thu 02/04/2020

Back in Time for the Corner Shop, BBC Two review - open all hours with the Ardern family | reviews, news & interviews

Back in Time for the Corner Shop, BBC Two review - open all hours with the Ardern family

Back in Time for the Corner Shop, BBC Two review - open all hours with the Ardern family

Engrossing recreation of the lives of Sheffield's Victorian shopkeepers

Nation of shopkeepers: Polly Samson and Sara Cox with the Ardern family

Since Back in Time for Dinner in 2015, this BBC Two social history strand in which families travel into a recreated past to experience ways in which society, leisure and lifestyles have changed has proved a robust perennial.

Since Back in Time for Dinner in 2015, this BBC Two social history strand in which families travel into a recreated past to experience ways in which society, leisure and lifestyles have changed has proved a robust perennial. Its latest iteration, Back in Time for The Corner Shop, whisked us away to a Sheffield corner shop in 1897, where the local Ardern family threw themselves into the rigours of late-Victorian retailing with commendable joie de vivre.

Sara Cox played presenter and sergeant-major, chivvying the Arderns along in their unfamiliar new roles, and filling in some factual history with the aid of social historian and food researcher Polly Russell. Smooth-domed patriarch Dave Ardern is a care home manager in real life, but he took to the role of head shopkeeper tending the household needs of the Meersbrook district with sleeves-rolled-up relish. The shop was the Tesco Metro of its day, a focal point for workers moving into the rapidly-growing suburbs of booming industrial Sheffield.

The story of the shop, originally built and run by bricklayer Fred Horsfield, was a handy device for speeding through a list of momentous social changes. At first Jo Ardern and daughter Olivia found themselves churning their own butter in the back yard and selling only seasonal vegetables, along with staples like soap, candles, tea, flour, candied sweets and “Military Pickle” chutney. Customers wanting sugar had to wait while it was scraped laboriously off a large sugar cone with a giant pair of tongs (Dave’s first attempt at this lasted two hours while his customers sat patiently in the shop).

However, as the pages of the calendar flipped past, the Arderns found that an alcohol licence and selling locally-brewed beer at tuppence a pint was a great way to supercharge the business, while the growth of brand names like Ty-phoo tea and preserved foods from all over the empire (including corned beef and mutton and tinned fruit) meant an easier life for shopkeepers, but less profit. As Russell explained, the branded foods also put an end to various sharp practices used by unscrupulous shopkeepers, such as adding water to butter or mixing used tea-leaves with fresh ones. Reliance on imports, though, also meant that German U-boats almost starved Britain to death in the Great War.

It was a back-breaking life, even after the Arderns got wheeled-up with the addition of a horse and cart, but our plucky volunteers found some compensations. Their recreation of the street-party celebrations of Edward VII’s coronation in 1902 gave them a glimpse of good old-fashioned community spirit, for which social media and online shopping are unconvincing substitutes.

The street-party celebrations of Edward VII’s coronation gave a glimpse of old-fashioned community spirit

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