|Ours for generations|
A House Through Time, written and presented by social historian David Olusoga, aims to chart the history of a single house, 62 Falkner Street in Liverpool, from its first occupants to the present day. He has gleaned information from archived documents and newspapers. It's an approach a bit like the one used in Who Do You Think You Are?, only without the celebrity starting point. Our starting point is instead a picture of fields, owned by the farmer after whom the street is subsequently named (though with a misspelling). The house was built in 1840, and was originally number 58, its number increasing to 62 as more houses were built piecemeal onto the road. Nowadays, it's a strikingly substantial Georgian-style (because technically it's Victorian) terraced property in what looks like a highly desirable part of town. It may have since lost a lot of its original features and fireplaces, but back in the day it had a drawing room, a maid, bespoke furniture, the works. The house was bought for around £1,000 by its first owner, Richard Glenton - a seemingly lazy and unambitious clerk in the Liverpool docks, which were then at their height. Glenton had lodgers to help him pay the bills on his meagre £50 annual income - the rest of his apparently lavish lifestyle being funded by the "bank of Dad"; a dad who had also got him his clerk's post in an extraordinary level of nepotism apparently quite normal for the time. Once Dad died, leaving his fortune to Richard's unmarried sister, Richard had to sell up and find himself a more humble abode. He sold the house to a couple called the Orrs, who had been in service but ended up the equivalent of millionaires in today's money. The husband, a former butler, worked long hours as the manager of the "newsroom" at an exclusive gentleman's club, overhearing conversations which enabled him to make shrewd financial investments.
Then the house was owned by Wilfred Steele, a cotton trader who experienced every extreme imaginable in his short life. Boom, bust, battle. He lost two young sons and ended up in a debtor's gaol, yet abandoned two stepdaughters to a miserable fate in a Liverpool workhouse. He benefited from slavery but fought in the American war against it, though the latter was probably for the money rather than the morality of the issue. David Olusoga quite understandably did not take kindly to this man, although many of the facts were speculative rather than pure.
I am very much looking forward to the next instalment. And the programme makes me want to find out more about our house in York. It was built around 1910, and for many of its recent years was a student rental property, before being sold to our vendors, who did a lot of crazy renovations, the majority of which we have had neither the luck, skill nor money to undo. We met said previous owners once - they were both academics, and like us, had moved to York from Crouch End in London, which seemed like a good omen. They spent the three months between us viewing the property and completing the sale chain-smoking and cooking greasy dinners, the aromas resulting from which it took us about ten months to eradicate. We never quite got rid of the dirt.
|Edinburgh nights with Walter Scott|
|The place I sit to learn about our house|
And then there is the story of a certain school administrator who I discovered had a boyfriend who still lived with his parents in our house many years ago. "Ooh, the fun I've had in your lounge!" she merrily told me. Our lounge was his bedroom, as the family rented out the top of the house to lodgers working on the railway. I've never quite felt the same about the four walls surrounding our sofa since.