Rome, Italy: Keats-Shelley House

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When it came down to a choice between visiting the Napoleonic Museum and the Keats-Shelley House, there was really no question over which museum was going to emerge victorious.  Seeing the room where a tubercular English poet died trumps looking at the art collection of a Corsican dictator any day!  The Keats-Shelley House is located at the foot of the Spanish Steps, so getting inside involves dodging hordes of tourists and jerks trying to sell you crap, but you will be instantly rewarded upon entering the cool, calm interior of the house.  The house is considered a British museum abroad, and it was a refreshing and much needed taste of home.  Entrance was 5 euros, and everything inside the museum is in English only, which was a rare treat (though I could see Italian people justifiably being annoyed by this).

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Upon climbing the steps from the gift shop up to the museum, I was pretty much instantly in heaven, as the walls of the rooms were completely lined with books (now THIS was a proper library, unlike Leighton’s lame attempt).  I began with the Severn and Keats rooms, which is where the poet and his friend lived in the weeks leading up to Keats’s early death. John Keats is of course famous for his poetry, most notably “Ode to a Nightingale” and “On a Grecian Urn,”  but because Keats died in the house, much of the focus here is on his death – as I am a lover of medical history, this was a-ok with me!  Keats had been suffering from tuberculosis for some years before he came to Rome; his mother and one of his brothers had already died of the contagious disease, and it was recommended that he go to Italy, as the climate might have improved his health, but he suffered a relapse and died not long after arriving, at the age of 25.  His companion was Joseph Severn, a friend and painter, who took the room adjoining Keats.  Both of these rooms are now filled with cases about Keats’s life and death.

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There were a few life masks of Keats, as well as numerous portraits of him.  Disturbingly, I think the closer he got to death, the better looking he became, but I’ve always had a weird fetish for all those tubercular English Romantics (yes, I know TB is a terrible disease that still kills many people in developing countries, but I think I’ve absorbed some of the Regency and Victorian romanticism relating to it).  Unfortunately, because Italian law at the time required destroying all the furniture in a house where someone died from tuberculosis, none of the furniture in Keats’s room is original.  Even the wallpaper was destroyed (though the ceiling tiles survived), and the house itself was narrowly saved from destruction by intervention from the US (led by TR) and other governments in the early 1900s.  However, the view from the window is much the same as it was in Keats’s day, and you can delight in the same views of the crowd that Keats enjoyed before he was confined to his bed.

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The house is also devoted in part to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to a lesser extent, Lord Byron (though I suspect he was just dragged in to add some sex appeal).  Even Shelley’s connection to the actual house is tenuous at best; he did live in Rome for a time, but not at the same time as Keats, and he and Keats never met, although they did correspond with each other, and Shelley wrote an ode to Keats after he died.  However, they were both English Romantic poets, and Shelley drowned a year after Keats, and was buried in the same cemetery (the Non-Catholic Cemetery -I would have liked to visit, but we just plain ran out of time, plus we were ever so tired of walking), so why not include him?  I think in this day and age, Percy Shelley has probably been eclipsed by his wife, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, so it was nice to learn a bit more about him.  The museum had a lock of his and Keats’s hair, and again, a few portraits.

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Of course, Byron’s flamboyant personality meant that the section devoted to him was the liveliest in the museum (Keats’s was the most poignant, particularly the letters from his sister Fanny to his fiancee, Fanny Brawne).  It included a Carnival mask of an old man that Byron delighted in wearing, and a rather pompous-looking sketch of the poet.  In one of those snarky little touches of humour that I adore in a museum, its caption featured a quote from Marianne Hunt who said that in it, Byron looked like, “a great schoolboy who had a plain bun given to him instead of a plum one,” which cracked me right up (even though personally I’d much prefer the plain bun – I do not understand the English obsession with fruited breads and cakes).  This room also had an extensive collection of correspondence from all the main poets featured here, as well as Mary Shelley.

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This etching of Keats was said by Severn to make him look like a “sneaking fellow,” which also made me laugh.

The Keats-Shelley House proved to be a much needed little oasis of quiet in the middle of the often overwhelming city of Rome, and I’m very glad I went here instead of the Napoleonic Museum (though the Napoleonic might well be just as good, I’ll put it on the list for next time!).  I adored all the British humour on show, and relished the opportunity to learn more about Keats and Shelley.  I found it a well-run, lovely museum, and advise anyone tired of the bustle of Roman life to pay it a visit!  4/5

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After seeing the Spanish Steps, I appreciated the tranquility of the museum all the more!

Rome, Italy: Criminology Museum (Museo Criminologico)

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You likely won’t be surprised to hear that I hightailed it over to the Criminology Museum in Rome shortly after arriving there for a long weekend (yes, I know I’m weird, but it was my third trip to Rome, so I’d already seen most of the ruins and junk).  Though I really did enjoy the City of London Police Museum, I’m still completely puzzled as to why British police museums seem to think the British public have such delicate sensibilities.  Much like the wonderfully gory Danish Police Museum, the Italians were not afraid to put the nastier side of humanity on show.  I couldn’t tell you exactly where the museum is, as I walked about a million miles that weekend and have no sense of direction anyway, but I will helpfully note that it is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and open from 9-1 on the other days (and I think reopens after a siesta break on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:30-6:30).  Admission is 2 euro, which is a bargain by Roman standards, and because it is not in a touristy area, there are no beggars or street pedlars to contend with, which was probably the best part of all (and one of the few times we’d be free of them all weekend)!

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Although the museum was primarily in Italian, the curators had a clear understanding of human nature, and thus had the foresight to put English captions on the torture devices and stories of serial killers (which is obviously what everyone comes to see).  The section on torture and execution was right at the start of the museum, and contained a mix of the standard, well-documented punishments (pillory, stocks, etc), and the fanciful (an iron maiden, which has pretty much been proven to be a Georgian fabrication, though the museum display didn’t reflect this).  My favourite part was the miniatures of methods of execution, which had been made by prisoners in the early 20th century.  They managed to combine the adorableness of tiny things with the hideous gruesomeness of medieval punishments; at least, I was certainly impressed (I mean, I never expected to “awww” over a man being ripped apart by horses, but if you overlook the bloody man lying spread-eagle in the centre, it’s awfully cute).

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Moving on through the hall of torture devices, we came to the room of executions, which held a few early guillotines and a gibbet with a skeleton still hanging in it (according the the caption, it was the remains of a deserter in the British Army, but I think most of the signage in the museum has to be taken with a grain of salt, if the iron maiden is anything to go by).  As you might expect from a predominately Catholic country, there was a whole elaborate ritual surrounding executions in Italy, which involved a “comforter” who would provide religious solace to the condemned.  Unfortunately, their outfit included a Klan style hood (you may have seen people wearing them in the religious procession in The Godfather 2), which is scarcely comforting, though I suppose if I knew I was going to be executed later that day, I’d be well past the point of consoling anyway.  The comforter would follow the prisoner’s cart to the place of execution whilst bearing a large crucifix, and then offer the prisoner a final drink from a special cup, whilst priests would try to solicit donations from the crowd (for the church, presumably, as the condemned man wasn’t going to get much benefit from them!).

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Lord Byron and Charles Dickens both witnessed Italian executions in the 19th century, and were horrified by the gruesome and barbaric nature of the events (Dickens more so than Byron, as the latter seemed to have a certain appreciation for the pomp of the ceremony surrounding it).  Although Italy abolished capital punishment in 1948, the artefacts here serve as a grim reminder of that period in Italian history (and incidentally, that picture at the start of the post is a death mask of a hanged man, which was obviously not a great way to go, though relative to some of the other methods available, not that horrific).

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The floor above this was mostly about the Italian police, and was primarily only in Italian, though there were some cracking pictures (although I’m not exactly sure what they were portraying.  Policemen doing their job despite dramatic events, I guess.).  They included some examples of the uniforms prisoners would have worn, which were stylishly stripey, and surprisingly jaunty.  I don’t know who the man shown below is, but his picture made me laugh.

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There also appeared to be a display on the ways criminals could be identified, with an analysis of types of nose and ear shapes.  There was also a random human ear inside glass, no idea who it belonged to or why it was there!

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There was a pretty fantastic gallery at the end of the hall showing counterfeit objects confiscated by the police.  A lot of them were mock Etruscan jugs, some of which may have been used for bootlegging (the signs were a little confusing), but the best part were the forged paintings.  I’m not into modern art, so I don’t know if these paintings actually looked like the ones they were meant to be imitating, but even if they did, they were so ugly I can’t imagine why anyone would want to buy them in the first place!  The most hilarious thing had to be a fake Michael Bolton CD; why would you even bother counterfeiting such a thing?

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The second floor had pictures of Italy’s most notorious serial killers.  The English signs resumed here, so I was a very happy camper.  Most of the featured killers were women, and the most interesting had to be the Correggio Soap Maker.  She’d evidently had quite a hard life; ten of her children had died in infancy, and she had four surviving children – the eldest was about to join the army at the outbreak of WWII.  So she thought she should make a sacrifice to try to keep him safe.  She invited three women she’d known in her hometown to come stay with her (at different times), and then systematically killed them all with an axe.  One of them she dissolved in acid, and saved the blood to bake into a cake, which she fed to neighbours and family.  The last one was boiled down, and she turned the fat into the “most acceptable creamy soap,” thus giving her the Soap Maker alias.  She was eventually caught, and put in an insane asylum where she later died.

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There were a few other stories of murder like that, though the Soap-Maker’s was the most graphic.  The museum concluded with a tour through the 20th century history of fascists and anarchists, and featured a few more little items that had been created by modern prisoners, including the devil head and sexy handkerchief shown below.

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The museum was on par with the Danish Police Museum in terms of grisliness – the Danish Museum may have had more shocking pictures, but the Roman Museum had at least some English, so you could actually read some of the fascinating accounts of crime and murder.  I was very pleased with the large size of the museum for the price, and would recommend it to those visiting Rome who need a break from all the crowds around the main tourist sites!  The only complaint I have is that I wish that everything could have had an English translation, but I was ultimately grateful that they had any at all.  4/5

 

 

 

 

London: City of London Police Museum

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First let me make things perfectly clear: the City of London Police Museum is NOT the infamous Black Museum.  If it were, I would probably be peeing my pants with delight right now at having been allowed in (sorry if that image grossed you out).  Instead, it is a rather nice little museum inside the City Police Headquarters on Wood Street, just around the corner from the Guildhall.  The museum is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only, from 11-4, and is free of charge.

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Police Call Box. It was just as small as it looked on the inside, although apparently the butchers at Smithfield Market used to leave meat inside for the officers to collect after their shifts.

I was kind of apprehensive about stepping into a police station after my experiences with police museums in America, where the officers rudely barked orders at me as soon as I stepped in the door; fortunately, their British counterparts were lovely (no airport style screening system in sight!), and showed me into a hallway where a tour was just starting.  I hadn’t realised that the museum would feature a tour; I’m normally averse to them, but in this case, I think it was a good thing, as it turned out there wasn’t too much information in the museum cases.  In addition, the volunteer giving the tour was a retired officer who had been on the scene during the Moorgate Tube Disaster in 1975, so he had some very interesting stories to tell.  We began in the hallway, which held a display of photographs, and he explained each one a little bit.  I liked the promotional ones from the ’20s and ’30s showing self-defence training, which included actual fencing, and boxing, amongst other techniques (it would admittedly be kind of hilarious if a criminal just whipped out an epee and mask and started thrusting and parrying).  Bob, the tour guide, told us a story about the bodies that get washed up on the shore of the Thames; apparently, one day they were looking for parts of a murder victim who’d been hacked into pieces, but all the restaurants along the river would throw their meat detritus and things onto the beach, so they had to pick through all kinds of animal bones to try to find human remains.  Bob was quite full of grisly but entertaining anecdotes like this, which were the highlight of the tour.

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Helmet of an officer caught in the blast of an IRA bomb in front of the Old Bailey. He was seriously injured, but the helmet saved his life.

Once we finally made it into the actual museum (at which point our little group had swelled to five people – the museum was proving surprisingly popular), we were allowed to try on a helmet and pose for pictures (I was making a really stupid face, as usual, so I won’t post it here). The City Police and the Metropolitan Police are two separate entities, and one of the ways you can tell which is which (other than identifying badges and the like) is by their helmet shape.  City Police have a raised hump down the centre of their helmets; the Met’s have a rounded top and a rose on them.  We also learned about the evolution of the uniforms; officers were initially issued with a top hat, which had a bamboo lining, so that they could stand on it to see over walls and the like.  It was changed to the modern style of helmet at some point in the 1870s.

Noisemaker used by night watchmen (known as Charlies) and early policemen to alert other officers of a crime scene.

Noisemaker used by night watchmen (known as Charlies) and early policemen to alert other officers of a crime scene.

The cases were crammed pretty full of stuff, including an array of uniforms, medals, and photographs, but as I said before, there wasn’t tonnes of signage, so it was lucky we had Bob to explain things to us.  Another one of his stories was about incendiary devices dropped by Germans on London early on in the Blitz – an officer climbed on the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and was catching the bombs and throwing them off so that they didn’t set the dome on fire, for which he later received a medal (the bombs were skinny tubes, only about two feet long (there’s one in the museum), and they came down on parachutes and didn’t detonate until they hit the ground, which is how he was able to accomplish this feat without having his arms incinerated).

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I was very keen to hear what he had to say about Moorgate, since he mentioned being there that day.  In 1975, a Circle Line train crashed through the barriers at Moorgate Station, and went through a wall, which swallowed up the first two cars entirely (see diagram above).  43 people died as a result, and 74 more were injured, including a policewoman who was trapped in the second carriage, and had to have her foot amputated so they could pull her out.  The driver failed to stop, which is what caused the crash (rather than a mechanical failure), but they didn’t find drugs or alcohol in his system, so they’ve no idea why he didn’t brake.  They had quite a few photographs from the day on display here, and some diagrams depicting the aftermath.

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Wall of Ripper memorabilia

Of course, most people come to the museum to hear about Jack the Ripper, so Bob spent a fair amount of time in this corner explaining the case.  As I just attended a lecture by Donald Rumbelow a few months ago, I didn’t really learn anything new, but that’s largely because I think he used to work at the City Police Museum, and may have had a hand in curating the display.  At any rate, it would have been informative for people who didn’t know much about Jack, and they did have some gruesome photos of the victims up, for those who are into that sort of thing (not judging, I’m fascinated by that kind of stuff myself!

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Pictures of known criminals. Because the station did not have a photographic department at that time, suspects were sent to a local photography studio to be photographed for the records, hence the formal poses of the subjects.

The other main crime story of note was one about an attempted jewelery heist in the Jewish section of East London, known as the Houndsditch Murders.  Three officers were shot trying to prevent it, which is the largest number of City officers killed at one time.  The robbers were Russian/Latvian anarchists, who were trying to steal jewels to finance the Russian Revolution (which hadn’t happened yet, obviously), and they holed themselves up in a building until Winston Churchill (Home Secretary at the time) agreed to bring in the Army to assist. This led to a shoot out until the building caught on fire; the robbers died in the inferno rather than give themselves up.  The only one who escaped was the mastermind, known as Peter the Painter.  His exact identity remains a mystery, but it is rumoured that he was a man called Yakov Peters who subsequently returned to Russia, and was given a position as head of security for Lenin (post-Revolution).  He was later executed by the Soviets.

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There were many other objects on display (though it was a small space), such as the Olympic Medals won by the City Police Tug of War team (back when Tug of War was an Olympic sport, those must have been the days!), counterfeit bills, and materials relating to Police Horses.  I think there could have been a lot more done with murders and the like, as there was certainly nothing approaching the goriness of the Danish Police Museum, but I appreciate that not being everyone’s cup of tea (plus I suspect the really good stuff is hidden away at the Black Museum).  Still, even just more tales of crime in the City would have spiced things up.  Nevertheless, I was very grateful for Bob’s anecdotes, as he really helped to flesh out the museum’s contents, and definitely made them more interesting than just staring into the cases would have been.

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I will say that you should set aside quite a bit of time to tour this museum; it certainly took much longer than I expected, as I wasn’t aware I would be given a tour, but it is worth staying to listen.  The only caveat is that you might have to wait awhile if a tour is in session when you arrive, as Bob was the only volunteer on duty when I visited, and several latecomers were told to wait whilst I was there, so arriving near the 11 am opening time might be a good bet.  It doesn’t have the shock value of other police museums I’ve visited, but it does have a certain quiet dignity, and you will learn lots about the history of the City Police force, and notable crimes in the City (I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you by sharing Bob’s stories, but they were too good to not tell those of you who might not be able to visit the museum, and there were quite a few other facts that I haven’t mentioned!).  It’s well worth checking out (and thanks to Bob for an ace tour!).

London: Leighton House Museum

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Leighton House is the subject of this post solely because it was right by Holland Park, where I ended up last weekend, and not because it was really somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit.  In fact, I didn’t even know much about its former owner,  Frederic Leighton, who was evidently one of the most famous artists of the 19th century; not being very into art, I’d only heard him mentioned in passing, and couldn’t have told you the name of any of his works.  His house is now owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and managed by the Friends of Leighton House, who also run 18 Stafford Terrace, which was Linley Sambourne’s home (Victorian cartoonist for Punch, therefore probably someone I would have been more interested in than Leighton, but alas, his home is open by guided tour only).

I feel like I come across on here as being quite cantankerous, and this post isn’t going to do anything to dispel that notion. Leighton House irked me straightaway because of the snobby demeanor of the woman working the admissions desk.  There was really no need for her to sneer at us because we don’t have a National Trust membership (apparently English Heritage membership isn’t good enough, though honestly I think they’re both equally middle class things to have), and I was even more annoyed when she asked if we wanted a “guidebook” for 50p extra, I said, “no,’ and she charged us for it anyway.  As we’d paid by card, it wasn’t worth demanding a refund for a lousy 50p, but it was the principle of the thing, particularly as the guidebook was awfully crappy – basically just a brochure that would have been free anywhere else.

So after paying £5 each (plus the unwanted guidebook charge), my boyfriend and I were dismayed to discover that the house only consisted of about 6 rooms (and you’re not allowed to take pictures).  Fortunately, there were at least free information sheets in each room, so that we could learn a little bit about the objects inside, as well as Frederic Leighton (since I knew almost nothing about him).  Unfortunately, the information on Leighton himself was scanty, and assumed a fair bit of background knowledge on the part of the visitor, so that whilst I now know basic facts about his life (dates of birth and death, names of siblings, etc.), and that he had a favourite model called Dorothy Dene, with whom he may or may not have been having an affair (or he might have been gay, no one really knows), I still don’t really get why he was important and beloved by the Victorian establishment.

To be fair, some of the downstairs rooms were really neat.  The most famous room is the Arab Hall, which has a fountain in the middle, and is adorned with antique Islamic tiles and stained glass. Very peaceful, and would lend itself well to contemplation, assuming one doesn’t need a wee.  I was unimpressed with the library since it only contained about 50 books, which I feel made the room frankly undeserving of its title.  Presumably the books there were only a part of Leighton’s collection, but still, if I had a library, that room would be crammed floor to ceiling with books (except for the hidden passageway, and the spiral staircases to the upper floor, of course). Poor effort on Leighton’s part.  However, I loved the Narcissus Hall, which was lined with gorgeous blue tiles, and had an excellent bench seat built into the staircase with a stuffed peacock next to it, where I would probably spend all my time curled up with a book from my obviously far more extensive collection, if it were my house (my boyfriend said I would probably talk to the stuffed peacock too, and he’s not wrong, but I reckon it’s marginally better than talking to myself).  There was also a dining room that Queen Victoria visited at one point, and a garden that wasn’t open to the public, though you could peek at it from the window.

Upstairs, there was Leighton’s “monastic-style bedroom” (he lived alone all his adult life, bar a few servants, which is why there is much speculation about his sexuality), and the Silk Room, which was really more of a nook – it had walls papered in green silk, hence the name (William Morris wallpaper was in the supposedly “spartan” bedroom), and was hung with lots of artwork by Leighton and his friends, including a large portrait by Millais of a girl shelling peas.  His studio was massive, and dominated that floor of the house, but there wasn’t much in it except for paintings and a creaky wooden floor. Leighton’s own artwork, at least, the pieces in his house, seemed to consist mainly of sculpture and portraiture; they weren’t really my style, which is perhaps why I wasn’t hugely in love with his house.

That was basically all there was to the place, though his bathroom and a few other areas were closed off to the public (there were public toilets, you just couldn’t look inside Leighton’s loo; disappointing); it took less than half an hour to look around, which made me fairly unhappy about the 5 quid entrance fee, but it is a high-rent area, after all, and I’m sure there is a fair deal of upkeep.  I was very partial to the Arab and Narcissus Halls, but the rest of the house really wasn’t anything special.  Probably worth popping in if you’re a National Trust member, as they get half price entry (which I guess was the reason for the snobbiness of the staff, though why would you cop an attitude about someone paying full price?!), or if you are a fan of Leighton, but not great for those of us who didn’t know anything about him before visiting, and aren’t particular fans of Victorian art.  2.5/5

One Year Blogging Anniversary and some Highlights of the Past Year!

I just marked my one hundredth post last month, and now it’s been one year since I started this blog, so I wanted to take the opportunity to thank all my readers and followers for your support!  I’ve got some exciting trips planned in the coming months, including Rome, the North of England, and Thailand, which will also be my first trip to Asia!  I’m sure I’ll also be heading back to the States for a visit at some point too, so you can expect lots of new posts this year!  (Maybe I’ll actually find a job this year and/or find a way to make money at this whole freelancing thing, so I’ll be able to afford even more holidays in future.)

Anyway, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to visit so many places this past year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about some of my adventures.  I also really enjoyed getting to explore parts of London I hadn’t spent much time in before, and uncovering some hidden gems. I visited a tonne of great places, but some of the ones I really loved, and would recommend are: the Under the Pier show in Suffolk, the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in New York, the Museum of Everyday Life in Vermont, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Denmark, Dr. Guislain’s Museum in Belgium, and Crossness Pumping Station in London.

Of course, the most popular posts on my blog aren’t necessarily my favourite places (though some of them are), but I thought I’d link to some of them here for newer readers who might be interested.  My most popular post BY FAR (seriously, it has over 3 times as many hits as the runner-up) is the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in Thal, Austria.  I mean, I can see why; people love Arnie, and they had some great waxworks of him that I had a blast posing with.  Number 2 is Lake Bled in Slovenia, which was unbelievably gorgeous, and the dry toboggan run was definitely a highlight!  I wasn’t that enamoured with the Styrian Armoury in Graz after visiting it, but I think loads of people are interested in it (like I was, before I went there), judging by how many searches I get.  Finally, Mansfield Reformatory and Eyam Plague Village are two of my favourite creepy destinations, so I’m happy to see that other people seem to like them too!

Thanks to everyone for reading!  I hope I can continue to gain new followers in the coming year, and entertain those of you who’ve stuck around!

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Me and Arnie are giving you all a big thumbs up!

London: The Geffrye Museum

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After years of hearing about how great the Geffrye Museum was, I finally broke down and went.  I wasn’t doubting the quality of the museum, it was far more to do with the location, as I typically avoid East London like the plague, especially the hipster-centric Hoxton.  However, I found a friend willing to brave the mean streets of Shoreditch with me, so off we went.

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Even though the grounds are quite extensive, we somehow managed to walk right past the museum entirely, as we were on the opposite side of the road, and the directional signs that are usually on hand to point out attractions of note in London were absent (I guess they don’t fit in with the cool vibe).  Fortunately for my very limited budget, the Geffrye is a free museum, and except for a crowd of schoolchildren listening to a talk in the Victorian room, it was relatively quiet.

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Although the Geffrye is located inside a former Almshouse, it is devoted pretty much entirely to the living spaces of the “middling sorts,” (with the exception of the portion of the former almshouse that has been restored, which is only open to the public on the first Saturday of each month) which does rather ignore the fact that the former inhabitants of the building were themselves quite poor.  That said, I can see that most people probably don’t want to look round the sparse furnishings of an historically accurate lower class home, and it does at least mark a change from the emphasis on the rich and powerful in most historic homes.  The general setup in the pre-20th century galleries is a museum style room with cases of everyday objects and a sign showing the layout of a typical house from a particular era interspersed with a parlour done up in the furnishings of said era.  The rooms started in the 1600′s and progressed through the Victorian era, usually with two rooms taken from either end of a century.  Since I do love the odd bit of hands-on entertainment, I appreciated the cloth samples for touchin’ and the antique chairs for sittin’.  (I didn’t expect horsehair fabric to be so nice and smooth, though since Almanzo and Alice were able to slide off the horsehair upholstered chairs in their parlour in Farmer Boy, I guess that makes sense.)

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As the Geffrye is a museum of the home, I found the aforementioned diagrams showing the layout of the average home useful, as well as the descriptions of objects that would have helped to fill it, however, I think I could have done with more explanation on how each room was actually used.  Everything had been arranged beautifully, but a human touch felt oddly absent, and didn’t allow me to feel any sort of connection with the people who would have inhabited the rooms (assuming the rooms were in an actual house, and not inside a museum, of course).  For a museum of the home, it was oddly lacking in domesticity, and had a sterility that felt distinctly un-homely.  That being said, if you’d come simply to admire interiors, and document the changes in furnishings over the years, you’d be very happy indeed.

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In fact, the Geffrye seemed to actively encourage students, with an attractive garden reading room complete with mural wrapping around the rear of the building, and another well-appointed reading room next to it (which even included a book that I had been looking for when writing my dissertation years ago; nothing to do with the home, it was just with their general books on London).  Personally, I’d have rather sat and read in the early Victorian parlour, with its handsome blue couch.  The small former chapel of the almshouse was located in this section, and it was probably one of my favourite parts simply for its feeling of authenticity (the skull and crossbones bedecked memorial to Sir Robert Geffrye didn’t hurt either).

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The 20th century collections were in another gallery, and with the exception of the Edwardian room, which seemed very cozy indeed (this despite the heavy Arts & Crafts influence, which is definitely not my favourite aesthetic movement), these rooms reflected styles that are not really my cup of tea.  I know I’m probably a minority opinion, but I HATE mid-century architecture and furniture.  Clean lines and weird blocky furniture are just not my style.  Give me Victorian ostentation any day over some Swedish-inspired straight legged-tables (I will admit that most of my furniture is from IKEA, but this is only because half of it comes with my flat, so I can’t get rid of it, and the rest of it was the only stuff I could afford.  Believe me, if I ever come into money, my horrible, hideous, uncomfortable, blocky faux-leather couch is going to be the first thing to go.  I swear it’s doing my back in).

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That said, the ’60s-’70s room amusingly reminded me and my friend of the Brady Bunch house (I think it was the staircase), and the ’90s room was a little touch of nostalgia, what with its big, thick TV, and the nice collection of VHS.  If anything, these rooms felt more homey than the earlier ones, but that could be simply because they reflected a mode of living that I’m familiar with, so I could more easily picture how the rooms would be used.

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After finishing our tour of the galleries, we headed outside, since I had seen a sign on the desk saying that the graveyard was open (the rest of the gardens don’t open until April, even though it felt like spring already on the day we visited!).  It was very very small, and tucked away into a corner by the entrance gate, but did contain the graves of Robert Geffrye and his wife (Geffrye, as you may have guessed from his name, was the man who donated money to start the original almshouse), and three or four others.

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Although the Geffrye didn’t really cover domesticity in the way I had been hoping, I suppose there are a lot of other museums that serve that purpose, so the Geffrye does fill a more unique niche in the museum world.  In the end, I was glad I trekked all the way out to East London to see it, and would recommend it to others, though I wasn’t quite so enamoured of it as many other bloggers seem to be.  3.5/5

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I was, nonetheless, super happy to be sitting in this chair, though I think the cushy Victorian armchair was the most comfortable one I sampled.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Part 2: The Mary Rose Museum (and all the rest)

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Here’s part 2 of my outing in Portsmouth, which mainly means the new Mary Rose Museum.  I was probably more excited to see this than the Victory, even though I generally prefer Georgians to Tudors, simply because I think the history behind it is pretty incredible.  (Do you have the first version of the Gilligan’s Island theme song  (before the Professor and Mary Anne rated a mention) stuck in your head from my post title?  Just thought it would go with the maritime theme!)

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For those of you unfamiliar with its story, the Mary Rose was a Tudor ship (Henry VIII’s flagship) that famously suddenly sank during a skirmish with a French ship in 1545, thereby drowning most of the crew (only 25-30 people survived out of a crew of over 400).  Contrary to popular belief, the Mary Rose was actually a perfectly capable ship for the 34 years prior to sinking, so the theories as to why it sank are numerous, and include being hit by a French cannonball, a mistake during battle, or being toppled by the wind after extra guns had been loaded on board.  At any rate, the ship sat at the bottom of Portsmouth Harbor until 1982, when it was hauled up and preserved.  Because the ship is understandably fragile after being underwater for over 400 years, and only half the ship survives (the half that was covered up by silt, which protected it from various hungry and probably disgusting looking sea creatures), unlike the other ships at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it is kept inside the museum, with scaffolding to protect it.  The actual wood has been preserved by somehow replacing the water molecules inside it with wax, which is apparently quite a lengthy process (I’m not sure of all the science behind it, but it is briefly explained inside the museum).  The end result is amazing to behold, and the fact that half the ship is missing makes it into a convenient cross-section, so you can really admire the interior.

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Although the Mary Rose is undeniably the showpiece of the collection (and you can walk past it at multiple levels to give you the chance to admire every aspect, including a trip up a “viewing lift”), it is by no means the only incredible thing about this museum.  Because the ship sat undisturbed for so long, and many of the crew kept their possessions in heavy chests, it turned out to be a treasure trove of Tudor artefacts, most of which are on show in the museum’s galleries.  The museum has arranged them according to the type of people who would have been working on each deck of the ship, which makes for a trip through all the seafaring social classes. Common threads that united them all were the prevalence of fine combs, designed to remove lice, and the ubiquitous dagger (including my particular favourite, the “ballock” dagger, so named for its resemblance to a certain part of the male anatomy.  You can probably see what I mean from the example above).  So, you do see a lot of the same objects again and again, but there are enough tools that were unique to particular trades (I loved the section on the ship’s surgeon, with all his medical implements), and personal touches on the more common items, like carved pictures or initials, to keep things interesting.

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Of course, since most of the crew went down with the ship, there were also lots of skeletons in the wreckage, as well as jewellery and scraps of clothing.  They’ve analysed the skeletons to try to determine the age, health, and occupation of each man (aside from the captain, George Carew, we don’t really know the names of any of the crew members), and the results are fascinating.  Judging from the skulls on display, not a single man on board had a complete set of teeth in his head, and even the men who were still in their 20s already had a whole host of injuries (many of them caused by Henry’s law that required every able-bodied man to practice archery; using a longbow from an early age means that shoulder bones never fuse properly), and probably looked quite rough, judging from the facial reconstructions.  I love anything to do with medicine, so I was enthralled by their findings (and the display of bones with various types of injuries and conditions).

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We spent more time in the Mary Rose museum than any other part of the Dockyard, and I think I could have lingered even longer if we didn’t have a tour of the Victory to catch.  I really think they did an excellent job displaying all the artefacts, and the amount of signage was just right.  Plenty of great information and special sections about the history behind each job or custom, but not so much that it felt overwhelming.  My only complaint was that some of the galleries were so crowded that it was difficult to see everything, and it’s only the start of March, so the crowds must be horrible during the summer.  Because of this, I’d definitely recommend going in the off-season or possibly on a weekday if you can (although I’d worry about schoolchildren being bussed in on a weekday).

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In addition to the ships I wrote about in my earlier post, there were some other attractions at the Historic Dockyard.  Since we were starving, my boyfriend and I queued for ages just to get a tea and some chocolate fudge cake from the small case in the museum (there were only like three people ahead of us, but service was so slow, though the cake was not bad); there are a few other cafes and a chippy, but I’d rather venture into Portsmouth and take my chances with a proper seaside chippy, personally.  But there were statues of famous people to have your photo taken with, which I love doing!  (Here’s another tip, some guy will offer to take your picture with the Henry VIII inside the Mary Rose Museum, which you can buy for 8 quid at the end.  But there’s another Henry VIII statue hidden in a corner across from the building where you buy your ticket, which you can photograph as much as you like for free.  Not that I think anyone would pay £8 for a hastily taken photo by a bored museum employee anyway, but just in case you really wanted a picture with Henry.)  I liked the giant Nelson the best, especially since they accurately made his one eye look all milky and weird (he lost most of the sight in it in the same accident that took his right arm.  Poor banged-up man).

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There’s also a figurehead of some Restoration era gent who was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys, and even looked a great deal like Pepys, but was not Pepys (though I think there should have been a Pepys figurehead, he was Chief Secretary to the Admiralty after all!).  Another building on the site holds some cheesy gift shop, and this weird “dockyard apprentice” exhibit that you can walk through in the back.  I did not have time to read all the text associated with it, but I guess if you do, you emerge a full-fledged worker at the other end (conveniently, they sell diplomas in the gift shop. I seriously wonder whether anyone has ever bought one).  However, it did contain two of my most favourite things; mannequins with amusing expressions, and authentic smells, so it’s worth walking through just for that.

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I guess because they were trying to give the place more of a “seaside” vibe, there were a handful of penny arcade games in there as well (I say penny, but they cost between 10-50p).  We had a couple 20ps to hand, so got suckered into the crappy ones showing some kind of tableaux that “comes to life” after you stick the money in (usually a ghost or something pops out).  Like others of their kind, these were pretty lame, and I refused to try the one where a “war criminal” was hanged, as he was a supporter of the Americans during the Revolutionary War, so I couldn’t really endorse his execution.

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I should mention that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is also part of the Dockyard, and it looked rather large and impressive, but I simply did not have time to go in (assuming we don’t lose our stupidly small and awkwardly sized tickets, we’ll probably head back to the Dockyard within the next few months), so I think it would be quite easy to spend two days at the Dockyard, particularly if you have children.  Though I felt the main ships (Victory and Warrior) were kind of a mixed-bag, though certainly historically significant, and worth seeing for that reason alone, I really loved the Mary Rose Museum, and it made me slightly less salty about the admission price (though only slightly, I mean £26!?).  I think the Dockyard as a whole should get a 3.5/5, though I’d probably rate Mary Rose as a 4/5, easily.  Not at all a bad day out, if you can stomach the price.

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard Part 1: HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860

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I’ve been feeling very tired of London lately (not necessarily tired of life though, sorry Dr. Johnson), so I was glad to get down to Portsmouth for a day to check out the Historic Dockyard.  Though it wasn’t quite the usual seaside excursion, it’s still a bit cold to go promenading with an ice cream (I will happily eat ice cream year round, but prefer to enjoy it indoors in the wintertime), so this was a marginally warmer alternative.

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I’ve done a lot of complaining about prices of late, but really and truly, the Historic Dockyard is not cheap.  They charge £17 per attraction, so the only sensible option is to get an all-in-one pass for £26, which is valid for one year (another pet peeve of mine: places that offer an annual membership with the admission price, but require you to hang onto a small ticket that you present for subsequent visits, with no replacements offered.  If you’re just issuing someone with a cheap paper ticket, odds are pretty good they’re going to lose it or accidentally throw it out and have to buy a new ticket if they come back, which I suspect is exactly what these museums want to happen.  I’d be a lot happier if they could at least humour me by giving me a membership card to stick in my wallet or something, so I’d have some chance of hanging onto the thing.), but paying £52 for the two of us to spend a day somewhere is not the kind of outing we can afford often.  Anyway, the pass gives you access to all the ships and museums on the property; I’ll be talking about the HMS Victory and the HMS Warrior today, and cover the rest in the next post.

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The HMS Victory was most famously Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar, and although I can see its colour scheme not being ideal for stealth, it certainly is a beautiful ship.  You can see the Victory through guided tours only (they give you a time slot when you buy your ticket), so we joined up with the large group (30 or so people, more than I find ideal) outside and waited for our guide.  After “boarding” the ship, we received a brief introduction, and then were taken on an overly fast-paced tour that required trekking up and down very steep steps, and ducking under narrow entries (I’m only 5’4″, and I had a sore neck after leaving from bowing my head so often, so just a heads up (ha) for the tall people out there).

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Following a brief tour of Nelson’s surprisingly plush and spacious living quarters (almost everything in the ship is a replica), we were herded up on deck to see the spot where Nelson was fatally wounded (the shot passed through his lungs and lodged in his back; he was immediately carried belowdecks where he died three hours later), and then back down again to see the low-ceilinged and depressingly dark decks where the common sailors lived and worked.

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The tour guide did a very good job of engaging the children on the tour, but unfortunately, this meant that the rest of us had to stand in the back, and it was difficult to hear him at times, or see anything, for that matter.  As expected, he went through the origins of many common phrases which have their basis in nautical terms (there’s not enough room to swing a cat, pull the cat out of the bag, etc. etc.), but he also did provide some interesting facts about the ship and its crew.  It was launched in 1765, so it was already 40 years old by the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (making it a near-contemporary of the Endeavour, Captain Cook’s ship; sadly the original Endeavour was wrecked, so I’ll never get to see that dishy Joseph Banks‘s quarters), and the aforementioned distinctive yellow and black colour scheme was Nelson’s favourite, called “checkerboard” as that’s what it resembled when the black gunports were closed.

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I did very much enjoy getting to see the interior of Nelson’s gorgeous ship, and picture it in action, but I wish the tour had been more comprehensive (perhaps if they offered separate tours for families and adults?), as the whole thing felt quite rushed, and half the time was spent waiting for everyone to finish climbing up or down the scarily narrow steps.

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There was a small HMS Victory museum nearby, so we popped in to see if it could flesh out the scant details provided on the tour (although even with my limited knowledge, I managed to get 9/10 on the computerised quiz inside, go me!).  I felt bad for not experiencing the film and light show on offer, as the man working there seemed slightly disappointed when I turned it down, but I really was in a hurry. There wasn’t a tonne of content in the actual museum, although I did pick up a few more tidbits, but I was ultimately distracted by a glimpse of the flamboyant figureheads perched upstairs.

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I do love a good figurehead, and these were brilliant, with lovely eye-popping paint, and nipples galore!  Quite a few of them were based off royalty or Roman/Greek gods, although there were a few Victorian (meaning, slightly racist) depictions of various foreigners.  On the whole, however, I loved this display, and it was probably one of the highlights of the Dockyard.

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I know I’m already running on, but I still want to mention the HMS Warrior, which is seemingly there in large part to show the advances in technology in the century between the building of the Victory and the Warrior, though it is an interesting ship in its own right.  When it was built, in 1860, it was the “largest, fastest, and most powerful warship in the world” (according to the pamphlet we were given), but it was never actually used in battle (I know I’m meant to refer to ships as “she,” but having no naval background myself, it just feels kind of awkward doing so).

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The Warrior is viewable by self-guided tour, so we saved it til last, figuring we could always rush through if we ran out of time, though it turned out we were easily able to see everything in 45 minutes.  There were steps all over the place, so our route was a little confused, but I’m confident we saw everything in the end.

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Like the Victory, the Warrior also had very swanky Captain’s Quarters, though they lacked a little of the Victory‘s charm.  There wasn’t much information posted inside the ship, so I was fairly reliant on the free pamphlet, which quite frankly wasn’t detailed enough for my liking (I guess I could have paid extra for the official Historic Dockyard guidebook, but that would be completely out of character for me).

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By studying the map, we did manage to work out the locations of the jail cells, for seamen guilty of serious crimes, and some pens for the sheep and other livestock that were kept for meat.  Like any ship, things got grimmer the further you travelled down into its aptly-named bowels, and the engine rooms were the grimmest yet.

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The mood lighting did help me appreciate how hellish things must have been, and it was a comfortable temperature (instead of 120 F +) and not full of sweaty men when I was down there, so I can only imagine how bad things were when the ship was at sea.  No wonder they were paid more than normal sailors, though whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.

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I’ve got far more pictures than words at this point, so I’ll just start throwing the pictures up here with brief descriptions as I’m sure you’re sick of reading by now anyway.  There are the engine room and  the Officer’s Dining Hall.

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Wheels (your guess is as good as mine, probably better as I don’t know much about ships) plus washing bowl (not a toilet)

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The raisin bin, plus “special issues” of food, in addition to the normal menu of bread and meat.  Conditions had certainly improved since Nelson’s day, when common seamen mostly ate ship’s biscuit, porridgey things, and rancid meaty stews, but I loathe raisins, so I would not have been a happy camper even on the Warrior.

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Barrel, perhaps it contained rum, which would explain the spirit of generosity towards the Queen, and cannon.

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The Warrior had scantier information on offer than the Victory, but it’s still worth a look around as part of the combined ticket.  Although I think I was meant to be marvelling at how modern it was in comparison to the Victory, I couldn’t help but think about how some of the romance of sailing had been lost (though that “romance” included a crew mostly comprised of men who had been press-ganged into service, who were flogged for any infraction and had terrible living conditions, so it is possible any positive connotations of a Georgian sailor’s life are all in my mind).  Honestly, I’d probably rather be aboard a ship in the heat of battle than stuck in a horrible boiler room, as at least your suffering wouldn’t last as long.  The Warrior just seemed more utilitarian than the Victory (though it was a Victorian ship, so not THAT utilitarian), and in purely stylistic and romantic terms, I think the Victory unquestionably wins out, though I’m sure the Warrior could have easily blown it to bits with its advanced technology.  I’ll hold off giving a rating until I’ve written about the entire Dockyard, as I’ll grade it as a whole.   So, I’ll just throw in a couple more pictures of figureheads to finish off the posts, because damn, they’re cool!

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(Oh, and that’s Charles II’s royal barge that you can see in that picture, also awesome.)

London: Churchill War Rooms, Valentine’s Day Late

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I’m pretty sure there’s nothing more romantic than spending Valentine’s Day underground, in a WWII era bunker.  In all seriousness, it has to be up there (and I mean this in a non-sarcastic manner) with the Valentine’s Day when my boyfriend took me for afternoon tea and then to the London Dungeons (he knows me so well), so I was really glad we found out about the event before it was sold out!  It did cost £17.50 apiece, but that’s what admission to the Churchill War Rooms costs anyway (though really, £17.50?! I know I complain about admission prices on here a lot, mainly because I am broke, but the Churchill War Rooms admission is really over the top.  Definitely take advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 offer if you decide to come here!), and I was hoping we’d have time to look around in between all the special activities.

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I was initially dismayed at the size of the queue to get in, as waiting for entry to a ticketed event typically doesn’t bode well, but the crowds thinned out as we made our way into the bunker.  The special activities on offer included writing a letter to your sweetheart overseas (as the whole premise was obviously that this was during the War; most people made an effort to dress the part, which enhanced the atmosphere), swing dancing lessons in the auditorium, and a champagne bar that was meant to be serving up Churchill’s favourite champagne.  I’m not sure whether it actually was Churchill’s preferred label; it was certainly delicious, but then, it cost as much for a glass as it does for two bottles of the sort of swill we usually buy (only fit for making mimosas), so I wasn’t expecting anything less.

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Sufficiently emboldened by the champers, we took our places on the dance floor for the next swing dancing lesson, a circle dance called the “Big Apple.”  It was tremendous fun, and convinced me that I need to get over my fear of looking like an idiot and sign up for some swing dancing lessons, as it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn how to do.  Alas, since we were both out there dancing, I’ve no pictures to commemorate the experience, but I’m sure we didn’t look stupid or anything…

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People were either all starting to dance or head out for the night at this point, so I seized the opportunity to have a look ’round the relatively empty Churchill museum, which followed the timeline of Churchill’s life.  Though you all know I love FDR, I have to concede that Churchill was the master of witticisms, so I was thrilled that the museum had taken the trouble to compile the best ones on a handy touch screen.

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I really enjoyed looking at all the Churchill and war memorabilia, even though my lingering cold combined with the champagne meant that I wasn’t giving all the displays my usual full attention.  Oh well, I guess I’ll have an excuse to return some day (using my 50% off English Heritage discount of course).

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In addition to the museum displays, there was of course the bunker, which, whilst nowhere on the scale of Kelvedon Hatch (but then Kelvedon Hatch isn’t built under prime real estate in Westminster), was still enough of a maze to get us confused when trying to find Churchill’s bedroom.  He only spent three nights in the actual bunker, but he stayed fairly often in the aboveground rooms, which were apparently much plusher.   A volunteer regaled us with some amusing Churchill stories, like the time the bunker had to be evacuated because it was filling with smoke, only for the staff to realise that this was because Churchill was sitting on the chimney, smoking a cigar.

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Churchill’s bedroom contained an authentic cigar, and a chamberpot, so that was exciting too!  The other rooms that were part of the bunker, including the Map Room and various Communications rooms, all had delightful mannequins in them – bonus!  There was also a cafe serving up some tasty looking chips, but the queue was long and there was nowhere to sit, so we abandoned the idea of eating there.  The shop was offering a 10% discount on the night of the event, so I took advantage of the sale to snap up yet more postcards for my ever-expanding collection.

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This had to have been one of the better late museum openings I’ve attended (even at that price, and you all know I’m a cheapskate, so I must have liked it!), definitely helped along by the dancing and champagne, but I think the Churchill War Rooms are well worth visiting even without a special event on (though I was glad of an excuse to get all dressed up – I swear my hair looked much better before I had to brave 60 mph winds!).   4/5 for the event + museum.  (And for evidence of the extreme windiness that night, please see the picture on the bottom right.)

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London: Charles Dickens Museum

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I have a confession.  I normally always refer to Charles Dickens as “Dahl’s Chickens.”  Perhaps you’ll think me terribly uncultured for admitting I far prefer The BFG to anything Dickens wrote, but at least you’ll know where I stand on ol’ Charles.   I’m not questioning his influence, particularly on modern Christmas traditions, I’m just saying his novels have never really grabbed me. If anything, rather than just favouring Dahl over Dickens, I actively disliked the man after learning about how mean he was to poor, gawky Hans Christian Andersen.   So, did a trip to his London home change my opinion of him?  Read on to find out. (and on an unrelated note, my postcard giveaway is open until tomorrow (20 February), so there’s still time to enter!)

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I certainly wasn’t won over when I was asked to part with £8 (!) for admission.  London prices and all, but this was still a bit rich for my blood.  At least the museum wasn’t very crowded, despite it being ideal museum weather that day (windy, cold, and rainy).  I was handed a little booklet with a paragraph about each room in it, and there were a few more booklets in each room next to objects of importance, but other than that, little description of the house’s contents.  I was annoyed by this right from the start, upon encountering the largest Victorian gown I’ve ever seen in one of the ground floor rooms.  I mean, this thing would have been big on Queen Victoria, and I don’t mean height-wise, as the owner must have been extremely short, but pretty much as wide as she was tall; cube-like, if you will.  Catherine Dickens appeared to have been quite slim, especially as a young woman, so I’m left wondering why the museum would include such a curious object with no explanation of why it was there.  Then again, the rooms seemed to contain a mix of period furnishings and curiosities, so in that sense it fit right in.

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The museum seemed to encourage lengthy stays, with copies of Dickens’s novels and some books that had inspired him strewn about the place, bearing “”Please read me” labels, but although I’m a fast reader who enjoys the odd bit of Smollett, I’m certainly not ambitious enough to contemplate reading Roderick Random in its entirety during a museum visit.  Leaving the lavishly decorated ground floor rooms, I headed into the basement, which was exactly like the basement of every other large Victorian household ever, with a scullery and kitchen, and a list of the servants’ responsibilities.  Dickens did have a nice little wine cellar though.

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The house was one of those delightful terraced Georgian numbers, the sort I’ve always wanted to live in; narrow, but with more floors than I was anticipating.  The upper floors were better than the lower ones, as they contained more of Dickens’s actual possessions, and some rather poignant objects that had been left by his grave, since he was obviously more beloved by the Victorians than by me.  Other than the reading table he’d had specially designed, and the descriptions by Thomas Carlyle of Dickens as a sort of dandy, with his many multi-coloured waistcoats, nothing was particularly standing out to me to distinguish it from other historic homes.

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I was relieved when I got up to the attic rooms, as these were more “museum-like” in content, and explained Dickens’s poverty-stricken childhood, and how it influenced his writing.  If there could have been more of this throughout the museum, I think I would have enjoyed it more, or at least felt like I was getting to know more about him and his personality.  I mean, anyone who is interested in the Victorians will already know tidbits about Dickens, but I didn’t get any profound sense of the man by being in his house, which makes sense, as the family only lived there for two years!

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I was impressed with the layout of the house, as people were directed upstairs via the front staircase, and back down via a hidden back staircase, which at least helped avoid awkwardly waiting in the stairwell for people to come up or down. This also meant there were more rooms I wasn’t expecting on the way out, though one of them was on the filming of the new Ralph Fiennes film The Invisible Woman; having not seen it, I didn’t really get or care what they were talking about.  The only mention of Hans Christan Andersen I could find was an entry on the timeline mentioning his visit, but there was nothing about how much they disliked him.  I reckon Andersen gets the last laugh though, as his museum is miles better than Dickens’s.

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In the end, there was nothing to particularly distinguish the Dahl’s Chickens…I mean, the Charles Dickens Museum from any other historic home.  I didn’t hate it, but I left not knowing much more about Dickens than when I started, and I definitely don’t think it was worth the admission price (though if anything was going to win me over to Dickens, it would be his stylish waistcoats; I only recall seeing two of them).  It was similar to Samuel Johnson’s house in the type of content, though I believe Dickens’s house may have been larger, but admission to Johnson’s house only cost half as much.  I can’t help but feel that the museum is just cashing in on the house’s limited connection to a huge name by keeping the admission price so high.  Like I said, it wasn’t terrible, but it was expensive for what it was, and a LOT more signage wouldn’t go amiss.   I think the fact that this review isn’t terribly descriptive is indicative of how unmemorable my visit was.  3/5

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