David Olusoga uncovers the history of a single house in Bristol.
David traces the history of an 18th-century sea captain’s house near Bristol’s docks with links to the slave trade. Bristol was a major port in the transportation of slaves from Africa’s Guinea Coast to the Caribbean, and both the man who built the house and its first full-time resident were heavily involved in the trade. David uncovers stories of piracy, abandoned babies, a household slave who made a daring escape from the property, and a protest on the doorstep as the abolitionist movement gained momentum.
David traces the house’s fortunes in the 18th and 19th centuries. He begins by investigating the death of owner Joseph Holbrook, and discovering why his daughter was written out of the will. A later resident of the home rises to become mayor in the 1830s, but had to find a way to prevent riots that had ravaged the city years earlier from occurring again. David also delves into the life of a servant who worked in the house in the 1870s, only to leave domestic servitude for an abusive marriage, and discovers how a successful teacher who later owned the house ended up committed to an asylum.
David explores the house’s history from the 1880s to the First World War, a period that saw the property sliding down the social scale and turning from a family home to a multiple occupancy. He discovers how a resident responded to the death of his baby daughter by opening a milk bar for the temperance movement, only to get into legal trouble for watering down his product. David also discovers the story behind a mysterious occupant who lived in the house under a pseudonym and learns how the battle of Passchendaele changed the residents’ lives forever.
David traces the lives of 10 Guinea Street’s occupants through the Second World War to the present day, discovering stories of love, loss and renewal. In the run-up to the war, the house is occupied by the younger generation of the Wallingtons, the long-term owners of number 10, who move back to the house after several years living in the rural Somerset. The Wallingtons are letting rooms to lodgers when war is declared in 1939, and would have sheltered in their cellar as German bombs rained down on Bristol. Over the 10 months of the Bristol Blitz, the ancient city is devastated and 3,000 houses destroyed. Number 10 itself is almost among them, as a bomb falls directly on Guinea Street, only missing the house by a whisker.