BBC A House Through Time - Portsmouth professor reveals how to uncover secrets of your property’s past

A UNIVERSITY professor and contributor appearing on BBC Two’s hit series A House Through Time has revealed how people can unearth the secrets of their property’s past.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 5:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th May 2020, 3:26 pm
University of Portsmouth professor, Deborah Sugg Ryan, takes people on a journey through time by investigating the history of peoples' homes.

Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan appears on the BBC show which chronicles lives of selected homes from construction to their varying inhabitants.

And the academic has recently been investigating the former occupants of her own house and street.

Prof Sugg Ryan, who is a professor of design history at the University of Portsmouth, lives in Southsea in an area originally known as Havelock Park.

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She said: ‘It can be fascinating to find out about your house’s past.

‘You really feel like you get to know the people who lived there and develop an affinity for them. My house was built in the 1870s and at the time was known as Miden House.

‘It was first owned by retired army captain, William Smith and his wife Mary. They had five sons and a daughter.’

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It was the couple’s daughter, Thiriza, which really sparked the professors imagination. Unusually for the time, Thiriza inherited the house and lived there until she died in 1946.

Professor Sugg Ryan said: ‘After being educated at the Byculla School for Daughters of Educated and Professional Men she attended the University of London - highly unusual for a woman in this period.

‘I often wonder why she never married although it was quite common for a sister to run a house looking after her brothers.’

While much of her research has used digitised historic Census data and rent books, she said archived newspaper reports, including those from the then Portsmouth Evening News, has provided a fascinating insight into life on her street.

Hundreds of thousands of newspapers dating back centuries have now been digitised on the British Newspaper Archives.

Professor Sugg Ryan said: ‘One of the stories was about Colonel Jameson, a 70 year old retired Colonel from the Indian Army, being involved in a collision with a chauffeur driven motor car.

‘This is an unusual story as there were so few motorcars in 1915.’

Budding historians can tune in and see Deborah tonight – Monday, May 26 – in the first episode of the new series which focuses on an eighteenth century house in Guinea Street, Bristol, which was first occupied by a captain of a slaving ship.

It follows on from two previous series set in Liverpool and in Ashington.

The professor said: ‘My favourite investigation was about John Bell, who lived in Ashington. He was taken as a prisoner of war in 1941 and we uncovered his diaries about what life was like living in the camps.’

For anyone wanting to investigate the history of their house Prof Sugg Ryan said it’s best to start with more recent history ‘and look to work your way back’.

‘The 1939 register was taken at the start of the war is a good place to start,’ she added.

The historical expert said Portsmouth History Centre is a good place to launch any investigations as it has free access to census data and news archives as well as a free information leaflet on how to investigate your house.

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