A History of Private Life, Radio 4
Night Waves, Radio 3

And there you were, thinking a house was just a home

The BBC revels in ambitious projects, and A History of Private Life is one such. It is composed of 30 quarter-hour programmes, spread over six weeks, which explore the home and everything it has stood for over the past 500 years.

The historian Amanda Vickery, pictured right, has spent 20 years amassing material, ransacking record offices, poring over diaries, unearthing caches of letters, discovering forgotten songs – and, on the evidence of the first week which deals with the 16th and 17th centuries, she's marshalled it all quite brilliantly.

As she says, we know all about the deeds of the rich and powerful "but where's the Hansard for family life?" Monday's programme examined the bed and its position at the apex of family life; Tuesday's explored the notion of the house as a protection against evil spirits; Wednesday's programme depicted the family as a microcosm of hierarchical society ("a family is a little commonwealth, a school wherein the first principles and grounds of subjection are learned"); Thursday's looked at the closet, the private inner sanctum to which the wealthy repaired (and from which, eventually, we got the "water closet"); and Friday's dealt with protecting the house against burglary, a capital offence way back when.

Not all life was nasty, brutish and short – witness the union between a schoolmaster, William Ramsden, and Bessie, whom he described in a letter as: "The baggage, my duchess, Dame Bessie, my Eve, my better half, your broad-bottomed cousin ...."

In a marriage described by Vickery as "a rollicking affair", he pretended to be henpecked. "Madame, at her departure, left me 100 things to do, with strict instructions to follow her by teatime, which to be sure I must obey .... My madame is a saucy hussy, not to be imitated by you obedient wives."

A discussion on the evergreen Night Waves sparked by Maureen Waller's new book The English Marriage: Tales of Love, Money and Adultery posed the big question these days for anyone thinking of getting hitched: in an increasingly godless society, what's left for an institution hitherto dependent on the idea that marriage is a ménage à trois composed of him, her and him upstairs? (The answer seems to depend on how pious or secular you are.) I was surprised to discover that cohabitation isn't new: while the great and the good, with all that wealth to consolidate, tied the knot as a matter of course, the great unwashed often didn't bother. In 1690, a Gloucestershire vicar conducted a survey in his parish and found that more than half the couples were living in sin.

Whatever the domestic arrangements, life was tough on the distaff side. The song "The Housewife's Lament" in Monday's Private Life said it all – and demonstrated how little some things have changed: "Life is a toil and love is a trouble / Beauty will fade and riches will flee / Pleasures they dwindle and prices they double / And nothing is as I would wish it to be."

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test