Two houses with important connections to Jews in Britain are to be featured on a prime-time television show revealing the little-known and intriguing stories behind landmark buildings.
Latimer House in Wiltshire and The Jews’ House in Lincoln will be profiled in ITV’s Top 10 Britain’s Secret Homes on Friday. The two sites were selected for the programme by English Heritage.
Latimer House was used as a British intelligence nerve-centre during the Second World War. Some 100 Jewish-German refugees, known as “secret listeners”, served in a unit translating information taken from bugged conversations between enemy prisoners kept in the house’s cellar.
Historian Helen Fry, who appears on the programme, said: “Those who had fled for their lives became the most valuable assets to British intelligence against Germany. Thanks to this unit, we discovered the V1 and V2 and were able to bomb sites to set back Hitler’s rocket programme.”
She added: “Alongside [the codebreakers at] Bletchley Park, this unit has to be credited with bringing about the end of the war. From the thousands of transcripts, you realise there was nothing we didn’t know about Nazi Germany and it was the German-Jewish refugees who were picking up all of the information.”
On the show, actor Sir David Jason accompanies 96-year-old Paul Douglas on his return to the house for the first time in 70 years. Mr Douglas is one of three “secret listeners” still alive today.
Ms Fry said: “Having thought he hadn’t done very much, Mr Douglas can now feel incredibly proud… he can realise how important this unit was for winning the war.”
The Jews House, one of the oldest stone houses surviving in Britain, was home to Bellaset of Wallingford, a Jewish woman who was hanged in 1284 in an example of persecution faced by the country’s Jewish community.
She was accused of coin clipping — cutting pieces from silver coins to melt down and use for her purposes.
Today the building is a restaurant, but it remains a reminder of the campaign of terror and extortion inflicted on Jews at the time.
In the programme, actress Ronni Ancona, who is Jewish, visits the house and expresses her admiration that Jews were able to make a important contribution to medieval society, “despite constant persecution and prejudice”.