A House Through Time ~ Series 3 ~ Review and Resources List

A House Through Time ~ Series 3 ~ Review and Resources List

A House Through Time ~ Series 3 ~ 10 Guinea Street


Review and Resources List 


David Olusoga’s A House Through Time, chose Bristol, a city with historic links to the slave trade, which as it has turned out recently, was a theme that resonated more that he could possibly have imagined when he first knocked on the door of No 10 Guinea Street, built in 1718 by Captain Edmund Saunders, a prolific buyer and seller of people at that time.  

The researches linked Saunders to over 40 voyages conveying 12,000 souls from their homes in Africa to slavery in the Americas. Saunders himself never lived in the house but rented it to another slave trader, Captain Joseph Smith.

Moving on with the story of No 10 Guinea Street and a foundling baby which was left on the doorstep, Smith and his wife having refused to take her in, she died at the age of three in the doubtless negligible care of the parish. This section took us down the highways and byways of poor laws and the options available to the vulnerable in a time long before the welfare state.

  • If you are interested in Foundlings, then the Foundling Museum is always a good place to start. Mothers would often leave a ‘token’ with the child and a blog by the historian John Styles on an exhibition in the museum can be read here. Of course, searching through the relevant local parish registers can sometimes turn up gold when a curate might make a comment in the margin with regards to a child being found on a doorstep or in the churchyard and then go on to mention it’s fate. Many local archives have workhouse records as well as Poor Law and Board of Guardian records, which are parish based. Many such London records are online at Ancestry.

The next owner, Tory political satirist John Shebbeare, whose main hobbyhorses were the ‘national ruin’ brought about by the Hanoverian kings and the general uselessness of women, famously saying ‘The best I ever knew is not worth the worst man’ and about his own wife in particular, ‘I think I have been yoked for about one and 40 years and have wished my wife underground anytime since’. Charming!!  But could you imagine if he ever had his own Twitter account!!

Next came another link to slavery with the Holbrooks, whose fortune lay in slave-run sugar plantations and they had the latest ‘must have fashion accessory’, namely a black servant, the Jamaican born Thomas. He ran away, but eventually returned after a newspaper advertisement asking for information on his whereabouts, however, what happened to him after that, we will never know. Olusoga also ventured into the dark world of domestic violence, the joy of his presenting style I find, is that he gives the story time to draw breath and talks about the small people, such as the lives of servants and women, lives that normally go undocumented, hidden from history and thus pays tribute to the silent anguish of those who life events never made it into official records.

  • Many cases run away servants can be found in the advertisement sections of the local papers and court cases concerning domestic violence were also reported, not always without some bias but reported all the same. Newspapers can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.or if you have a subscription to Find My Past then the newspaper archive is also available on that site, as well as hard copies or microfiche copies at local records offices/libraries/archives

By the time Olusoga reached the final episode we were dropped into the 1930s when N0 10 was owned by the Wallington family and when the clouds of the Second World War were about to burst open. Bristol, being a major port, inevitably became a target for the Luftwaffe, and in November 1940 a 50kg bomb hit Guinea Street. Among the injured was Isaac Long, who with his wife Mary, later became a lodger with the Wallingtons at Number 10.

  • The 1939 National Register, available on both Ancestry and Find My Past is excellent source, discovering who was where just before WW2 as well as giving an accurate [we hope] date of birth. You can also find out about the previous owners of your house.

After talking through the deaths of the Longs within a few months of each in the early 1950s, Mary apparently killed herself after her husband’s death, Olusoga then devoted a good deal of the episode digging into the chequered past of a tenant, Cyril Tabrett, a man of some mystery, with several different birth-dates and a variety of professions, even claiming at one point to be Belgian. However, it was eventually discovered that basically he was just a petty thief and forger.  I am not convinced that the attempt by the programme makers to make his story into an ominous model of poverty and despair quite came off. In similar fashion the death of Norris, moved from a possible suicide into the rather anticlimactic fatal gas leak. The series closed with the current owners, who rather serendipitously had given a home to an Ethiopian refugee.

A couple of things here:

  • Cyril Tabrett was shown to have a number of documents with contradicting information on them. Beware of what I like to call, official fiction masquerading as historical fact. Information given for birth, marriage and death corticates, even in the not so distant past was never double checked against any official sources. Such documents often need a lot of careful interpretation, and in many cases a healthy dose of scepticism, all a certificate really proves is that an event took place and was recorded by a registrar, what if doesn’t prove is that any of the particulars noted were actually true in the first place. Even today mistakes are still made and still recorded, as truth for posterity
  • Kim, the lady who lived in the house at the time of Norris’s death is a prime example of making sure that you take any oral history with a slight pinch of salt. People’s memories are fallible, especially childhood memories, which can be clouded by parental judgements or scruples and even the occasional skeleton hiding in a cupboard  – Kim said it was Cyril who died in the cellar and possibly committed suicide but she wasn’t sure, in the end it turned out to be Norris, who actually died in his room from an accidental gas leak -  perhaps Kim’s parents told her he had died in the cellar to scare the children and stop them going down there? Who knows!  Memory and folklore are not always that reliable, as was shown, and so whenever you can triangulate your story by checking any facts against other sources and official accounts, more often than not there is a good deal of truth there, you just have to sift it out from the prejudices and ‘rose coloured spectacle’ approach.

Other records to use to trace your ancestors or those living in your house include but not limited too:

  • Trade Directories and Occupation Records of individual trades such as teaching for instance, which are searchable on Find My Past and The Genealogist
  • Electoral Registers – although beware these are only those who could vote at any particular point in time, various electoral/rates records can be found at Ancestry and Find My Past
  • Local Newspapers – at local archives, libraries, records offices, try the actual paper themselves if they still are in operation. Also at the British Newspaper Archives and Find My Past online
  • BT Telephone Books – to be found at Ancestry
  • School Registers – many which can be found on Ancestry and The Genealogist
  • Wills – at the moment there is free access and download to many wills at the National Archives. The Genealogist also has some earlier downloadable wills and the National Probate Calendar is accessible at Ancestry
  • FamilySearch has many records that you perhaps would not think of looking at, have a search through their data bases, especially for records from Europe
  • Military Records can also give a lot of information and are available in various guises at Ancestry, Find My Past, The Genealogist as well as on local archive/record office databases
  • Passenger Manifests can help to pinpoint ancestors to certain places at certain times, again held my Ancestry and Find My Past

Your local records office may also hold coroners’ reports, National building records. Civil defence records, hospital records as well as access to the main genealogical web sites. A good search of the catalogues at your local archives, records office, library can easily turn up some interesting records that you perhaps would never thing of searching. 

If you are interested in researching the history of your house then a couple of good blogs/sites to read are -



Margaret Roberts

Written by : Margaret Roberts