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Restoration Home: Being the private eye of the past

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Kate Williams Kate Williams | 12:20 UK time, Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The private eye of the past, in Caroline Quentin's words, is my role in Restoration Home.

As the social historian on the series, my job is to investigate the histories of the six properties on the show, and the people who lived in them.

Each one has been an incredible journey of discovery - into stories of war, inheritance, scandal, elopement, betrayal and true love.

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Dr Kate Williams discovers the will of the first owner of Stoke Hall

The six houses are not only impressive and original in an architectural sense, they also have histories that I could hardly believe when I began researching in the archives.

Moreover, their stories tell the story of Britain - the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, enclosure and social changes.

My research was a case of visiting archives and museums across the country - some public and some private.

I spent days deep in fragile wills, maps, letters, diaries and portraits as the wonderful stories of the houses became clear.

The camera shows my moments of discovery - behind them lay hours of work with giant boxes of documents and letters.

At times, it seemed as if the answers would never be found - and then the most incredible sources turned up.

At the same time, my fellow investigator, architectural expert, Kieran Long was working hard on the architectural histories of the properties.

Dr. Kate Williams - Social Historian, Caroline Quentin - Presenter, and Kieran Long -Architectural Expert

Dr Kate Williams, Caroline Quentin and Kieran Long

I was fascinated by his findings about architects, design and craftsmen - his discovery of the Smethwick makers of the stained glass window of Pensford Church was just one of the wonderful things he found.

It just shows how fortunate we are in this country to have such comprehensive and well-kept archives.

I receive many letters from people hoping to research their own houses.

Every house is different, but any researcher would find local archives and record offices invaluable.

Some archives and record offices are housed in your local museum or library, others have their own stand-alone building.

Wherever they are, they are a treasure trove.

There is often information there about the designers, architects, builders and occupants of the most ordinary looking houses.

Our small island is crammed with an incredible history - which touches every part of our lives.

I loved all the periods featured in the show, but I was particularly fascinated by the stories from the 18th and 19th Centuries.

It's impossible to pick a favourite, but I loved reading about the different families who had owned Stoke Hall and Stanwick Hall.

As well as the scandalous history of Calverton Manor, and the stories of rescue for Pensford Church and the Pumping Station.

And the electoral shenanigans of Big House, the final property in the series, are pretty hard to beat.

I became entirely caught up in the history of the properties - and I often find myself talking in the present tense about events that happened hundreds of years ago.

It's impossible not to do so when you have histories as fascinating and exciting as those for Restoration Home!

Dr Kate Williams is a social historian and one of the presenter of Restoration Home.

Restoration Home continues on BBC Two on Tuesdays at 8pm.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    Dear Kate, I like your contributions but next time make sure the producers allow you to talk to the camera. The way you're talking to someone off-camera just makes you seem rude, to be honest. Look to camera - we're interested in what you're saying!

  • Comment number 2.

    Hello there - I cannot believe that Mr Robinson has just posted the very same thing that I was going to ask. I found myself wondering why you couldn't look at me when talking! Strangly left me feeling a bit uncomfortable.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi, just been watching Calverton House. Re Frances Bennet: There is a portrait of her which would have been interesting to see, if you could track it down. It is listed in the possessions of the Gresley family of Drakelow Hall, which was demolished in the early part of the 20th century. All the contents were auctioned or put into galleries. I wonder what happened to it. Now Drakelowe hall would make a good programme for investigation!

  • Comment number 4.

    I am saddened by the inaccuracies in this series...whatever is " hydraulic lime " ? Surely your experts and editors could have picked this up! Hydrated lime being the correct term and quite obviously hydraulics is a mechanical term and has nothing to do with adding water.( programme 1) And today....we discover a water conduit...when it was obviously a water culvert...I realise the English language is being lost, but when "experts" cannot pick up these mistakes when they are the key value of a programme on restoration it is a joke. Some of the practices and methods shown tonight on the listed manor house made me cringe. And if that awful presenter takes another step in a building site with her hands in both pockets.....

  • Comment number 5.

    What a fantastic series.
    However please tell Caroline Quentin to use the BRITISH pronounciation when she says the word "Schedule!!!"
    This IS the BRITISH Broadcasting Company!

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Kate, Love the series, I have noticed Bank Hall in Bretherton featured in the introduction to the series and a few snap shots throughout, I am doing vast research into the building and was wondering if you would be able to help? I have the basics but there is alot more work to be done as there has been a house on the site of the present house since the 12th century, the present house dating back to 1608, so as you will imagine there is alot of research and history! Also if anyone else reading this can give any more information on the building or any of its past inhabitants then please email [Personal details removed by Moderator]
    Many thanks

  • Comment number 7.

    Great program, very interesting, Thank you. Sorry one of your viewers is saddened. For the record. The term is correct Hydraulic Lime. Natural Hydraulic Limes are mixed with a suitable sand to make hydraulic lime mortars which set in the presence of water - hence the term hydraulic.

  • Comment number 8.

    I saw the Big House programme which raised a series of fascinating but sadly totally unanswered questions. The house was built with the profits from the appalling employment conditions of the men women and children who worked and died in the mine. If those profits had been put back into the mine to improve those working conditions instead of being wasted on that folie de grandeur maybe those pit workers need not have died. This is a microcosm of the why British industry failed and continues to fail: it's called asset stripping. If, as an historian, you had looked at this issue the programme would have been considerably more interesting.

  • Comment number 9.

    I am enjoying the series although I wonder, in the light of the recent riots, how the sight of millionaires putting fortunes into homes plays in Tottenham and Walthamstowe. That is not my question although it is in my mind this morning.

    My question is whether or not the listed buildings people should be brought to book for their lack of support and delay in responding? We have seen people spending fortunes on houses that otherwise would have fallen down, yet the authorities spend 2 years in responding, presumably while the house continues to decay. Are they charged with saving the past or not?

    Why do I have images of old majors in tweeds and no saying battle-axes demonstrating intransigence. Why not do a programme examining the authorities role in these restorations. Or is the BBC too timid these days to challenge the establishment.

  • Comment number 10.

    What is this diatribe mike priestley writes (above) "...the sight of millionaires putting fortunes into homes...." Was he watching the same programme as I was last evening? The chap at Big House, Alun, was quite obviously spending every penny he had on the house. He has forsaken living in what other's would describe as standard conditions for the love of this one building. He has already owned the house 11 years or so and has only just really got going. He works hard and long hours to fund his labour of love restoring Big House, Landshipping and most certainly did not smack of being a millionaire. On the contrary, along with his partner Claire, here were a couple who were putting their heart and soul into a house and not taking much away from it in the process. I applaud them.

  • Comment number 11.

    Another highly successful series based on the Restoration theme all kicked-off by Griff Rhys Jones. I once suggested trying RESTORATION FOOTBALL and wondered what people thought ? It could showcase a selection of clubs in financial trouble and the public could vote for the most deserving one, who perhaps got into a mess through no particular fault of their own.

  • Comment number 12.

    Morning, everyone... I am slightly behind with the episodes as I am watching them on iplayer. An amazing series it has to be said.
    My reason for commenting is more a cry for help. Since I watched the 'Pump House' episode I have been searching to find out what type of dog the couple bought whilst the programme was being filmed, amazing and very beautiful.
    Does anyone know???

  • Comment number 13.

    Narbethegirl completely missed the point of my post, which was about the role of the authorities in not preserving properties.
    I am not completely up to date, as I record episodes and play them as I have time, so I can't comment on Alun and Claire, the last two I saw concerned well heeled city traders and a businessman with millions. I think she should look up "diatribe" before accusing people of creating one.

  • Comment number 14.

    Just sat and watched the program on the water pumping house on the Red button. Not a renovation but a conversion. Ripped the guts out and destroyed the whole essence of the build on the inside, then covered up and created yet another big white box on the outside. If they had fallen in love with the building why was it impossible to see the building afterwards. I'm afraid I can in no way agree with Caroline Quentin's gushing twaddle in particular they didn't take the hardest path they just threw money at a project to create the big faceless box.

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't know if you will read this Kate, the series having finished a while ago, but I hope you will. I watched Stanwick Hall last night - if only I'd known filming was taking place. Kieran could have come and taken a photo of our staircase.... Ptolemy Dean, architectural historian, thought that our house near Lichfield was designed by Smith of Warwick. When we saw the staircase in Stonleigh Abbey, it confirmed it. Ours is not as ornate, but with the same low risers and the identical handrail, which is not actually a carved whole, but a thin segment placed on top. Stanwick's stairhall would have looked so good with something like ours in it. Luckily, we have many original features, including oak floors. Sadly, no original fireplaces.


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