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Dr Adrian Green and 'horrible historian' Greg Jenner join Tom Holland to discuss the 1920s response to a housing crisis, the influence of radical Warrington and Roman beards.

Tom Holland is joined in the studio by the historical consultant for Horrible Histories, Greg Jenner.

Helen Castor is on the South Downs with geographer Dr Geoffrey Mead who has been researching responses to the housing crisis of the 1920s. Close to Brighton, he has discovered an informal settlement - one that was maybe once described as a 'shanty-town', but was built by the aspirational middle-classes who could find £10 to buy a plot of land. Dr Adrian Green from the University of Durham explains that these communities, built on what geographers describe as marginal or non-productive land, were commonplace right the way back to the middle ages when people would move to be closer to work.

Professor Sharon Ruston from Lancaster University is in Warrington, where she highlights the role of the town's dissenting academy - and the work of Joseph Priestley in particular - in promoting the teaching of science to a community of scholars that were barred from Oxford and Cambridge because of their radical religious beliefs and who, she argues, were the intellectual driving force of the industrial revolution.

Tom Holland visits Sheffield to talk to research student Dr Hannah Probert about the significance of facial hair in Roman times.

Producer: Nick Patrick
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Tue 18 Aug 2015 15:00


Helen Castor explores the responses to a housing crisis in the 1920s.

 Geographer, Dr Geoffrey Mead at the University of Sussex has been researching the temporary or ‘informal’ housing that sprung up on marginal land after the First World War which was a response to the severe housing shortage which had been caused by lack of pre-war investment and  wartime restrictions.

 Dr Mead has found that throughout the country people were able to build temporary houses (anything from railway carriages and the fuselage of an aeroplane to flat-packed cabins) on land that wasn’t needed for farming or any other economic activity. As Helen Castor discovered on the South Downs to the north of Brighton an entire community bought plots of land for £10 each from a developer and were able to build homes. The people doing this weren’t the poor; rather they were aspirational middle class investors who couldn’t afford traditional homes.

See Dr Mead’s DPhil thesis ‘Scattered Squalor’ and ‘Downland Homes’. Interwar housing at Patcham, Brighton.

The Sweet Hill Poultry Farm, Patcham near Brighton

The Sweet Hill Poultry Farm, Patcham near Brighton

Mr and Mrs Harrington

Mr and Mrs Harrington

1920s view east to London Road plotlands from Sweet Hill

1920s view east to London Road plotlands from Sweet Hill

Joseph Priestley and the Warrington Academy

Professor Sharon Ruston at the University of Lancaster argues that Warrington should be regarded as one of the key centres of learning that produced the commercial and scientific minds which went on to drive the industrial revolution. 

The town’s dissenting academy attracted a number of radical thinkers, including Joseph Priestley. The institution was one of the first to teach science and opened the door to those individuals from dissenting backgrounds who were barred from Oxford and Cambridge. 

Professor Ruston argues that by teaching the sciences alongside the arts, law and other subjects, Warrington (and other similar dissenting academies) encouraged thinkers who could apply and profit from ideas.

Warrington Academy and the Academy Movement

Joseph Priestley Wikipedia entry  

Joseph Priestley 

Roman Beards

Tom Holland travelled to Sheffield to meet Dr Hannah Probert, a research student at the University of Sheffield, to discuss the significance of beards in Roman times. They were the guests of Savills the barbers and they took us through the centuries to find out which emperor wore a beard and which one didn’t and discuss why there’s no word for moustache in Greek.
Medieval and Ancient Research Centre 

What the Vikings and Romans did for facial grooming.


  • Tue 18 Aug 2015 15:00