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Witch ducking and going commando - new C4 show looks at women in Tudor Norwich

PUBLISHED: 11:02 03 April 2018

Professor Alice Roberts in Chester - later in the Britain's Most Historic Town series, Alice will be visiting Norwich (C) Mike Poloway

Professor Alice Roberts in Chester - later in the Britain's Most Historic Town series, Alice will be visiting Norwich (C) Mike Poloway

(Channel 4 images must not be altered or manipulated in any way) CHANNEL 4 PICTURE PUBLICITY 124 HORSEFERRY ROAD LONDON SW1P 2TX

Making dye with human urine, going commando in the name of history, being ducked in the River Wensum as a witch and watching a disappointing 0-0 draw at Carrow Road – which was the worst ordeal for Professor Alice Roberts as she made new TV series Britain’s Most Historic Towns?

Norwich will star in a new primetime Channel 4 show examining the city’s historical importance – and the brutal way women accused of being witches were dealt with in Tudor times.

Professor Alice Roberts, an archaeologist, anthropologist and author who started her TV career on Time Team, will be presenting six episodes of the Britain’s Most Historic Towns, which will see ancient and medieval cities including Tudor Norwich, Roman Chester, Viking York, Norman Winchester, Regency Cheltenham and Victorian Belfast recreated using CGI techniques.

Other filming techniques were considerably less technical and considerably more chilly.

One segment of the Norwich film, which is slated to be on screens on April 28, saw Alice immerse herself in Norwich’s history: literally.

“In Norwich, we tell the story of a female criminal whose punishment – typical of the time – was to be strapped into a ducking chair and ducked in the water. I thought I’d just sit there and they’d pretend to do it, but no, they actually went through with it,” she has said.

“It was really upsetting because you realised how brutal it was – not just the act itself but the very public nature of it. It was designed to be publicly shaming.”

Seeing streets that have long-since disappeared come alive again is a spectacular part of the new series as is the way she ‘lives’ the period in time that she is examining, including wearing the fashions of the day. Which in the case of Tudor ladies, meant forgoing underwear.

“They wore no knickers,” laughed Alice, “the skirts were so voluminous that I suppose it was too much of an ordeal to be fumbling around during a loo break.”

The Norwich episode was filmed last autumn and also saw Alice learning why the city – once the second biggest in the country - was once famed for the ‘madder red’ dye which was a hugely popular colour choice for fashionable Tudors of the time.

One vital ingredient in the production of the dye was human urine that was collected from giant buckets positioned outside the pubs of the city. Lovely.

Red was such an expensive and desirable colour that successive Tudor monarchs tried to define social status by dress: Henry VIII passed four separate pieces of legislation during his reign to govern the wearing of “costly apparel” and red was one of the colours most rigidly controlled

Unsurprisingly, Henry VIII’s coronation costume was a riot of reds: “two Shirts whereof one shall be of lawn the other of Crimson Tartaryn silk... a Coat of Crimson Satin largely opened as the Shirts been to the which Coat his hose shall be laced with Ribbon of Silk... a Surcoat cloth of crimson Satin furred with pure menyver... A great mantle of Crimson Satin furred with pure menyver... And a great lace of Silk with 2 tassels also of Crimson... a little hat or Cap of Estate of Crimson Satin ermined & Garnished with Ribbon of gold.”

While Alice was in Norwich, she went to watch the Canaries on September 23 when they were held to a goalless draw for the second home game in succession as Bristol City followed Burton Albion’s lead and was ferried along the river by members of the King’s Lynn Coastal Rowing Club.

The series begins on April 7 on Channel 4 at 8pm with an exploration of Roman Chester, telling the story of Roman Britain by studying the history of Chester, Britain’s most Roman town. Alice enjoys an authentic Roman feast, heads deep underground to check out an extraordinary archaeological find and explores a radical theory regarding the Romans’ plans for Chester while aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson takes to the skies to see how the layout of each town reflects a historical era to this day.

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