Series: BBC Historical Farm Series

The team and their continuing adventures throughout history...

A loose series/collection of historical docudramas about everyday life, farming and industry in the English countryside throughout the ages, produced since 2005 by the BBC, in association with Lion Television.

The series currently consists of seven one-season TV shows, each mapping one specific historical period in British history. All seven shows to date were created and produced by David Upshal (of Lion Television) and broadcast on BBC Two and occassionally BBC HD.

The shows have a steady main cast in the form of a trio of professional English historians, ethnographers and archaeologists : Ruth Goodman, Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands (later replaced by Tom Pinfold). In each show, these experts act as both presenters and protagonists.

Shows in this series so far :

  • Tales from the Green Valley (2005) - Set in the 1620s, at a long-abandoned and desolated Welsh grange originally built in the early 17th century. This first show focused on the restoration of the centuries old cottage and its surroundings and the cast's struggle to simulate a whole calendar year of farming and handicraft work with nothing but 17th century level technology. It established most of the elements seen in its later sequels, including the active participation of the cast in restoring run-down historical farming buildings before jumping into the action of recreating a farmer's everyday life in a given historical period. Besides Peter, Alex and Ruth, the main cast also included historian Stuart Peachey and archaeologist Chloe Spencer. Shot at the Grayhill Farm, part of the Bullace Hill living history grange near Llanvair Discoed, in Monmouthshire.
  • Victorian Farm (2009) - After a hiatus of a few years, the concept was revived in 2009 as this eponymous series, set in the late Victorian era (1880s and 1890s). Shot at Glebe Farm on the Acton Scott Estate in Shropshire, the team relives history once again, though this time in a more modern and more relatable setting. Received a Christmas Special spinoff due to high demand.
  • Victorian Pharmacy (2010) - Spin-Off of Victorian Farm. Since the show covers a different field than their usual expertise, Ginn and Langlands don't appear and Goodman co-hosts the programme with experts on period pharmacy, professor Nick Barber and his colleague Tom Quick. The show will generally leave you glad for having today's pharmacies, since the first public ones in the 19th century were a mixed bag - offering reasonable cures and therapies at best and completely barmy or unscientific ones at worst. Shot at the Blists Hill Victorian Town living history museum in Shropshire.
  • Edwardian Farm (2010) - Shot mostly in Devon at the Morwellham Quay Heritage Park and the surrounding Tamar river valley. Set in the The Edwardian Era and largely similar to Victorian Farm, but generally shows a lot more than just the agricultural bit of the 19th century British countryside. The show has not only at least twice as many episodes in total, but also broadens the scope to topics like the importance of industry, transport, trade and tourism to the English countryside during the late 19th and early 20th century. Naturally, a lot of vanished local industries and crafts are revived by the cast.
  • Wartime Farm (2012) - The spectre of World War II is knocking at the door and British farmers have to come to grips with the realities of rationing, reclaiming uncultivated land, the threat of foreign occupation, the dearth of old style farming and vast political and social changes to the agricultural sector of the UK. Shot at Manor Farm and Country Park in Hampshire, not too far from Southampton. Received a Christmas Special in December 2012.
  • Tudor Monastery Farm (2013) - Moving back in time for the first time since the series began, the cast enter the early 16th century, simulating life at a monastery-serving farm during the reign of Henry VII., just before the beginning of the English monarchy's break with Rome. This time, Goodman and Ginn are joined by archaeologist Tom Pinfold and together, they explore the life of tenant farmers on monastic lands. Shot at Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex. The Christmas Special aired on New Years' Eve 2013 and focused on Tudor era rural festivities during the Christmastide period (especially the Twelve Days of Christmas).
  • Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom (2014) - The team turns the clock back all the way to the High Middle Ages and takes part in the construction and the day-to-day routines of running and supplying a medieval castle. Shot in France, at the site of the famous Guédelon Castle project, the first and only medieval castle to be constructed from scratch in contemporary times, by using only period-appropriate methods and technology.

Most of the cast also appeared in the documentary special A Tudor Feast at Christmas, which, while only loosely linked to this series, followed a similar format and was aired in 2006, between Tales from the Green Valley and Victorian Farm.


Tropes seen in the shows of this series :

  • Anachronism Stew / Hollywood History : Averted, thankfully. Though each show has to represent a somewhat general, broad picture of the era it covers, the cast and crew usualy do their best to point out when exactly did an actual agricultural or industrial practice or certain piece of technology come into wider use. They also try to tie in the crafts, industries, handiwork and recipes shown with the specific region of England they're filming a particular show in. (So, the shows generally try their best at stressing the importance of regional geography and history in the perspective they offer.)
  • Automaton Horses: Averted. Though none of the horses and ponies in the shows are ridden (as they are all brought up to be draft animals and beasts of burden), the cast often points out how crucial it is to not neglect the daily care for them. Notably, Team Pet Clumper the Shire Horse becomes lame at one point in Victorian Farm and Alex and Peter have to tend to him, along with a period veterinarian. Much is also made about regular feeding and hygiene of not only horses, but livestock in general (including health problems faced by sheep, etc.).
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Whether their clothing is downright awesome or just nice but plain, the three presenters do wear some really snazzy civilian outfits from each era. Medieval, Tudor, Barocque, Victorian, Edwardian, WWII... Take your pick.
  • Background Music: All instrumental and period-appropriate. Local 17th century folk music in Tales from the Green Valley, a mostly orchestral score in the 19th and early 20th century shows, a mix of orchestral and jazz music in Wartime Farm, 16th century folk music and religious music in Tudor Monastery Farm, French medieval lay music and orchestral music in Secrets of the Castle.... David Poore composed the music for Tales from the Green Valley and most of the music from later shows was created by Matthew Winch and Andy Hamilton.
  • Beneath the Earth: Underground mining has featured in at least three of the shows to date.
    • In one or two episodes of Edwardian Farm Peter and Alex venture with the guidance of a mining industry historian into some of the disused Devonshire tin and copper mines. They even try out a late 19th century hand-held motorized drill (one of the first of its kind), powered with compressed gas.
    • Wartime Farm revisits the topic of mining, though this time around, it's the strategically crucial coal mining of the WWII era.
    • In Tudor Monastery Farm, Peter and Tom try out 16th century lead mining in southern England. Reason ? They need some lead for a stained glass window that they and Ruth are working on.
  • Big Fancy Castle: Guédelon Castle Well, it's getting there... The focus of the project is to build well and build authentically, so it will still take a few years or a whole decade until it will be mostly finished. Currently, it's "the biggest piece of experimental archaeology in the world".
  • Black Market: The famous Real Life example of the British WWII era illicit trading between civilians is adressed in Wartime Farm. Dr. Mark Roodhouse explains and demonstrates several examples to Ruth, including how some butchers craftily scammed their paying customers into buying inferior meat cuts. An even more infamous example are the various home-made methods of illegally acquiring gas or filtering out the colouring that was added to army gas stocks in an effort to prevent its stealing by civilians. As the tricks shown demonstrate, not even the colouring stopped them. Bonus points for Roodhouse being dressed like a period wheeler-dealer for his guest role. Once the recreations of period black-marketering are done, Ruth even jokes that she's now ready to run her own little criminal enteprise.
  • Brick Joke: In Victorian Farm, Ruth is cutting freshly forming cheese with a purpose-manufactured dairy instrument from the Victorian era. She mentions that, in earlier periods, this work would have been simply done by hand, with one's fingers serving as the cutting tools. Fast-forward to some four years later, when she's explaining dairy making in an episode of Tudor Monastery Farm. In accordance with period methods, she performs the cutting by hand - just like she mentioned several series ago.
  • British Brevity: Zig-zagged. Though each show has only one season (as they are documentaries, after all), the amount of episodes per series can vary.
    • Tales from the Green Valley and Edwardian Farm each have 12 episodes in total. However, the episodes of the former (and older) show are only half an hour long (the only such example in the series), while the latter show has hour-long episodes (a format all subsequent shows followed).
    • Victorian Farm and Tudor Monastery Farm each have 6 episodes in total. If you count the 3 episodes long Christmas Special of Victorian Farm as a direct part of that show, then Victorian Farm is the third longest show, with a total of 9 episodes. Tudor Monastery Farm had a single episode Christmas special.
    • Victorian Pharmacy has the lowest episode count to date, at 4 hour-long episodes. The low number was intentional, due to the show always being intended as a shorter spinoff.
    • Wartime Farm had 8 episodes, plus a single episode Christmas special.
    • Secrets of the Castle... has 5 episodes, making it probably the second shortest run of episodes in the series to date.
  • Christmas Special: Hey, after all, it's a British series ! The three-episode miniseries Victorian Farm : Christmas was a holiday-themed spinoff of the usual iteration of that show. Besides showcasing Victorian era preparation of decorations, presents and Christmas recipes, the cast also work on several more mundane tasks as well. One of them - the careful restoration of a historical blacksmith workshop - is cleverly tied in with the plotline about the preparation of presents (with the help of Alex and the blacksmithing instructor guest, Peter uses the restored worskshop to create a hand-made doorknocker as a present for the owner of the estate where the series was shot). In December 2012, Wartime Farm became the second show in the series to receive a Christmas special (though Alex was, for once, absent in that one). 2013's Tudor Monastery Farm also gained one, which unlike the Tudor Christmas special from a few years prior concentrated on the Christmases of the commoners instead of the nobility and royalty.
  • The City vs. the Country: Brought up several times in Wartime Farm, since British countrymen and Blitz Evacuees had to learn to live and work alongside each other during Britain's war years. As the presenters mention, the positive side effect of the initial tension was the gradual erosion of the bigger differences between British social classes of the era. World War I and the post-war years kickstarted the process and the conditions necessitated by The Blitz during World War II only added to its growth.
  • Clucking Funny: Exemplified in this image from Edwardian Farm. There's also a somewhat narmy scene in the first episode of Wartime Farm, where Peter grabs a hen by its legs and she starts the typical panicing. Subverted, because Peter took care to grab her in a way that would avoid having her flail around her legs all over the place.
  • Cool Boat: In Victorian Farm, we get to see a restored canal narrowboat built for hauling coal. In Edwardian Farm, certain episodes feature appearances by a preserved sail-powered fishing trawler and a holiday river steamboat.
  • Cool Car: They come into play in Edwardian Farm, with the advent of motorism. A particularly lovely-looking one is an early bus, which the cast take for a holiday at the seaside. And then there's this stunning blue convertible... Wartime Farm also features a 1930s Morris ambulance converted to run on gas produced by coal fumes. Modifications like this were made due to the wartime shortages of petrol for civilian users.
  • Cool Horse: The shire horses used in several of the series.
  • Cool Plane: The Blériot monoplane displayed at a local fair in the final episode of Edwardian Farm.
  • Cool Train: They appear only sparringly, but there are a few lovely period locomotives and cars to be seen in a few episodes of Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm and Wartime Farm.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Some of the solutions used to certain problems can be genuinely surprising or funny. In an episode of Wartime Farm which covered the WWII black market, the best solution to filtering out the colouring from stolen petrol turned out to be... using a loaf of bread as a filter !
  • Darker and Edgier: To small extents, Wartime Farm, given the era and subject matter it deals with... The most serious and darkest it gets is when the trio of presenters cover the participation of English farmers and other countryside folk in the UK's extensive civil defence and secret anti-spy network. Peter and Alex take part in civil defence militia training in the woods during night time and Ruth becomes a secret radio station operator. In one of the later episodes, Ruth even helps out the Royal Observers Corps with spotting and reporting friendly and enemy aircraft at night, while Alex and Peter take part in Operation Starfish, lighting decoy fires and lights for enemy bombers.
  • Down on the Farm: Well, duh. (A British example though.)
  • The Dung Ages: Played realistically. While the cast doesn't at all hide that working commoners in earlier centuries often got dirty and grimy, they are keen to point out that no sane person was content with walking around daily in torn clothes and covered with mud, dirt and feces.
  • During the War: Wartime Farm's subject matter, complete with a documentation of The Home Front and Blitz Evacuees (some even enter the narrative of the show, played by extras).
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Not that pervasive, but due to it being the first show and because of both the historical and production-related Time Skip between it and the later shows, Tales from the Green Valley's presentation and tone have shades of this at times. The presence of two more experts in the main cast, the greater focus on experimental archeology, and furnishings and everyday chores less familiar to a modern TV viewer (unlike in Victorian Farm or Edwardian Farm, there are no real "old household tips" that the viewers could appreciate in everyday use).
  • Easy Logistics: Oh so averted, sometimes painfully. One of the main points of the series is that many seemingly simple tasks took quite a bit of effort before the major advent of mechanisation in our daily lives. Obviously, the trope gets averted the most in the shows covering the medieval and early modern period. Nevertheless, that "hard work pays off" is repeatedly proven even in the shows that are set in more modern and more industrialised times.
  • Edutainment Show: A pretty well balanced combination of a lighthearted, entertaining reality TV narrative with a factual live-action documentary populated by professional historians.
  • Genre-Busting: Part live-action historical crafts recreation documentary, part edutainment reality show starring and featuring actual experts on a specific historical period and the lifestyle of each era.
  • The Greatest History Never Told: The series is often conscious about averting this. Sometimes more overtly, sometimes subtly. The regions and local places where a given period is recreated often influence its depiction on the show, and the cast is very willing to stress this fact. But, in an even more direct example, the exact bits of the Tudor period or the 17th century that were picked for Tudor Monastery Farm and Tales from the Green Valley are those that tend to be covered a lot less in popular works. Instead of Henry VIII.'s or Elizabeth I.'s era (in the former case) or the era of the English Civil War (in the latter case), the two shows depict the pre-Reformation chunk of the Tudor period (hence "Monastery Farm") and the 1620s (almost two decades before the outbreak of the greatest British war of the 17th century). Victorian Pharmacy covers the particularly obscure topic of apothecaries and mundane medicine in the 19th century. And even in a show with a decidedly modern and familiar setting like Wartime Farm, the presenters cast the English countryside and agricultural efforts of that time into an often fresh and rarely depicted light. They cover some more obscure WWII Home Front topics that rarely appear in most documentaries or other non-fiction about the period.
  • Great White Hunter: Parodied when Peter and Alex go pheasant hunting in an episode of Victorian Farm.
  • Hard Work Montage: Appears in a more documentary-style form whenever the members of the main cast (or the main cast and their guests) are working on a new project.
  • Home Counties: The setting of Tudor Monastery Farm (shot in West Sussex) and Wartime Farm (shot in Hampshire), including each show's Christmas specials.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Especially in Tudor Monastery Farm.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The series had some struggling beginnings, to be sure. In the mid-2000s, the skepticism went "A documentary show about experimental archaeology and living history that's not a Reality TV project ? Who would watch that ?!". Though Tales from the Green Valley had an overall good reception, some people felt that they were right with the aforementioned assessment. However, come Victorian Farm a few years later, with added production values and sophistication, and the doubters were quickly proven wrong, as the shows became very popular and commercially successful both home and abroad.
  • Long Title: Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom.
  • MacGyvering / Homemade Inventions / Closest Thing We Got: True to Real Life history, there was a lot of this going on in the WWII era UK due to wartime shortages, as detailed in Wartime Farm. The trope also occassionally crops up in the other period shows as well. Part of the joy of some episodes is seeing how the team will solve some problem with the use of recycled or repurposed period resources.
  • Medieval Morons: Averted thoroughly in the shows covering the medieval and early modern period. If anything, the presenters like to emphasise how inventive, skilled and ingenious even the most mundane of commoners had to be in order to solve various technical and farming problems on a daily basis. Though many craftsmen were illiterate and often had only a basic understanding of mathematics, they were clever and creative when it came to problem-solving and working around the limitations of period technologies and available resources.
  • The Midlands: The setting of Victorian Farm, Victorian Farm : Christmas and Victorian Pharmacy (all three were shot in Shropshire).
  • Odd Name Out: For years, Tales from the Green Valley was the only show that didn't follow the pattern of "[NAME OF ERA] Farm". Subverted in 2013 with "Tudor Monastery Farm". The trope made a full comeback in the 2014 show, Secrets of the Castle....
  • Once an Episode:
    • The opening montage of each episode, complete with Opening Narration. "Turning back the clock" seems to be something of a recurring phrase in these intros.
    • Then there's the "Once A Show" formula: When the cast arrives in the first episode of each show, their first task is to restore or renovate the historical buildings they'll be living and working in. And at the end of every final episode, they gradually pay farewell to the estate, tidy up and then walk away...
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: In Tales from the Green Valley, Peter's name is mentioned in the first episode. Otherwise, he's only referred to as "Fonz" (or "Fonzy"), even by the narrator.
  • Opening Narration: Via an opening exposition-filled montage in every episode of each show. Some examples: Edwardian Farm, Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Pharmacy.
  • Picnic Episode: Not an entire episode of it, but quite a chunk of an Edwardian Farm episode involves the cast heading out for a picnic in the Devon countryside.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Though downplayed, Peter kind of tends to fulfill this role in the Power Trio of presenters, often combining it with being a bit of a Butt Monkey to his male co-presenter. He's still every bit as competent and serious as anyone else on the team.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: Or something close to it. The final regular episode of Victorian Farm has some scenes of Ruth visiting a printing agent at a restored shop in the Blists Hill Victorian Town open-air museum. This living history museum was the main setting for the follow-up spinoff, Victorian Pharmacy.
  • Power Trio: Hard to pinpoint a specific type, but comes closest to the Big, Thin, Short Trio variety.
    • Big: Peter (though by no means fat)
    • Thin: Alex, later Tom (thinnest and tallest of the group)
    • Short: Ruth (also The Heart of the team)
  • Power Walk: Ruth, Peter and Alex do a rather period one at the end of the opening montage of Edwardian Farm. They also do a more slower and less brisker one at the end of every episode of Wartime Farm. Subverted in the Christmas special of that show, where Peter and Ruth do a new variation on it in a very different (but plot-related) location. A variation in Tudor Monastery Farm is more of a calm little stroll, with baskets in hand.
  • Recurring Character: Each episode of each show has guest historians visiting the main team to elaborate on a particular historical craft, trade or production method. Some of these visitors are recurring and appear in several episodes of a single show. English ethnographer Ronald Hutton has appeared at least once on almost every show to date, to talk about various folk traditions of each examined period. Ruth's daughters Catherine and Eve occassionally appear in minor guest roles in some of the shows.
  • Retraux: In an episode of Wartime Farm, painter Leo Stevenson created a WWII-style painting of the trio of presenters and their tractor, with a German bomber and a Spitfire fighter passing overhead. The painting's titled "Closing In".
  • Retro Universe: As a ploy to enhance the authentic look and feel of each show, no modern day devices or objects ever appear in any of the shots. If it wasn't for the consistently Out Of Character edutainment commentary of the three hosts, you could mistake any episode of the shows for a TV period drama. No chance of an Out-of-Genre Experience in these shows, outside the scientific commentary of the main cast.
  • Scenery Porn: Each and every show is shot in very pictoresque and well preserved rural parts of England. So far, the shows were shot in the west, southwest and southern parts of England and some great panoramas could be witnessed in each show. Tales from the Green Valley was set and shot in the Welsh-English borderland and in one or two episodes of Edwardian Farm, Peter and Alex ventured to study the old coal-mining areas in southern Wales. In the only outside-the-UK show, Secrets of the Castle..., Guédelon Castle is surrounded by a lush lowland forest in the French region of Burgundy. The team occassionally visit some of the Burgundian landscapes and medieval towns and villages.
  • Sequel Escalation: Edwardian Farm to Victorian Farm, in general. Both cover largely similar social and technological periods and have a similar feel, but while the older show is mostly focused on agriculture and everyday chores at a relatively small farming estate, Edwardian Farm massively ups the ante and has the team travelling large parts of Devon and southern Wales, trying out various industries, crafts, trades... and even going on vacation at the seaside !
  • The Simple Life Is Simple: Averted. Hard work at the farm or in industries is not trivialised or romanticised. However, you couldn't tell by how the presenters seem to react most of the time: The cast is usually having genuine fun while working on authentically recreating the housing conditions and farming and labouring methods of the past. They even tend to rediscover and learn certain facts that have been lost to history, due to some production method not being tried for a very long time, and previously being little documented.
  • Simple Yet Awesome: While many of the once popular recommendations, inventions or solutions to various farming and industry related problems and tasks are revealed to be outdated or ineffective, a surprising amount of them prove valid and useful methods even today.
  • Shout-Out: Only a few, but they sometimes pop up.
    • While repairing a decades unused reaper-binder machine in an episode of Victorian Farm, Peter and Alex note that it's a mechanical contraption seemingly straight out of a Wallace & Gromit film.
    • An episode of Edwardian Farm sees the main trio camp outside for the night on the Dartmoor Plain. Naturally, the Hound of the Baskervilles from the titular Sherlock Holmes novel gets cheekily referenced.
  • Shown Their Work: A given in shows like this. The presenters will often dig up almost completely forgotten traditions, recipes and agricultural or industrial techniques from the period they're covering in a specific show. And they love trying out almost every old handicraft imaginable.
  • Spin-Off:
    • Victorian Farm had its three-part Christmas Special and then the proper four-part spinoff Victorian Pharmacy. Wartime Farm and Tudor Monastery Farm also had their own Christmas Special.
    • A Tudor Feast at Christmas can be retroactively considered a spinoff of Tudor Monastery Farm, despite getting made several years earlier.
    • Secrets of the Castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom is arguably one. It has the same cast as Tudor Monastery Farm, but instead of farming, the series is about the decades-long project to construct a mediæval castle with period techniques.
  • Spiritual Successor: The shows are this to conceptually similar 1980s and 1990s BBC documentary shows like The Victorian Kitchen Garden, The Victorian Kitchen, The Victorian Flower Garden, The Wartime Kitchen and Garden, etc.
  • Steampunk: Not in play literally, but many of the clever and more unusual contraptions and machinery seen in the shows mapping the Victorian and Edwardian era evoke this trope. The last episode of Edwardian Farm highlights how the rapid advancements in technology at the start of the 20th century and during WWI massively reshaped life in the countryside and farming not only in England, but elsewhere as well. This commentary occurs at a recreation of an early 20th century industrial fair - among the displays are the latest tractors and harvesters, and even an early Blériot monoplane. And with the introduction of the Wartime Farm show, the aesthetic has moved further, towards a kind of "WWII English Countryside Dieselpunk".
  • Stroke the Beard: Stuart Peachey seems to be quite fond of it.
  • Team Pet: Clumper the shire horse in Victorian Farm, Laddie the Dartmoor pony in Edwardian Farm, Henry the Border Collie in Wartime Farm.
  • Those Two Guys : Peter and Alex, doing most of the outdoor work related to experimentally recreating various bygone crafts and jobs of the past. While not outright Vitriolic Best Buds, Alex does poke fun at Peter in a friendly or snarky way from time to time. This dynamic is a bit less pronounced between Tom and Peter, though you can still catch Tom making the occassional jab at Peter.
  • War Was Beginning: The Opening Narration of Wartime Farm.
  • Wales: The primary setting of Tales from the Green Valley (specifically, a grange in Monmouthshire), and an occassional setting for a few episodes of Edwardian Farm (the south Wales coal mines). A later episode of Victorian Farm has some scenes shot in Wales, as there wasn't an appropriate heritage railway nearby in the part of Shropshire where they shot most of the series and its spinoffs.
  • The West Country: Along with Wales, this is an occassional setting for Tales from the Green Valley and the primary setting for Edwardian Farm (in the latter case, it's predominantly the Tamar river valley in Devon).
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: Averted, subverted and sometimes played straight. In the latter case, professor Ronald Hutton jokes (and lampshades) at a spring fair in Tudor Monastery Farm: "This is basically merry old England... For heaven's sakes, let's enjoy it !".