Sacrewell has taken centre stage in the first episode of a new three-part series that combines history and food screened tonight (Tuesday, January 5).
BBC Two’s Victorian Bakers will follow four professional 21st century bakers through the era that gave us modern baking as we know it - the reign of Queen Victoria.
The first episode, aired on Tuesday, January 5 at 8pm, was largely filmed at Sacrewell, near Wansford.
It will focus on the 1830s when bread was the mainstay of people’s diets and bakers were at the heart of every community.
The show will be hosted by experts Alex Langlands, a lecturer in medieval history and archaeology at Swansea University, and Annie Gray, a historian, cook, lecturer and writer.
Speaking to the Mercury, Annie said she was looking forward to seeing how local people react to seeing a much-loved and valued attraction on the small screen.
She said: “It was absolutely brilliant being at Sacrewell, and having seen the episode I think that really comes across.
“It’s such a beautiful place; it’s so idyllic.
“You have that real feeling of going back in time. There are very few places where you have that history and you have the working machinery. It was so appropriate for what we were doing, which is so rare to find.”
The programme was filmed in June over four beautiful sunny days in the bakehouse at Sacrewell, and just a month before the refubished Grade II* listed watermill next door to the bakery was reopened to the public following a £1.4m Heritage Lottery Fund project.
Sacrewell remained open to the public during filming, although the area used was still closed as part of the mill project.
Annie, who lives in Ely, had often passed Sacrewell but had never gone in, and was amazed to see what it offered. She hopes even regular visitors will learn something new by tuning in to the programme.
Annie said: “As a historian, it always fascinates me to learn more and I want people to watch and say ‘Oh I didn’t know that’. Anything that gets people interacting and involved with history is a really good thing.
“I hope it will give regular visitors to Sacrewell a new perspective - perhaps they will be able to think about it in context of what it was like during that era.”
And Sacrewell wasn’t the only location used locally - The Grainstore Brewery in Oakham was asked to provide its brewers yeast. The brewery is proud that it still employs traditional methods in the production of its beers including the use of open topped fermentation vessels where the yeast is ‘skimmed’ by hand in the same time honoured traditions through the years.
William Davis, managing director of The Grainstore Brewery, said: “We were delighted to be a part of this fascinating and wonderful production for BBC Two. It is especially pleasing as we forge deeper links with our friends at Sacrewell, and we hope to be able to announce some exciting further collaborations with Sacrewell in the near future.”
Annie believes the success of programmes like The Great British Bake Off and Who Do You Think You Are will mean that Victorian Bakers, which combines the themes of both food and history, will be a success.
She said: “I think food and history are being much more revalued and in fact in the last episode of the Bake Off, they had a Victorian section which was so apt. It’s so nice to see the history of the food we eat getting more coverage.
“As a nation we’re becoming more proud of our food heritage and I think it’s the right time for a programme like this.”
The bakehouse at Sacrewell was kitted out exactly as it would have been in the 1830s and during the programme, bakers will get to grips with methods of bread-making that are centuries old, which means doing everything by hand.
The bakers used the Victorian wood-fired oven on site at Sacrewell to bake their loaves using heritage wheat flour.
Annie said this was why it was essential to use professional bakers, as the techniques are so difficult, but none of them had any television experience.
“It was great to see their reactions when we saw a preview of the first episode and great to see how it had been edited from four days of filming to an hour-long show,” she said.
For the staff at Sacrewell it was an entirely new experience as well.
Mill project officer Jane Harrison said it was fascinating to see the bakery transformed and for the cast to be in full Victorian costume.
Jane said: “It really changed the face of the mill for those few days. There were lots of people milling around and lots of equipment being brought in.
“To see the filming really was a lovely experience for everyone here.
“We are delighted to be a part of something that may help people to understand where their food comes from, the methods and processes that wheat goes through to become a loaf of bread.
“We’ve not seen the finished programme but we’ve been told that Sacrewell looks fantastic and I am so looking forward to watching it.”
Annie added: “I might be biased but I think it’s a really interesting series of programmes and it’ll be great to get people’s reactions to it. I hope they tune in to BBC Two on January 5.”