Britain's Secret Homes
Published: Tue 28 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 two, the top 50 countdown continues and Ricky Tomlinson visits a house in Liverpool that played a crucial role in creating the soundtrack to our lives, the Casbah Club.
Ricky says: “We all know Liverpool as the home of rock n’ roll but what people don’t know is it started here, in the basement of this unlikely suburban house. This is one of the country’s best kept secrets.”
In 1947 a woman called Mona was determined to buy the house and pawned her jewellery and put a successful bet on a horse. Her lucky bet changed the face of musical history forever. She decided to turn the cellar of her house into a club to give young bands in the city somewhere to play. On 29 August 1959, the club was opened as the Casbah Club, and on stage for the first time were none other than John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Mona’s son Pete Best, The Quarry Men. The band was resident at the Casbah for 13 weeks before heading to Hamburg in Germany and changing their names to The Silver Beatles. Drummer Pete Best was later to be replaced by Ringo Starr and Beatle-Mania soon followed.
London is one of the largest fashion capitals in the world and it is all thanks to a man that many people have never heard of, Norman Hartnell. The Hartnell Salon on Bruton Street in London was once a mecca for stars of the stage and screen, for ladies who lunch, and even for our Queen, for whom Hartnell designed both her wedding dress and Coronation dress. Model and actress Twiggy takes a closer look.
Twiggy says: “It was the most talked about dress of the 20th century, it was Elizabeth’s Coronation dress, and it was designed here by Sir Norman Harnell at 26 Bruton Street, Mayfair.”
The dress is considered to be the most lavishingly decorated dress of its era and originally took eight months of painstaking, detailed work.
When Hartnell set up his shop and home on Bruton Street in the 1930s, all the high society ladies brought their designer fashion from Paris. But Hartnell decided to open his salon in London instead and by doing that he kick-started the multi-million fashion industry we know today. In 2013 Bruton Street is home to great British designers Stella McCartney, Matthew Williamson and Alice Temperley, but in many ways it all began with Hartnell, who put British fashion on the map.
Anne Widdecombe visits Number 4, St James’s Square, where a dinner party tried to stop World War II. In 1919 there was just one woman in parliament, Nancy Astor. Nancy lived in a fabulous Georgian townhouse and was the most celebrated society hostess of her age.
Anne says: “This house was the scene of pivotal meetings, which wouldn’t have taken place but for the sheer force of nature that was Nancy Astor….In March 1936 when Hitler began threatening the security of Europe, Nancy decided to use her talents as a hostess to try to ease international tensions. She organised a dinner party, designed to halt the German advance.”
Also this week, Laurence and Jackie Llewellyn Bowen visit Castle Ward, a house with incredibly unusual architecture. Robert Pugh introduces us to Sycharth, which 600 years ago was the noblest house in all of Wales and the home of the last Welshman to claim the title of Prince of Wales. And we discover the astonishing House in the Clouds, a converted water tower in Suffolk embodying a cottage floating 70ft high amongst the trees.