Britain's Secret Homes
Published: Mon 20 May 2013
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“We’re counting down the top 50 secret homes in Britain. Extraordinary little known places with amazing stories, that tell us who we are and how we once lived. The homes on our list span more than 30,000 years of human history in Britain and each one reveals something new about our ancestors.”
If walls could talk, what stories would they tell? ‘Britain’s Secret Homes’ is a brand new, five-part documentary series revealing the 50 remarkable stories behind the UK’s most secret, surprising and intriguing homes.
Presented by two award-winning broadcasters, Michael Buerk and Bettany Hughes, the series also includes contributions from an eclectic range of well-known people and experts, including Sir David Jason, Ricky Tomlinson, Twiggy and Michael Portillo.
Each of the homes revealed in the top 50 countdown tells an extraordinary story about who we are as a nation and how we once lived. From cottages to council houses, bungalows to palaces, some of the most significant homes in our country remain relatively unknown to the public. But all these extraordinary places have borne witness to key moments in our nation’s history.
In partnership with English Heritage and the heritage bodies from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, each story is brought to life using archive, cutting edge CGI and dramatic reconstruction. From country manor houses to unassuming terraced two-up two-downs, these homes’ stories deliver eye-opening accounts of political intrigue, conspiracy, invention, romance and heroism that make the very fabric of British history.
In episode one, historian Bettany Hughes meets Angie Sage and Rhodri Powell, a couple in Taunton, Somerset who made an astonishing discovery after deciding to renovate their home. After stripping plaster from the living room wall, they unveiled a 500-year-old portrait of King Henry VIII.
Angie says: “We got a plasterer in to re-skim it…We were so excited, we thought he’d found a freeze. Then he got to the eyes, looking through the dust, and we just went, ‘Wow.’”
When the pope wouldn’t let him divorce his first wife, Henry VIII seized control of the church himself and it was the beginning of the Church of England as we know it. Rogie and Angie’s house was the official residence of the local archdeacon, one of the churchmen who were tasked with managing the religious transition. The Church of England has been under royal control ever since and the painting was done to emphasise that control. Even more astonishingly, experts believe there is a secret message encoded within the portrait. When viewed upside down, it appears to show the head of the devil so it seems the painter might have incorporated a secret, subversive message in about the King.
Michael Portillo meets Jim Higgins on the Cornish coast, who lives in a railway carriage bought by his father-in-law as a home in 1931. Prior to that, railway carriages were a crucial resort for the homeless during the depths of the great depression. Today the railway carriage is hidden inside a seemingly ordinary bungalow.
Michael says: “This is not only a beautiful piece of restoration that would gladden the heart of any railway enthusiast, it’s also a sort of window on Cornish history.”
Anthony Horowitz, writer of ITV detective drama series Foyle’s War, visits a gothic ‘house of horrors’, which inspired the greatest detective stories in English literature. Stonyhurst College in Lancashire was the boarding school attended by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle from 1868 for eight years, and provided the inspiration for many of his most famous stories.
Anthony says: “Every writer is influenced by their school days. I was very unhappy at my school and that’s what drove me into reading and to telling stories.”
Anthony is fascinated to discover the names of two of Doyle’s fellow students were Sherlock and Moriarty, the name Conan Doyle would later give to Sherlock Holmes’s arch rival. On further investigation, it becomes apparent that Doyle’s most famous story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was based directly on the building.
Also this week, war veteran Simon Weston visits the secret village that saved the lives of World War I veterans, and Michael Buerk visits an amazing Georgian home whose owner turned it into a time machine.
We discover the truth about a multi-million pound flat in London that was home to a sabotage network that helped destroy the Nazis and visit the 60s masterpiece built as a family home by architect George Marsh, designer of Britain’s first skyscraper, the Centre Point building in London.
Actor and comedian Mark Williams visits a house in Halifax belonging to the inventor of cats’ eyes, Percy Shaw, who became a millionaire but remained in the home he was born in. And poet Simon Armitage uncovers the only existing building lived in by poet William Blake, where he created his most famous poem, Jerusalem, which went on to inspire a nation.