn at Stowe in Buckinghamshire and The Workhouse in Nottinghamshire.

Bringing history to life

As well as using Stowe and The Workhouse as authentic backdrops, the series production team also called upon the expert knowledge of our staff and volunteers. Many stepped into the role of Victorian masters, directing the celebrities to carry out their duties with strict discipline.

In episode two the celebrities find themselves at the New Inn, built by Lord Cobham in 1717 to feed and water visitors to the 250 acre landscape garden at Stowe. The production team were able to use Stowe’s archives, including original 19th-century drawings of the inn, to build the different roles for the celebrities.

Famous faces get stuck in

World champion hurdler Colin Jackson and impressionist Alistair McGowan were tasked with stabling weary horses in the courtyard while actress Zoe Lucker and former Home Office Minster Ann Widdecombe were responsible for feeding hungry passengers in the kitchen at the heart of the inn.

‘The sight and sound of the horse-drawn carriages rumbling into the New Inn was amazing,’ said Mel Whitrow, marketing and audience development manager who led the filming at Stowe. ‘It was the first time in over 150 years that visitors in a horse-drawn carriage had been in the courtyard.’

The harsh realities of workhouse life

In the final episode the celebrities find themselves at a place of last resort, The Workhouse in Southwell, which was once home to 158 inmates. Cut off from the outside community and managed by a paid master and matron, inmates lived in a restricted and regimented environment.

Strictly segregated, the men earned their keep by breaking stones, bone crushing or mattress making, while the women cooked, washed and picked oakum (the process of unravelling ropes and cord into fibre). They couldn't leave unless they were formally discharged to find or take up work and provide for themselves.

Setting a grisly scene

House manager Sarah Spurrier appeared as an extra and witnessed the filming preparations. ‘The art department put bark down on the outside areas to create a grungy look and when it rained it let off a strong smell and gave a real feeling of dirt and oppression,’ she said. ‘This was aided by the braziers in the yard.’

‘The worst part of the set dressing was the bone crushing in the men’s exercise yard,’ she added. ‘The bones were rotting and riddled with maggots. I didn’t envy Alistair McGowan who had to undertake that task for hours. The smell was overwhelming with rotting flesh going everywhere and only authentic wire goggles for protection.’

The four-part series aired on BBC One in April 2015 and was presented by Fi Glover and historian Ruth Goodman. 24 Hours in the Past is produced by DSP, part of the Endemol Shine Group.

Discover other places with an industrial past:

Aberdulais Tin Works, Neath Port Talbot – a 19th-century tinplate works

Birmingham Back to Backs – 19th-century houses built to house industrial workers

East Pool Mine and Levant Mine and Beam Engine, Cornwall – beam engines which powered the mines survive

Morden Hall Park, London – two former snuff mills still stand on the estate

Newtown National Nature Reserve, Isle of Wight – salt was produced at Newtown for centuries

Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire – an 18th-century cotton mill