A house through time is a BBC 2 series which tells the story of an English city through the history of one of its houses. Two previous series, which I very much enjoyed have focused on the northern cities of Newcastle and Liverpool. As I belong to a history walking group and have written on my blog about our walks through Bristol I was excited to discover that the new series which starts this week is set in my home city. I think we all enjoy looking through the keyhole of an old house and imagining what might have happened inside. If you live in an old house as we do, it is fun to try and find out as much as you can about the lives of the people who lived there before you.
In an interview the presenter David Olusogu explained how the house 10 Guinea Street pictured above was chosen. David who is a British Nigerian historian who lives in Bristol knew that he wanted to discuss Bristol’s links to slavery which meant he needed to find an early 18th century house. Each series consists of four hour long episodes so the house also had to have other interesting stories which reflect the changing fortunes of Bristol. It must have changed hands several times. Most importantly the current owners had to be willing to let a T.V. crew into their home for several weeks.
Guinea Street which is in Redcliffe close to Bristol harbourside is part of an area which has seen several changes of fortune and narrowly escaped the 2 nd world war blitz. The houses chosen for the series set in Newcastle and Liverpool were more modern which meant that it was fairly easy to discover the lives of previous occupants using census records and birth marriage and death registrations. This house dates back to 1718 so he had to use documents such as old maps and land tax registers. The name Guinea Street comes from Guinea in West Africa. The Golden Guinea further along the street is a very friendly real ale pub. Now the area is thriving the old general hospital further along the road is being turned into upmarket flats. The whole harbourside area is a very fashionable and expensive area to live.
I know from my own research that an early owner of the house captain Edmund Saunders was involved in at least twenty slaving voyages and I have written a little bit about the Bristol Slave trade before. The Bristol slave trade.
In fact he lived at number 11 and he let number 10 to another slave ship captain Joseph Smith. I think most Bristolians find this a very problematic heritage. It is true that much of Bristol’s wealth came from the profits of the triangular slave trade. The same traders whose boats carried slaves to America and the West Indies in terrible conditions also built alms houses for the poor and built a beautiful theatre for the city. Many Bristolians made their fortunes from making copper and brass goods for trade to Africa or from refining the sugar that was brought back from the West Indies.
Captain Saunders was himself an elder of the beautiful St. Mary Redcliffe church which is close by and I know there was a sugar house in Guinea Street. The house has also revealed other secrets: The story of Martha Redcliffe a foundling baby left on the doorstep of number 10 and Thomas a black servant who managed to run away.
I am also hoping to learn more about the history of Bristol particularly about the part Bristolians played in the abolition of slavery. In the first programme I learnt that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and an ardent abolitionist actually built one of his first chapels in Guinea Street and preached there himself. Unsurprisingly none of the residents of number 10 were listed in the membership records. That chapel has disappeared but you can visit his first chapel, the New Room in Broadmead which has a small museum.
I have just heard that the present owners have placed the house for sale on Rightmove with a guide price of £800,000 and the BBC have commissioned a fourth series of a house through time to be set in Leeds.