There may be more to your house than you ever imagined

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
In the first of a six-part series, the BBC lifts the secrets on how to go about tracing the history of your home. `The House Detectives' also provides insights into changing trends in architectural styles and interior decoration. Each week, we will preview the program for the week ahead. The series should also provide home owners with plenty of ideas for uncovering the hidden histories of their own homes - as well as some useful restoration tips. The first offering in the series kicks off with a typical puzzle for the team of house detectives: Fayre Haven, in Fullwood, an up-market suburb of Preston.By Richard Phillips

Its owners had bought the house - a fantastic melange of Edwardian Jacobean and Tudorbethan styles - on impulse. Three weeks after they had popped a note to the owner through the front door, they had moved in.

The property had been converted into flats and bedsits, so Anne Conchie, a school teacher, and her accountant partner Phil Hulme, had plenty on their hands to restore the property to its original glory.

As they peeled back the years, they revealed an owner with a flamboyant, almost obsessive taste in interior design. As well as elaborate stained glass for the windows, there was ornate wood panelling, a plethora of mock Jacobean ceiling designs, and intricate wall paper displays in anaglypta - a cotton and wood pulp mix, used to create elaborate bas reliefs.

The house itself is a fantastical creation from the outside, with a turret, gabling, and rich brickwork leaving a fairly remarkable impression.

Fayre Haven - even the name is a pastiche - offers a fascinating tour around one man's personal fantasies, social aspirations, and the pretensions of the newly moneyed Edwardians.

The only blight on the property today, is an ugly red brick modern home adjoining it. There are only glimpses of it in the film, and the contrast is never raised by the presenters, which is a shame. Why such a home could be tacked on to such an unique property, especially in a designated conservation area, defies belief.

The team of detectives - David Austin, a landscape archaeologist, architectural historian Mac Dowdy, and Judith Miller, an interior design historian - piece together an intriguing story behind the house.

Built by John Hodgson, a local entrepreneur who raised himself by the bootstraps from a poor background, the house was a staging post on his rise to respectability and social acceptance.

And his occupation? The remarkable range of design effects he called on, were a reflection of his job. A sanitary engineer as the Victorian's styled them, or plumber, by the time he built and designed the house in 1900, he ran one of Preston's largest builder's merchants. His home was not only a paean to middle-class taste - it was also a show catalogue for the products of his family business.

The programme is an exercise in social history and taste in the suburbs - a still under appreciated subject, despite the efforts of Betjeman and his followers to raise the profile of this still maligned architectural phenomenon.

Fayre Haven was only a staging post for the man who eventually rose to become Lord Mayor of Preston: his last property, a far grander affair than Fayre Haven, satisfied his rise to the top of the social ladder in no mean way - and embraced some of the passions that besotted him at the former.

`The House Detectives', Tues, 8 pm, BBC 2

Comments