Hidden Histories: Britain's Oldest Family Businesses

Durtnell the Builder

Series 1 - Episode 3 Durtnell the Builder



“Sometimes you think it would just be nice to have a day of good news,” says the rather glum Alex Durtnell, who has recently succeeded his father as the chief executive of R Durtnell & Sons, Britain’s oldest building company.

The recession hasn’t been kind to the construction industry, but Durtnell & Sons seems to have weathered the storm, not for the first time in its 423-year history. A rummage in the archives reveals how previous generations were forced to rethink the business’s carpentry roots after the Fire of London eradicated demand for timber frame houses.

Alex also explores the business’s contribution to two war efforts and visits some of the Durtnell-built country piles and council estates that trace both his family’s trajectory and that of the British building industry.


Documentary following Alex Durtnell, a man whose family has been in the building trade for more than 400 years, as he journeys through the centuries to discover properties his ancestors created - some of which date back to the reign of Elizabeth I. Narrated by Margaret Mountford. Last in the series.

Cast & Crew

Narrator Margaret Mountford
Executive Producer Lucy Willis
Series Director Chris Durlacher