Town on TV for BBC history programme

David Olusoga. Picture courtesy of the BBC.
David Olusoga. Picture courtesy of the BBC.

A house in Morpeth has featured on a BBC Two series that traces the social and political history of Britain through the inhabitants of a single home.

After series one of A House Through Time – which gave viewers a glimpse of Liverpool’s history – was well-received, historian David Olusoga uncovers stories of the varied residents of a terraced house in Newcastle’s West End in series two.

The Morpeth link comes in episode two. It is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

In 1861, the featured house on Ravensworth Terrace, Newcastle, is occupied by elderly widow Mary Colbeck, living there with her 13-year-old grandson James Todd.

Peeling back 10 years to the 1851 census, David discovers that Mary Colbeck is a well-to-do landowner. She lives on a large estate and owns farms, including Horton Grange, near Ponteland.

James is one of eight children, the son of Mary’s daughter Margaret, who married industrialist Frederick Todd. Frederick’s family owned a large glass-making factory on the banks of the Tyne.

David discovers through court documents and newspaper articles that the business fell into financial difficulty and, threatened by the forced sale of his factory, Frederick attacked one of his creditors with a knife before trying to take his own life in 1858.

He received a six-month prison sentence and he lost his business.

The scandal not only damaged the family’s reputation, but forced Mary to sell her estate in the country and downsize to Ravensworth Terrace in order to free up money to support her family.

The 1861 census states that Margaret and Frederick moved to Morpeth, David says ‘presumably to escape the scandal.’

With the help of an old map, he goes to the house in the town centre that the couple and their seven other children moved into as the current owners allowed him to have a look around the property and film in the hallway and one of the rooms.

They had a ninth child, but their situation turned tragic after David uncovers death certificates from 1864 and 1867 and he reads from a newspaper report that revealed one of the deaths happened in extraordinary circumstances.

Of the four-part series as a whole, David said: “I was brought up on Tyneside, so coming to the North East to film the second series was coming home. I am as proud of my North East roots as my African heritage and think of myself a Nigerian Geordie.

“This series, as far as I’m concerned, is a love letter to the North East. I hope viewers are reminded of all we have been through in the past, what the generations before us achieved and all they went through to build a region we have today.”