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Hidden heritage is in the spotlight for Secret Homes series

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 30, 2013

By Su Carroll

  • Historian Bettany Hughes, top, examines the portrait of Henry VIII revealed during the restoration of a centuries-old house in Somerset, shown above

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A new television series opens the front door on some of the country's hidden heritage.

Britain's Secret Homes, which begins on ITV1 on Friday, June 7, explores all properties great and small and is produced in partnership with English Heritage.

Presenters Bettany Hughes and Michael Buerk are joined by celebrities including Sir David Jason, Ricky Tomlinson, Twiggy and Michael Portillo for the five-part series.

"We're counting down the top 50 secret homes in Britain," says historian Bettany.

"Extraordinary, little known places with amazing stories that tell us who we are and how we once lived. The homes on our list span more than 30,000 years of human history in Britain and each one reveals something new about our ancestors."

Two contrasting Westcountry homes feature in the first episode. Rhodri Powell and Angie Sage, from Taunton in Somerset, share with Bettany the astonishing discovery they made after deciding to renovate their home. When stripping plaster from the living room wall, they unveiled a 500-year-old portrait of King Henry VIII.

Angie says: "We got a plasterer in to re-skim it…We were so excited, we thought he'd found a freeze. Then he got to the eyes, looking through the dust, and we just went, 'Wow'."

When the pope wouldn't let him divorce his first wife, Henry VIII seized control of the church himself and it was the beginning of the Church of England as we know it.

The couple's house was the official residence of the local archdeacon, one of the churchmen who were tasked with managing the religious transition.

Even more astonishingly, experts believe there is a secret message encoded within the portrait. When viewed upside down, it appears to show the head of the devil so it seems the painter might have incorporated a secret, subversive message in about the King.

In Cornwall, railway enthusiast Michael Portillo meets a man after his own heart.

Jim Higgins lives near Helston in a railway carriage bought by his father-in-law as a home in 1931.

Building regulations meant that the carriage couldn't be moved, so it was converted to bedrooms and the bungalow had to be built around the 130-year-old Great Western Railway carriage, named Waverly, to house it.

Michael says: "This is not only a beautiful piece of restoration that would gladden the heart of any railway enthusiast, it's also a sort of window on Cornish history."

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