Britain's Secret Homes
Published: Tue 11 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 nation 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 four, the countdown continues and Greg Rusedksi visits a property near Birmingham known as Fairlight. But it’s not the stunning house he’s interested in, but its back garden, as Fairlight has an expansive lawn which was arguably the birthplace of modern tennis. Its owner, a Spanish-born merchant called Augurio Perera took the previously exclusive sport of racquets outside for the first time in 1859 and it went on to be known as lawn tennis.
Greg says: “Playing on grass opened up the game to the masses. The original court looks slightly different to the ones today, a few yards longer, but it’s still recognisable…None of this was possible without two inventions, the lawnmower in 1830 and vulcanized rubber for the balls in 1843.”
Greg is thrilled to be playing on the first ever lawn tennis court, and is ready for action after donning the original attire, a traditional wooden racquet and attempting to follow the original rules.
Rageh Omaar discovers England’s first mosque, by visiting a now derelict Georgian Terrace in Liverpool that was the first foothold in Britain for one of the world’s major religions.
Rageh says: “As a British Muslim I think Liverpool should also be famous for one more thing, for the pivotal role it played in bringing Islam to this country.”
Inside number 8 Brougham Terrace lies the fascinating story of England’s first mosque and the unlikely Victorian gentleman who founded it. William Henry Quilliam, a local Liverpool solicitor converted to Islam in 1887, after returning from a visit to Morocco, taking on the name Abdullah. Abdullah Quilliam established the mosque at No. 8 Brougham Terrace and later bought the remainder of the terrace to include a school, printing press and science laboratory. The activities in this house stirred mixed feeling within the local community but quickly became the first centre of Islam in Britain.
Photographer Rankin goes on a pilgrimage to Rock House in Edinburgh to see where photography turned into an art. In 1843 scientist Robert Adamson rented the property to be used as a calotype studio, calotyping being one of the first photographic processes. The painter David Octavius Hill sought out Adamson’s new technology as a means to capture subjects from which he would paint portraits.
At the house the pair discovered that photographs were not just a reference tool for painters, but in fact photography was an art form in itself.
Rankin says: “This is pretty amazing actually. I wonder if my pictures will still be around in 180 years? Considering the limitations of their equipment, the quality of this work has really surprised me...it’s a real honour to have stepped back in time and seen where photography as art started. I owe my career to these guys.”
Also this week, Anita Rani visits India House in Margate, Kent and reveals the story of Britain and India. Mary-Ann Ochota visits the Broch of Mousa, a tower that was home to a sophisticated community over 2000 years ago and is Scotland’s most impressive and best surviving Iron Age broch. And Saul David visits what was once Belfast’s poor house, where the city’s industrial revolution began turning Belfast into the major industrial city that went on to build the Titanic.