Britain's Secret Homes
Published: Wed 05 Jun 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 three, the top 50 countdown continues and Gethin Jones visits a B&B called Bodiwan in North Wales, once the family home of Michael D Jones. 150 years ago the British government wanted everyone to speak only English and school children were even punished for speaking Welsh. With the survival of Welsh culture and identity at risk, Michael brought Welsh leaders to the house to plot a resistance and created a ‘New Wales’ across the seas in Patagonia. In 1865 around 160 Welsh men, women and children set sail from Liverpool for Argentina on a sea voyage which would take two months. Incredibly, the Welsh speaking colony they founded still thrives there today. Gethin travels to Patagonia with his father and is astonished by what he finds.
Gethin says: “As a proud Welshman and a Welsh speaker, this is the trip of a lifetime. So much so that when I told my dad I was going, he wanted to come too. This is such a curious experience. I’m so far away from home yet I’m surrounded by Welshness.”
Homeland actor David Harewood visits Picton House, built by a man who came to Britain as a slave but ended up as one of the country’s richest men.
David says: “Many of you might be familiar with my name because you may have visited the beautiful Harewood House in Leeds, built in 1759 for a wealthy family who owned several sugar plantations in Barbados and hundreds of slaves. Amongst them, were my ancestors. Their back-breaking work helped make them rich and build Harewood House. Once slavery was abolished they took on the name Harewood. That’s my history. This next house turned the usual fate of my people on its head. The man who owned this house was also taken from Africa against his will.”
In 1761 Cesar Picton, age 6, was brought to England by an army officer who had been in Senegal. He was presented as a gift of a servant to a rich English woman in Kingston, Surrey but showed so much charm and potential that he became a beloved part of the family, and inherited a great deal of money upon the death of his adoptive mother. With this sum, he started his own business on the Thames and became a wealthy coal merchant in Kingston. Cesar was one of the first self-made black gentlemen in Britain and incredibly achieved his success before slavery had been abolished.
Rory McGrath visits St. Levan’s cell, a ruined structure on the coast of Cornwall, said to be one of the oldest homes in Britain, dating back to the Dark Ages.
Rory says: “There are more saints in Cornwall than there are in heaven, so the saying goes. And I’m after one of them, a man who lived in the dark ages and went by the name of St. Levan.”
The structure on the coast is thought to be the home of a hermit saint, St. Levan and is an extreme example of using your home to express your love of God. It was a basic two-room building consisting of a chapel and sleeping quarters and the foundations of the outer wall still remain today.
Historian Craig Weatherill explains: “He was reconstructing the life of Christ in his own way. Christ was supposed to have led a life of austerity and the priests who carried on after him tended to do the same.”
Also this week, Alys Fowler discovers a home that was built as a prize in a lottery 200 years ago, when Britain’s poor had no land rights. Rosedene Cottage in Worcestershire is still in its original 19th century condition and was part of a scheme that gave working people the chance to get onto the property ladder.
Lucinda Lambton learns more about Renishaw Hall near Sheffield, the home of the influential Sitwell family for nearly 400 years. And Ann Widdecombe visits a unique 18th century house in Devon with 16-sides and stunning panoramic views.