BBC Two’s A House Through Time – the story of those who lived in one house, from the time it was built until now – has captivated viewers with its first two series. Previously covering Newcastle and Liverpool, it has told the story of a house as well as a place and a city. The new series, sees presenter David Olusoga set out to uncover the story of a Bristol house, discovering remarkable stories along the way.  

Producers have promised that the show, which features No.10 Guinea Street in Redcliffe, will be ‘very Bristol’, covering everything from the tobacco industry to piracy, and from slavery to the Bristol Blitz.

10 Guinea Street in Bristol

Historian David Olusoga, himself a resident of Bristol for over 20 years, said, “One of the challenges about bringing A House Through Time to Bristol is that Bristol is very different to the two cities we’ve done previously - Newcastle and Liverpool - both of which had their heyday in the 19th century. They both largely rose to prominence in the Victorian age. Now that’s not true for Bristol whose heyday as a trading city was in the Georgian era. So we felt it was really important that if we were going to bring A House Through Time to Bristol, we find an 18th century house."

"Once we made that decision to go back beyond the middle of the 19th century we knew that it also meant going back beyond the census and lots of the other sources that we rely on to make A House Through Time. So it was a real challenge. But the house we found is extraordinary and the story of Bristol we are able to tell through it is incredibly rich and varied.” 

10 Guinea Street

The street is named after the Guinea Coast in West Africa, a hub of Transatlantic Slavery and built in 1718 at a time when Bristol was becoming Britain’s premier slaving port. The man who built number 10, Captain Edmund Saunders, was a prolific enslaver himself, trafficking men, women and children from Africa to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean - and the same is true of the first full-time resident, Joseph Smith. A handwritten account from one of his ship’s crew reveals a story of piracy, peril and revenge.

David’s search also leads him to the local church, St Mary Redcliffe, where one remarkable record reveals the existence of a baby girl named Martha, abandoned on the doorstep of 10 Guinea Street.

David Olusoga, presenter and historian from A House Through Time

David’s final search in the first episode is for Captain Joseph Holbrook, a wealthy trader importing luxury items to Bristol - predominantly sugar, produced on the slavery plantations of the Caribbean. But sugar is not the only Caribbean connection in this household. Following the trail uncovers the remarkable story of their black servant, Thomas, described as a ‘native of Jamaica’ who attempted an audacious escape from his master’s house, an astonishingly risky move with potentially devastating consequences.

Holbrook died in 1774, leaving the house to his widow Hester. By the later decades of the 18th century, the tide is turning against the trade which made Hester’s family rich and the campaign for the Abolition Of Slavery is gaining momentum. As David discovers, the Abolitionists of Bristol bring their message, quite literally, to Hester’s doorstep.

The four-part series was supported by Bristol Archives and features a host of historic material, from maps and land tax records to court documents and asylum casebooks, as well as photos and film. Filming took place in many locations in the city including the Registry Office, Central Library, A Bond Warehouse and the Lord Mayor’s Chapel.

Historian David Olusoga

There are several ways that people can engage with the TV series in addition to watching:

Presenter Insights

The first episode of the series will be screened on BBC2 at 9pm on Tuesday 26 May. David Olusoga will be tweeting during the episode, sharing further insights and archival material. Follow him at @DavidOlusoga

Bristol’s Festival of Ideas

An online conversation with producer and presenter David Olusoga the day after the first episode is released. How is the house chosen? What do the findings say about the cities and how they have changed over time? And what do they tell us about the houses and places of the future? It also covers David’s new book, written with Melanie Backe-Hansen, A House Through Time (Picador, May 2020). The conversation will be broadcast on Wednesday 27 May at 1pm and then available online. 

Bristol Archives 

A number of resources to help people research their home’s history are available online and they will be hosting a free online talk to help people get started on Wednesday 10 June at 5pm. They are also taking part in #HouseHistoryHour on Twitter every Thursday at 7pm, for tips, insights and case studies from the UK’s archives and researchers.

A House Through Time was first aired on Tuesday 26 May on BBC Two at 9pm and is available on BBC iPlayer

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Bristol Archives
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St Mary Redcliffe Church
St Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol

One of the most beautiful churches in all England and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in the country