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Britain's Secret Homes


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.

This thoroughly engaging romp through the high streets, low valleys, bustling towns and charming villages to identify and investigate Britain’s top 50 secret homes with a captivating history to reveal returns by popular demand for an encore engagement, Monday, December 14 through Friday, December 18 at 4pm ET/1pm PT. Don’t miss it!

“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.” – Bettany Hughes

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 UK 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.

READ: Historic England’s blog post on Britain’s Secret Homes


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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016 at 4pm ET/1pm PT

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 4pm ET/1pm PT

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016 at 4pm ET/1pm PT

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.


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.

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.”

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.

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.


In the last episode of the series, the top ten homes are unveiled.

Michael Buerk visits Boscobel House in Shropshire, built in the middle of the 1600’s, when England was being torn apart by a bloody civil war over whether the country should be ruled by parliament or royalty. In 1649 the King was executed, leaving his son and heir, Prince Charles Stuart to take up the fight.

Mary-Ann Ochota visits Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. Incredibly, the gorge contains several caves that were occupied during the last ice age, between around 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. The caves preserve the record of the first modern humans to inhabit this country. Within the caves, archaeologists have discovered tantalizing evidence of how the first modern humans lived, tens of thousands of years ago.

Ronni Ancona visits The Jews House in Lincoln, built over 900 years ago, making it one of the oldest houses in Europe. The house is a reminder of the shocking campaign of terror and extortion, which was inflicted on England’s Jewish community in the 1200’s. Life for Jews at this time was extremely restricted. Where they lived and even how they could earn money was decided by the King. Money lending was one of the few jobs they could do and it was a profitable business but it made them targets of abuse and extortionate levels of taxation.

Ronni discovers that the owner of the house was a wealthy Jewess called Bellaset of Wallingford.

Also in this weeks episode, Michael Buerk visits the house in Hastings where John Logie Baird invented the television, David Jason investigates a secret interrogation unit used in World War 2, Mark Williams discovers the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton and John Grundy explores the cottage where world famous railway engineer George Stephenson and his son Robert lived.

Bettany Hughes discovers some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Britain, Mary-Ann Ochota has a fascinating insight into an ancient time on the Orkney Islands and we visit a humble miner’s cottage in Wales.

Which home and its incredible history will achieve the number one place, as our countdown reaches its conclusion?

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