When is A House Through Time on TV?
Series 3 of A House Through Time features four episodes. The first episode will be broadcast on Tuesday 26 May 2020 at 9pm on BBC Two.
What’s it about?
As with so many of the best concepts for television series, A House Through Time rests on a deceptively simple notion, that of tracing the lives of those who have resided at a specific address down the years.
The richness of the programme, presented by historian David Olusoga, lies in the way that, if you choose the right location, this leads to stories spinning out in both half-predictable and wholly unexpected directions.
The third and latest series focuses on 10 Guinea Street. This is a narrow yet elegantly proportioned four-storey property that’s tucked away on a street close to the docks in Bristol, Olusoga’s adopted home city.
It was built in 1718, commissioned by Captain Edmund Saunders, a man who made his fortune from slavery. This is hardly surprising, as it was an era when Bristol was an important port in the so-called ‘Guinea trade’ – and indeed Guinea Street’s name is a reference to the Guinea Coast, from where so many Africans were taken to the New World.
Saunders himself never lived in the house. Instead, he rented it to another sailor, Captain Joseph Smith, a man whose nautical adventures included a fateful encounter with pirates. Other 18th-century residents included a political polemicist notorious enough to have been immortalised by William Hogarth in an engraving showing the voting in a corrupt borough.
If the stories of the influential public figures who lived at the house are relatively easy to uncover, the first episode also reminds us that all too many people have no power and leave little trace in the records, but their lives deserve no less to be marked. This idea is embodied in the haunting stories of a foundling, Martha, and a black servant, Thomas, who decided to escape his master’s house. The documentary also reveals Guinea Street’s central place in the history of Wesleyan Methodism.
Over four episodes, Olusoga explores stories that encompass a scandal, a city mayor, rioting, the Battle of Passchendaele, bombing by the Luftwaffe, and – closer to the present – a property falling into disrepair yet saved by a series of owners. It’s the best series of A House Through Time to date.
Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine