The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts

I know it would be ridiculous to call a TV show life changing. Slightly over-the-top dramatic at the very least. Then again, by now you've all seen how much I cry. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. So I'll start at the beginning. Near the end of June 2018 my dad showed me a Facebook post. (Side note about my father - he is the kindest, most generous person I've ever met. He always chose to do what he loved - art, stained glass, light design - instead of caring about money, and that attitude has always inspired me) The Facebook post was from Lion TV, calling for makers and crafters of all disciplines, for a new television show. Dad, in his usual unwavering faith in me, thought I should apply. Surprisingly, my mother agreed.

And so, thinking I would never even get a phone call back, I emailed my application. I got my phone call back. And then another, and then a Skype interview, and then an invitation to a casting day in Bath, on the 4th August, with 12 other makers. Unknown to us, in that room were 5 out of the 6 crafters chosen for the show.

I remember seeing Bryony first, and she just looked so cool, with the grey streak in her hair, wearing red gingham. And then she bought out her work, these stunning, impossible things made out of metal. She was so talented she made me nervous! Abdolluah was infectious. In a good way. During the demonstration part of the day he made, in an hour,  a carved wooden drinking vessel. His thought process behind it, the execution of it, and then his explanation for it was so spectacular we actually started to applaud. Rod bought a sword as a demonstration of his abilities. Which he then let us pose for pictures with. Out of everyone, Rod was the person I spoke about the most when I got home. Stephen was quiet, but when you did get him talking, spoke with careful consideration and thought, punctured with Scottish "er"s. We talked at length about imposer syndrome, the terror of being discovered a fraud in our fields. 

It wasn't till August 22nd that we found out we'd been selected. Just under 2 week until we were due to actual enter the house. We all had the unknown of the 6th person. We had a name, Ilsa, but none of us had met her. When we finally did, on the eve before filming started, I was worried she hated me! She didn't (I hope), but certainly there seemed to be an initial wariness, understandable given that the rest of us had all met, and been in communication for a month. 

The day of filming arrived, September 4th. We went to a hotel room in pairs, where we were dressed in what would become our clothes for the month. Stockings, slip, bustle, petticoat, dress, shawl, hat. It became very familiar. Bryony and I then waited in the hotel lobby for a runner to pick us up, garnering some very odd looks, both of us in Victorian garb. B seemed cool as anything but I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff, my tummy full of nervous butterflies. And then we were taken to our car. Not a modern car, but a beautiful old open top 1910 motorcar. They filmed us as we crested the hill and saw the house, our house, for the first time, getting our excited looks on camera as we held our hats on for dear life. And then we trundled back down the hill and they filmed us again. And again. And again. Although the joy of being in that beautiful old car never died, it was our first tastes of the reality of filming a TV show. 

That first day was a lot of sitting around waiting, punctuated by flurries of activity. I read a lot, the house was sketched a few times by a few different people, and we began the gentle exploration of each others lives, our practices, our interests. None of us really knew what we were getting ourselves in for, all we knew with certainty was that we were going to live together for a month.

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  • Nick Dew on

    Six very distinct personalities – wow! I discovered episode four by accident and realised we had missed most instalments. However, I found you all on BBC i-player (thank goodness for some contemporary technology!) and loved the program from start to finish and, like you, when expressing how you wanted to stay in that beautiful place for ever, I was quite sad at the end of the last episode.

    My dad was a cabinet-maker from Vancouver who joined the RCAF, volunteering to come to Britain to fight the Nazi menace. His hand-skills were invaluable in keeping air-frames serviceable throughout the conflict, both in England and North Africa.

    After the war he had to earn a living in a country not his own and sadly, was treated quite poorly as an alien! His fine craft skills were hardly ever used again and I think he lost heart, the need to feed six mouths seemed to stultify his creativity.

    So, I have great admiration for your father’s attitude, with his commitment to creativity over cash that has been so inspirational for you. Long may it continue!

    Watching the crafters, and all your reactions, as your weekly tasks were allocated, quickly established those who were confident and ‘sure footed’, and though you seemed anxious and slightly worried (understandable in the circumstances), your intuitive feeling for each task steered you in the right direction. It was revealing but such a joy to see the creative processes at work, never mind the result.

    Bryony seemed very calm throughout, but what skill! Abdolluah’s command of the situation from tree-trunk to chair was impressive, whilst Ilsa grasped the nettle and held firm against Rod, who was clearly a highly skilled individual practitioner, managing in the end to be more co-operative. Stephen’s relative inexperience did show through and it’s rather a pity that he seemed more intimidated by the enormity of some of the assignments and the huge pressure of the ticking clock. I do hope he perseveres and enjoys the therapeutic value of working with clay, as I did as a student at Bretton Hall College many years ago. Perhaps you were affected by these anxieties on occasions, which is maybe why you were a little tearful sometimes, (which I found endearing because it was an honest reaction). Nonetheless, you refused to let that emotional response stop you and you progressed and learned as a result.
    There were many instances in the filming where you reminded me of Burne-Jones’ paintings and I thought how appropriate that was. I’m thinking of the portrait of his daughter, Margaret or perhaps of Cinderella, but anyhow, in your dress, shawl and hat you seemed to epitomise the era. I’m so glad that you made it through all the hoops of the interview process and finally into the program.

    Finally, something that made me so sad – your self-confessed affliction with arthritis – and at the blossoming of your life too – it seems so unfair.
    So I wish you well in all your endeavours, Niamh, and I pray you’ll be given strength to cope cheerfully with your condition.
    By the way, you have no need to fear being discovered a fraud in your own field – imposter syndrome – you are a gem!
    Take care and God bless,

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