TV Times - - History - The Vic­to­rian Slum MON­DAY / BBC2 / 9.00PM Ire­nie For­shaw

Be­spoke tai­lor Rus­sell Howarth swaps silk shirts for al­to­gether rougher ma­te­rial as his fam­ily move into a Vic­to­rian slum to live life in the past lane

Slum­ming it lit­er­ally keeps the Howarth fam­ily in stitches

LIV­ING HIS­TORY e may be dressed in period garb and hunched over a can­dlelit sewing ma­chine, but Rus­sell Howarth is no or­di­nary Vic­to­rian tai­lor.

This 21st-cen­tury man heads one of three fam­i­lies who have vol­un­teered to ex­change mod­ern lux­u­ries to live as ur­ban poor in BBC2’S lat­est re-cre­ation of his­tory in The Vic­to­rian Slum.

The eye-open­ing five-parter sees them put to work in tra­di­tional trades to pay their rent for an east Lon­don hovel, in the hope of avoid­ing the ‘cof­fin’ beds that oth­er­wise await in a doss house.

Start­ing in the 1860s, each episode sees the fam­i­lies brought for­ward a decade at a time.

Rus­sell, 48, a real-life be­spoke tai­lor from Es­sex, took on the chal­lenge along­side wife Mandy, 47, and their chil­dren Re­becca, 15, and James, 12.

HMandy had a deeply per­sonal con­nec­tion to the se­ries – her great-grand­par­ents em­i­grated to the East End af­ter flee­ing hor­rific 19th-cen­tury per­se­cu­tion of Jews in Rus­sia. ‘All they had was their trade, which was tai­lor­ing,’ she tells us. ‘I wanted to walk in my great­grand­par­ents’ foot­steps and keep their mem­ory alive so the kids could un­der­stand where their roots come from.’

Rus­sell also has close ties to the area as he com­pleted his tai­lor­ing ap­pren­tice­ship in Beth­nal Green.

‘For me it was about see­ing how tai­lor­ing was done. You hear peo­ple on Sav­ile Row talk­ing about how they use the same tech­niques as our fore­bears, and it re­ally is true!’

The fam­ily of four shared a cramped room in the slum where they ate, slept and worked. Ad­just­ing to their new work sched­ule was tough, es­pe­cially for Rus­sell, who owns his own shop in cen­tral Lon­don.

Dead­lines were tight and one week the Howarths had to make at least 23 pairs of trousers to pay their rent, as well as com­plet­ing mul­ti­ple or­ders from a fac­tory.

‘It was re­lent­less,’ says Rus­sell. ‘I’ve never tai­lored for that length of time. We were up at seven in the morn­ing and tai­lor­ing un­til 10 at night.’

‘I re­mem­ber sewing by can­dle­light, only go­ing to bed when we just couldn’t fo­cus any more,’ adds Mandy, ‘and the minute our eyes opened in the morn­ing, we were back work­ing again.’

It wasn’t only the toil that was a chal­lenge. Do­mes­tic con­di­tions made keep­ing clean par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult, as the walls in the slum were coated in thick lay­ers of dust.

‘For me, the hard­est part was not be­ing able to shower. We bathed in a lit­tle bucket and had to heat wa­ter on the stove, which took for­ever,’ re­veals Rus­sell.

He ad­mits that there were plenty of times he wanted to leave. ‘In the sec­ond decade we had a ma­chine that was 130 years old and kept breaking down. I just walked out and said, “I can’t do this”.’

Mandy also had her low points, but leav­ing wasn’t an op­tion.

‘About five days in I was sit­ting on my own and I just thought, “How are we go­ing to get through this?” I felt very emo­tional on be­half of my an­ces­tors. I never cry, but the tears came from nowhere.’

Al­though they were pushed to their lim­its, Mandy and Rus­sell en­joyed spend­ing time to­gether as a fam­ily. ‘In our mod­ern life I work, Rus­sell works, the kids are at school and we’ve got tele­vi­sions and ipads, so we’re of­ten sit­ting in dif­fer­ent rooms,’ she ex­plains.

‘At night in the slum we sat around chat­ting about ev­ery­day stuff. There were no dis­trac­tions. Who knew that we could all talk to each other?!’


Pre­sen­ter Michael Mosley charts the fam­i­lies’ progress

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