CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night's TV
CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: A gruesome peek through the curtains of a house of horrors
A House Through Time
Wonders Of Scotland
Two elegant and demure young ladies in a cartoon from the satirical magazine Punch in 1864 are breathlessly discussing the latest sensation novel.
‘A man marries his grandmother,’ gasps one. ‘Fourteen persons are poisoned by a young and beautiful girl! Forgeries by the dozen — perfectly delicious!’
The Victorians loved a good sensation, rushing to buy rollercoaster thrillers by writers such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Historian Professor David Olusoga captured that trend precisely, as he returned with A House Through Time (BBC2).
The Victorians loved a good sensation, rushing to buy rollercoaster thrillers by writers such as Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Historian Professor David Olusoga captured that trend precisely, as he returned with A House Through Time (BBC2)
Tracing the successive tenants and owners of an end-of-terrace, three-bedroomed villa in Headingley, Leeds, he spun stories of murder, cholera, child labour, bankruptcy and strychnine poisoning.
And he relished it. He has a sonorous style of storytelling: ‘Deep in the subterranean heart of Leeds,’ he intoned, ‘is a vast web of tunnels. They are called the Dark Arches.’
Among the horrors connected to Prof David’s house, No 5 Grosvenor Mount, was the death of a five-year-old boy, the son of a builder who lived at the address in the 1860s. The child, John, was playing in his father’s workshop yard beside a heap of burning sawdust when another boy pushed him into the fire. He suffered fatal burns and died that night.
If that sounds gruesome, it is overshadowed by the case of William Dove, a deranged killer who murdered his wife with rat poison.
A solicitor who lived at Grosvenor Mount when it was first built petitioned Queen Victoria to save the man from the death penalty. But William Dove didn’t help himself when he launched an appeal of his own . . . writing a letter in blood to Satan, promising his soul if the Devil would only rescue him from the gallows and keep him in beer and tobacco until he was 60.
When that letter was published in the newspapers, there really was a sensation. Dove was duly hanged.
For all the melodrama, the most touching story Prof David uncovered was hidden in a sale notice, for the auction of furniture at No 5. Everything was sold: the redwood piano, the dresser, the oil paintings — all the luxuries of middle-class Victorian family life.
They belonged to Rhodes Dawson, a spendthrift who squandered the fortune he made in the cloth trade. His wife Ann did all she could to set something aside for her two daughters — but when she died, she had barely £50 to her name.
Actor David Hayman rather wasted all his possible stories, travelling through the Highlands in Wonders Of Scotland (ITV)
Ann grew up with a single mother and, as a child, worked in a cotton mill as a ‘reeler’, crawling under the machines to clean them. She married a wealthy merchant at 22 but he caught cholera and died within hours.
Widowed and well-off, this factory girl caught the eye of the wastrel Rhodes Dawson. He married her and, it seems, set about spending her money.
Now there’s a plot worthy of Mrs Braddon.
Actor David Hayman rather wasted all his possible stories, travelling through the Highlands in Wonders Of Scotland (ITV).
He never stopped in one place long enough to dig below the surface. We glimpsed stunning vistas, flew past fascinating places and sped on to the next.
On Easdale in the Inner Hebrides, an island with no roads, cars or streetlamps and just 60 inhabitants, he met a champion stone-skimmer who demonstrated how to make a flat pebble bounce across the water of a flooded quarry.
David watched but didn’t hang around to have a go. He met a prawn fisherman, too, at Loch Leven and simply helped carry a couple of boxes of shellfish off his boat.
For goodness’ sake, David, slow down! No need to be constantly chasing the next sensation.
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