Sue and Peter Cullimore researched the history of their home and have published a book about it, after it was shortlisted for the recent BBC TV history series A House Through Time, presented by David Olusoga.

Here Peter Cullimore writes about what inspired the writing project.

LOOKING back 60 years, my earliest school memory is of a house in Dursley. Here I was taught to read, write and add up by Miss Newth. She ran a private day school from her home in The Knapp, known affectionately to everyone as “Miss Newth’s”.

It had just 12 pupils, boys and girls from the age of four to about seven. At “playtime” we chased around in her back garden, or played cricket on Dursley Rec, with Miss Newth bowling. She took us on nature walks along a footpath towards Cam. In the classroom her aged mother, called Mrs Newth, sat watching the lessons. It had been her school previously.

I was reminded of those days when writing a new book on the history of where I live now, an 18th century house in the Montpelier district of Bristol.

Its early residents included one of two sisters known as the “Misses Phippen”. Mary and Charlotte Phippen also ran small private schools in their own home, but in their case for girls from poor families. Miss Newth’s came at the tail end of a long tradition.

The not-for-profit book, Saints, Crooks & Slavers, has been co-written with my wife Sue. She’s a retired teacher and lecturer herself, and taught Geography at Stroud Girls’ High School in the 1970s and 80s, where she was “Miss Walker”. After Miss Newth’s, I became a pupil at Wycliffe College in Stonehouse for the rest of my own school education.

The writing project was inspired by our house being shortlisted for the recent TV history series A House Through Time, presented by David Olusoga. Although the BBC eventually chose a property in central Bristol instead, we got hooked on doing research ourselves into the origins and colourful past residents of 60 Fairfield Road. It’s been home to Sue and me for 34 years.

Before that we lived in Cheltenham, where I began my career in journalism as a trainee reporter on the Gloucestershire Echo in the 1970s. I then moved on to the newsroom at Severn Sound, followed by BBC Radio Bristol.

Montpelier is on the north side of Bristol and lay in Gloucestershire until 1832. Our house was built on land owned by the Bearpacker family, clothiers from Wotton-under-Edge.

Its first developer and resident in the late 1700s, a Quaker named Shurmer Bath, had close links with the slave trade. He twice married into the family of a slave owner, who had sold his plantation in Barbados for a small fortune.

Our book came out during the recent lockdown. It was also just as the slavery issue re-ignited in such dramatic fashion, with the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol and the Black Lives Matter movement spreading worldwide.

As well as describing the many fascinating past occupants of our ‘house through time’, the book offers detailed advice on researching your own home. These practical tips were compiled by Sue, with help from a senior archivist.

Saints, Crooks & Slavers is unusual in being a detailed house history written by us the residents, rather than an expert historian. In our research we taught ourselves about censuses, births, deaths and marriage records, old trade directories, and a labyrinth of other sources, along the way.

It’s been a steep learning curve, but house detective work like this is a lot of fun. I recommend it as a welcome distraction in these grim times.

Saints, Crooks & Slavers is available for £12 in the Stroud Bookshop at 23 High Street, Stroud, and from Max Minerva’s bookshop at Westbury Park in Bristol:

You can also order it online from Max Minerva’s or the publisher, Bristol Books:

Or get it direct from us, the authors, by emailing or text 07730 493872, and we’ll post you a copy.

By Peter Cullimore