Flashback – January 2008


The cast for Evacuation to the Manor House filmed at Pradoe Hall, West Felton.
The cast for Evacuation to the Manor House filmed at Pradoe Hall, West Felton.

Twelve modern children transported back in time to one grand mansion in the Shropshire countryside – the premise of a television reality show you may not have heard of.

Evacuation to the Manor House was broadcast on the children's channel, CBBC. One of the locations for the "evacuation" of the children was Pradoe Hall, at West Felton, near Oswestry.

They learned about gas masks, the threat from German spies, were pressed into action doing menial chores around the house, got advice from a local Home Guard officer, and naturally had to respect the lord and lady of the manor.

Before taking part the children had to sacrifice all their 21st century items, like mobile phones.

Evacuation to the Manor House was fronted by former Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker and the first episode featuring Pradoe Hall was screened on Thursday, January 17, 2008.

The cast for Evacuation to the Manor House filmed at Pradoe Hall, West Felton.

It was actually the beginning of the second series of the reality show, which began under the name Evacuation, first being broadcast in September 2006, with the children in the first series being evacuated to the fictitious Castle Farm.

Pradoe Hall was transformed into a 1940s country estate for the second series, with actors posing as the lord and lady of the manor.

Sam Whittaker, the series producer, said: “It was a massive community effort, so many people mucked in.”

The 12 children, six boys and six girls, came from across Britain to stay at Pradoe Hall for the series but many people took on roles around the estate.

The evacuees line up for advice from a local Home Guard officer.

Shropshire man Jeffrey Olstead took the role of the lord. Simon Goodall, from West Felton, was the gamekeeper, while the Ifton Band were also drafted in to help.

Production company Twenty Twenty Television was looking for a musical group to help out with one of the episodes and contacted the band through a personal recommendation.

The band took part in episode eight which re-enacted Empire Day, commemorating British pride and held on Queen Victoria’s birthday.

A wartime village fete was filmed at Pradoe Hall with the band and extras from the Attfield Theatre and West Felton Women’s Institute.

Sam added: “Jeffrey Olstead, our lord during the experience, led them on a pheasant shoot along with other Sunday afternoon activities.

“Reverend Cain Jones, reverend at Pradoe Church, organised the Sunday services and the congregation dressed up in 1940s attire for us. A lot of them were of an age where they remembered evacuees turning up in Shropshire.

“His parishioners were just wonderful and really got involved in it. It really, really helped us having so many locals to take part.”

Mr Olstead, from Llansilin, near Oswestry, said at the time that he got involved through his work with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

He said: “It was brilliant and the kids were fantastic.”

While no doubt the children found the roles of being evacuees taxing, the filming was clearly a happy occasion for the adult cast because a year later – and while the recorded reality series was going on air – there was a reunion at Winsley Hall, Westbury, hosted by Wolston and June Whitaker, who had played Lady Olstead.

The cast met up at Pradoe Hall to reminisce and to see all that had been changed since the filming a year previously.

While the house had been in a time warp for the programme, over the course of the year the interiors had been beautifully restored with owners, Andrew and Rachel Kenyon, beginning the process of a complete and sympathetic restoration.

After the tour of Pradoe Hall, the cast, including David Henderson, the butler, Mrs Michelle Padwick, the cook, Mrs Jilly Dobinson, the housekeeper, Miss Victoria Ward, the kitchen maid, and Mrs Doreen Young, the teacher Miss Young (through the practice of women teachers being known as "Miss" irrespective of marital status), went back to Winsley Hall for lunch, tea and evening dinner, hosted by Wolston and June.

A reunion of the cast at Pradoe – from left, Mrs Doreen Young (teacher), Jill Dobinson (housekeeper), David Henderson (butler), June Whitaker (Lady Olstead), and Michelle Padwick (cook).

Simon Goodall, who played the gamekeeper, and Andrew and Rachel Kenyon, were able to join them there for the evening.

Mrs Young said: "We feel privileged to be here as we all worked hard in our three weeks in Shropshire last year. Here at Winsley Hall we can relax and recall all the moments which made this unique series come about."

Overall there were 20 episodes of Evacuation, and Evacuation to the Manor House, with the second series being screened in January and February 2008.

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