Captain Cook Memorial Museum

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James Cook was a renowned 18th century explorer and navigator who is best known for three epic voyages of exploration and whose accomplishments included mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and east coast of Australia. We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s family tree – she’s descended from one of his siblings (as are my children, of course!). So a visit to the Cook Memorial Museum in the centre of Whitby was a must during our recent holiday there. Especially on a wet Monday afternoon.

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Cook was the son of a farm worker, born on 27 October 1728 in Marton, a small village near Middlesbrough, which was then in Yorkshire.  At the age of 17, Cook moved to Whitby to be apprenticed to Captain John Walker, a Quaker, who was a coal merchant and ship owner. During his apprenticeship he sailed on Captain Walker’s ships and when ashore lived with the other apprentice’s in the attic of the ship owner’s own house  in Grape Lane on Whitby’s harbour on the east side of the river. After learning his trade as a seaman he joined the Royal Navy in 1755, working his way through the ranks.

The museum website tells us

Built in 1688, the house is a good example of a Whitby master-mariner’s dwelling, both a comfortable home and the centre of the family shipping business. It retains much of its original internal decoration and has been carefully restored.

The atmosphere recalls that of a prosperous Quaker shipowner’s home.

Passing From here Captain Walker and his apprentices would be able to view his ships.

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Entry into the museum is via the extension on the back of the original house.

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The ground floor rooms are furnished according to an inventory made in the early 1750s. The rooms on the upper floors have exhibitions about Cook’s life and career.

This model on display inside the museum shows how the back of the house would have looked

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The original kitchen floor was discovered relatively recently

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The dining room

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A sitting room

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The view over the harbour from one of the windows on the landing

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I found the exhibition rooms on the first and second floors very interesting. There were volunteers in a couple of the rooms who were very well informed and keen to tell curious visitors about aspects of Cook’s life and times. The volunteer in the room about navigation explained how ships in Cook’s era would work out their position and speed. There was a model of the Resolution, which also showed the crew and typical supplies that the ship would carry. The following picture is from the museum’s website as it was difficult to photograph due to reflections from its glass case

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We learned that one of the officers on the expedition was a certain William Bligh – yes the same person who went on to captain the Bounty. The room volunteer pointed out the likeness of the figure in the model to Charles Lawson who played the part of Bligh in the well known film about the Mutiny on the Bounty!

The ships used on Cook’s expeditions were all adapted Whitby-built collier barks. The museum website tells us

These were sturdy and reliable, built to service the coal trade. They were capacious and an extra deck could be inserted into them in order to carry a far larger crew, together with stores for up to two years.

Another advantage was that collier barks were flat bottomed. They could therefore land on any flattish beach, rather than needing to tie up at a quay in a proper harbour. This was particularly useful when no-one knew what landing conditions would be like. Small boats were also carried for inshore work.

In Cook’s time the apprentices would have been quartered in the attic. They slept and spent their spare time here. It’s now used for the museum’s annual special exhibitions.

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Looking out of the attic window

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It was an excellent museum. I’d expected to spend about an hour there on a wet afternoon but we ended up staying much longer as there was a lot to see in a relatively small building and we learned quite a lot about Cook, life in a Whitby ship owner’s house, the architecture of houses during this period and also about aspects of seamanship.

Coming back out into the yard we spent some time reading the two information boards. One about the house

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and the other about the various types of sailing vessels built in Whitby. I found this one particularly interesting and learned that a ship was originally a specific type of three masted  vessel. You live and learn!!

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Astley Hall

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Astley Hall, in Chorley Lancashire, is an excellent example of an Elizabethan style mansion.  Set in parkland near the town centre it’s now owned by the local town council. It’s free to visit, so while I was over in Chorley on Sunday I went for a walk through the park and decided to pop in to have a look at the house.

The house was built by the local Charnock family around 1575-1600. It looked quite different when it was fist built – a timber-framed house, around a small courtyard. A model on display inside the house suggests how it may have appeared at that time.

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The distinctive front with the large mullioned bay windows, together with the long gallery on the top floor, was created when the house was remodelled around 1660.

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The remodelled house has a very Elizabethan look to it, even though the changes were made just after the Restoration of Charles II, so the house must have appeared rather old fashioned at the time. Long galleries were popular during the later 16th and early 17th Centuries so to create one in the 1660’s was rather behind the times. But Lancashire during this period, before the Industrial Revolution, was very much a backwater. I suspect the owners had very little knowledge of contemporary fashions in house building and, in any case, were probably a little conservative in their tastes. The large windows that dominate the front of the house must have been intended as a display of wealth.

The front door is flanked by two pairs of rather crudely modelled Ionic columns supporting stone lions

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Inside visitors can access a number of rooms which have been set up in period styles – Elizabethan, Tudor, Jacobean and Victorian.

Passing through the front door leads to the grand hall with it’s high ceiling with extremely ornate plasterwork. Many of the mouldings and figures are made of leather and lead which have been covered with plaster

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The ceiling is rather over the top and gives a good indication of how the gentry in the sticks tried to impress visitors to their homes.

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The panelling around the walls of the hall features full length portraits of notable people from the Elizabethan era, including Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake,  Philip II of Spain, Ambrogio Spinola, the explorers Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, and Bajazet and Mohammed II, Sultans of Turkey.

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The “Morning Room”, accessed through the door to the left of the Hall, is furnished in the style of the 17th and 18th Centuries.  The furniture was dark oak, and gave the room a very dark appearance despite the large bay window. During this time Walnut furniture was fashionable in the South of England, but hadn’t caught on in the North.

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On the opposite side of the hall, the Drawing room is furnished in Victorian style. Like the Hall, it has a very ornate plaster ceiling.

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With two of the four sides comprising large windows which overlook the ornamental lake, I expect it would be quite a bright room when it was occupied. Today there are blinds drawn across the window to protect the Flemish tapestries which depict the story of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. Unfortunately, as flash photography was not allowed, my photos have come out rather dark.

The small Library has rather attractive inlaid oak panelled walls

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The Dining Room, which overlooks the lake, has a decorated plaster, although it’s much more restrained than those in the Hall and Drawing Room, and inlaid oak panelled walls.

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Much of the furniture is 17th Century, with some pieces, including the chairs and sideboard, from the 19th Century.

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Moving upstairs to the first floor, two of the rooms have been furnished as bedrooms. The Master bedroom at the front of the house has a very grand Elizabethan oak four poster bed and some impressive pieces of oak furniture. The bed was reputedly slept in by Oliver Cromwell who is supposed to have stayed in the house in 1848 after the Battle of Preston. There’s a pair of boots on display on the ground floor that are alleged to have belonged to him and which he left behind in the house, but this seems rather improbable.

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Notice the small  pull out bed where a servant would have slept so he or she was ready to attend to their masters’ needs.

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The Long Gallery is on the second floor and runs along the entire width of the house.

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It was obviously built by the 17th Century equivalent of John Wayne and Company as the floor and walls are rather uneven, to say the least! Long Galleries were used for leisure purposes such as entertaining guests, playing games and even taking exercise during inclement weather. Being in Lancashire which is well known for being rather wet, I guess it was well used.

There’s a pretty magnificent oak shuffleboard table – twenty three feet long with twenty turned legs.

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A couple of rooms on the first floor have been converted into art galleries which are used to show work by local artists. There’s also a room with a display on the history of the house and another dedicated to local people who died in the First World War, including members of the Chorley Pals, who formed a company of the well Known Accrington Pals Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.

All in all the hall is something of a “little gem” and, as the Michelin Guide would say is “worth a diversion”. The park in which it’s set is also very pleasant with a mixture of playing fields, restored walled garden, bowling greens and woodland walks.

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The art works displayed in the house are included on the BBC “your paintings” website here.

Keats House Museum, Hampstead

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Leafy Hampstead. An area of London that’s close to the city centre, only 10 minutes on the Northern Line from Euston, but when you’re there, if you let yourself, you can almost believe that you’re in a small town in the country – helped by having the large expanse of open land that’s Hampstead Heath on the doorstep. It’s always been an area that’s appealed to artistic types – Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Lee Miller and George Orwell all lived here before the Second World War, and today it includes many celebrities amongst it’s wealthy residents.

Back in the 18th Century it was still a village outside the London metropolis which still hadn’t spread out this far. One of it’s residents for a few years during this period (between 1818 and 1820) was the Romantic poet John Keats. He lived in what was then a relatively new house, built in a style very typical of the Georgian / Regency period. It was here that he wrote many of his well known poems, including ‘Ode to a Nightingale’. He also becam romantically involved with Fanny Brawne, the girl next door, a story that inspired the film “Bright Star”. Today the building is a museum devoted to his memory – Keats House.

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The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, afternoons only, from 1pm to 5pm. During the winter months (beginning of November to the end of February) it is only open Friday to Sunday afternoons. We visited on a very pleasant, sunny Saturday afternoon in the early early autumn towards the end of September during a short break in London.

Wentworth House, as it was then known when Keats lived there, looks like a grand single residence. However, it was originally built as two quite separate houses. It was quite common during the Georgian period for architects to create the illusion that two or more houses were actually one larger residence – to help impress friends or neighbours who were unaware that they were being deceived. It was later converted to become one house and an extension added (which can be seen to the left of the main house in the picture above).

Keats lived with his friend Charles Brown in the smaller part of the building – the left hand side when viewed from the front. The front door served the larger of the two residences, occupied by the Brawn family. Keats’ and Brown’s house was accessed through a door in the left hand side of the building.

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From the outside the building has a very restrained, simple appearance. Painted brilliant white it has many similarities with the Modernist buildings constructed from the 1930’s onwards and of which there are quite a number of examples in and around Hampstead although it has a traditional pitched roof  rather than a  flat type favoured by Modernist architects. It doesn’t have many neo-classical features typical of Georgian houses, other than the front door and the semi-circular arched recesses that surround the door and the two front ground floor windows. I think that it is an attractive building, other than the rather ugly extension.

It isn’t a particularly large building and a tour of the house and museum didn’t take us much more than an hour. Most of the original rooms have been furnished with typical furniture from the period and there are exhibits about Keats, his life and his time in the house. I found it particularly interesting to be able to look around. Many Georgian houses open to the public tend to be grander residences of aristocrats or more wealthy individuals. So, for me, as I’m not a Keats fanatic, the most interesting aspect of the visit was to be able to see the sort of spaces the less wealthy middle classes would have lived in. Although the house today, with it’s extension, is a decent size, when Keats lived here the two individual homes were relatively modest. Keats’ home was, to all intents and purposes, a “two up two down” with an additional two rooms down in the cellar. The Brawne’s part of the house was larger; probably about half as big again but it wasn’t a particularly large home for a family consisting of a mother and her two adult children, particularly if they had servants living in. The rooms were not particularly large, but I guess their space requirements were considerably less than that of the equivalent modern family as people at that time had far fewer possessions.

The museum was definitely worth the visit. It had architectural interest as well as providing a perspective on the everyday life of one of our major poets.

Culloden

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The last battle fought on British soil took place on 16 April 1746 at Culloden, a few miles outside Inverness. Here, the Jacobite rebels led by “Bonnie Prince Charlie” were defeated by the Government Army. A large part of the battlefield is owned by the Scottish National Trust and they have allowed the landscape to revert back to something like it would have looked at the time of the battle. They’ve also constructed a state of the art Visitor Centre which opened in April 2008. It was an obvious place to visit during my recent trip to Inverness.

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There’s a lot of myths surrounding Culloden – the “glorious” rebellion of the Jacobites and the “last stand of the clans” in particular. But the Jacobite uprising really has to be seen in it it’s proper context as part of the wider struggle for hegemony taking place between the European powers.

The Jacobites were bankrolled by the Catholic States (France and Spain) who used them as a way of attacking the British in their own backyard. If victorious, the Jacobites would have been beholden to their paymasters. The rebels were not a homogeneous movement. They were made up of various factions, each with their own agenda, uniting around James the Pretender as a convenient rallying point, but there wasn’t really a common cause. If the Jacobites had been successful and James became king it is likely that he would have tried to establish an absolute monarchy and many of the claims of the disparate groups would not have been achieved, probably leading to further struggles and civil war.

The myth about the clans is also false. There were highlanders on both sides. And the Government and Jacobites both employed foreign allies and mercenaries, reflecting the fact that this was part of the wider European struggle.

Walking around the battlefield it was clear why the Jacobites were so heavily defeated. The original plan was to catch the Government troops, who were camped in Nairn, a small town on the coast some 12 miles from Inverness where the Jacobites were based, by surprise by attacking during the night. But due to poor organisation the plan fell through and the Jacobites ended up gathering on the moor at Culloden where Bonnie Prince Charlie decided to give battle. It was a crazy decision as the terrain was not suited to the main tactic employed by the Jacobites – the “Highland charge”. When their troops charged at the Government forces they got bogged down and were cut to ribbons by musket and cannon fire and the bayonets of the Government troops.

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Source: Wikipedia

Here’s Billy Connolly’s take on the Jacobites and  Culloden – including his “re-enactment” of the battle

Today the battlefield is a popular tourist attraction. There were American, Canadian, French and Italian visitors, and probably other nationalities, in the Visitor Centre and exploring the while I was there.

There are a number of memorials to fallen Highlanders and a large memorial cairn erected by the former landowner in 1881.

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There’s one small monument to the fallen Government troops.

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My English National Trust Membership allowed me free entry into the Visitor Centre, although it would have been worth paying the entry fee. It was excellent, employing new technology as well as the traditional style exhibits to tell the story of the battle and its wider context. There was an “immersion theatre” where visitors are surrounded by screens displaying images from a re-enaction of the battle, which made it seem like you were in the middle of a melee. I also liked the animated battle table which gave a birds eye view of the movements on the battlefield. They also provided an audio guide for the battlefield which used GPS technology to activate the relevant section of the commentary as you reached the various waypoints.

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In many ways, the best part of the visit was walking around the battlefield on a cold, wet, windy May morning. It gave me something of a feel of what it must have been like for the troops on the day of the battle.

Henry Moore Exhibition Leeds

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Yesterday we drove over to Leeds to visit the Henry Moore exhibition at Leeds City Art Gallery.  The exhibition had been shown last year at Tate Britain, but has now been transferred to Moore’s home county – he was born in the Yorkshire mining town of Castleford, and studied at Leeds School of Art (now Leeds College of Art).

I think there are fewer works on display than there were in the Tate. But I felt that it was a good exhibition that covered the breadth of his work without overwhelming the visitor. The Tate in London tends to show very large exhibitions which leave you feeling exhausted. At Leeds there were enough works to give you a good understanding of his work and I left feeling satisfied, with an understanding of his work and with my curiosity raised enough to make me want to find out more.

The Leeds exhibition was also free, which means that I’ll revisit it if I happen to be in Leeds again before it closes, whereas the Tate charged a £12-50 entrance fee.

Most of the ground floor of the gallery was given over to the exhibition. There were seven rooms covering different aspects of his work – the different periods and his main themes

  • Moore in Leeds
  • Modernism
  • Wartime
  • Post war
  • Mother and child
  • World cultures
  • Elm (two large reclining figures carved from elm wood)

There were several examples of works on the two main themes that Moore returned to time and time again during his career – “mother and child” and the “reclining figure”.

Henry Moore seems to have gone out of favour with a number of contemporary critics. The reviews of the original Tate exhibition last year  in the Guardian, Observer and Independent were not particularly favourable.

Entering the gallery you went straight into the long narrow room where post war works were being shown, including a couple of bronze helmets, “King and Queen”, two life sized figures sitting on a bench, and “Fallen Warrior” a version of which I’ve seen in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool.

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These works were cast in bronze and have a colder feel to them than the earlier works in the adjoining room from his “Modernist period”. These were carved from stone and had a much warmer, more sensual feel to them. I mean feel in the metaphorical sense as you aren’t allowed to make direct contact the works. It was hard to resist – the smooth sensuous curves on some of the pieces really invite you to touch! There was a large reclining figure carved from a warm sandstone and some smaller curvaceous, abstract works carved from a smooth stone.

One of the rooms was devoted to his wartime sketches from his work as a war artist including drawings from the Tube stations, when they were being used as shelters during the Blitz, and of mine workers.

There were two large reclining figures carved from elm wood. Reading the reviews from the Tate exhibition these works met with general approval

“The elm reclining figures are exceptional” – Maev Kennedy from the Guardian

“his monumental Reclining Figure carved in elm between 1959-64 bears comparison with Michelangelo’s figures of Night and Day from the Medici Chapel” – Richard Dorment from the Telegraph

Next door, in the Henry Moore Institute (physically connected to the Art Gallery but a different organisation) they were showing a related exhibition of Prints and Portfolios by Henry Moore (it’s becoming repetitive using his name in this post, but it’s unavoidable) during the later part of his life, from the 1970’s onwards. I guess as he was becoming older it was easier to work on etchings and lithographs than to create large scale three dimensional works. There were an incredibly large number of prints. Most of them were in black and white but some were in colour. In some cases it was possible to see how a particular work had developed through several stages of the printing process. We took advantage of the offer of a guided tour of the exhibition by one of the young staff. This was well worthwhile as there were a large number of works and the young lady did a good job of highlighting the key works and explaining their development and Moore’s approach to printmaking.

The Institute also had an exhibition on the Mezzanine Gallery, “Dear Henry Moore”, which explores the artist’s relationships with his assistants who became well known sculptors in their own right, including Anthony Caro, Isaac Witkin, Ralph Brown, Hubert Dalwood and Geoffrey Clarke. A few works were on display by these artists from Henry Moore’s own collection.

There was a fascinating collection of letters in one of the display cases from wannabe assistants from all over the world accompanied by his replies. He must have been inundated with requests and it can be difficult to write replies that are not discouraging.

I enjoyed both exhibitions. One small criticism is that their was not a lot of information available to explain the works and put them into context. There were free leaflets but they provided relatively little information and there was only minimal details on the information panels displayed in the galleries. The exhibition catalogue was expensive and, in any case, too heavy to cart around the gallery. I realise it’s a free exhibition but I would have been willing to pay a few pounds for a more detailed guide book.

James Joyce Museum Sandycove

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

This is the first line of Ulysses by James Joyce – a great work of fiction that introduced the “stream of consciousness” to English literature – but also a book that many a person has started and never finished.  The opening chapter is set in a Martello tower on the coast at Sandycove, a small seaside resort just outside Dublin (well, its part of the Dublin sprawl these days). The tower is one of a series of small defensive structures that were constructed on the coast in Britain, Ireland and some other parts of the British Empire during the Napoleonic wars. They’re very strong with thick brick walls and would have had a cannon on the top.

Joyce spent six nights in the tower from 9 to 15 September 1904. His friend Oliver St John Gogarty, who the character, Buck Mulligan, is based on, had rented it from the War Office. Another occupant of the tower during Joyce’s stay was an Anglo-Irishman, Samuel Chenevix Trench, who appears as the character Haines in the book.  Joyce fled the tower after he was woken by Trench who was screaming, having had a nightmare involving a panther. Trench picked up a revolver and fired several shots into the fireplace, after which Gogarty grabbed a .22 rifle and fired at a collection of pans above Joyce’s bed.

Entrance to the James Joyce Museum at Sandycove

Today the tower has been converted into a museum celebrating the life of Joyce and his masterpiece. We called in on the morning of our last day in Ireland on the way back to Dublin to catch the mid-afternoon ferry.  On the ground floor there is a small collection of exhibits including a couple of death masks, some letters and portraits and photographs. There are a number of his personal possessions including his guitar , a waistcoat made by his grandmother and his cigar case. Taking pride of place is a first edition of Ulysses, published by Shakespeare & Co in 1922.

The recreated sleeping quarters on the first floor

The first floor the sleeping quarters have been recreated, just as they would have been when Joyce stayed there. From here you can climb up a very narrow staircase up onto the roof where you get a good view out to sea and along the coast as far as the Liffey estuary. You can also make out the nearby “Forty foot” – an open air swimming pool which also features in chapter 1 of Ulysees as its here where Buck Mulligan takes his morning dip. It’s really just a partially enclosed section of the sea and originally was for men only (in the buff!) although today mixed bathing is permitted and “Togs must be worn after 9am.” People swim here all year round – they must be crazy! The “forty foot” is nothing to do with the depth or width of the pool; rather it’s named after the Fortieth Foot Regiment of the British Army who used to be stationed near here.

Looking towards the "Forty Foot"

Rocky coast at Sandycove, looking south from the tower

Georgian House Museum, Dublin

There is something about Georgian architecture that appeals to me. The elegant simplicity of Georgian terraces, in particular. Dublin has many examples of such buildings, constructed when the city, then an important part of the British Empire, was rapidly developing at the end of the 18th Century. I’ve been to Dublin a few times and always enjoy walking around the parks, streets and squares on the south side of the Liffey.

During our recent holiday in Ireland we visited the Dublin’s Georgian House Museum at Number Twenty Nine Fitzwilliam Street. This has been restored to represent how it looked when was first occupied in 1794. The restoration was sponsored by the Irish Electricity Supply Board who demolished most of the row of houses on Fitzwilliam Street Lower to make way for their rather ugly offices. They obviously felt guilty about this and put money into the project to try to salvage their reputation, I guess.

As the house is relatively small (although large compared to where most people live today) tours are guided – you can’t wander round yourself. The guide we had was very friendly and very informative, and we learned a lot more than we would have if we’d wandered around with a guide book in hand.

The outside of the house is very typical of a Dublin Georgian town house. The front is fairly plain brickwork, only broken up by the long windows. In these houses, the main decorative feature tends to be the door and the semi-circular fan-light, which present an opportunity for some individuality. The houses have a relatively small footprint, with much of the living space created by building upwards. No. 29 has four storeys, plus a basement, which is typical for this type of house. The size of the windows varies. The largest being on the first floor, where the main rooms used for entertaining guests were located. The windows reduce in size going up the building with the smallest on the top floor where the children’s and governesses rooms were found.

You enter the house via the basement of the house next door where you pay your relatively modest entry fee and wait for the next guided tour. This starts with a short film show which explains the history of the house and provides some background about the expansion of Dublin during the Georgian period, told from the perspectives of the owner, a widow called Mrs. Olivia Beatty, and her servants.

The tour starts in the basement, in the kitchen. The guide described the life of the servants – the housekeeper, scullery maid and groom. The scullery maid, in particular, had a hard time doing most of the donkey work – cleaning and scrubbing, emptying the chamber pots (no flushing toilets in those days!) collecting the water, which was stored in a tank in the cellar, and lugging food, water and just about everything else, up and down the stairs. She wouldn’t normally live in the house, but would come in day to day. The household was run by the housekeeper, who had a bedroom in the basement, next to the larder (so she could keep an eye on the supplies). The male servant, who would look after the horses and carry out other work as required, would probably kip down in the stables or on the floor somewhere in the basement.

Moving up to the ground floor, there is a large hall and the dining room. Formal meals were served here, although everyday meals would be taken in the private, personal rooms on the first and second floors. The poor maid having to carry everything up several flights of stairs from the kitchen in the basement.

The front drawing-room on the first floor, or piano nobile, was the most important public room. Guests were entertained here and it was used to display the works of art owned by the family. The guests would walk around the room admiring the paintings. The large windows allowed people on the street to see inside – a way of making an impression. The back drawing-room was a more private space where the family would entertain themselves.

The master bedroom and the lady’s boudoir were on the second floor. As with the other rooms in the house they were furnished and decorated in the style typical of the times when the house was first occupied. The guide pointed out the at this time people used to sleep in a sitting position as it was believed this helped to prevent chest infections and diseases such as TB. I’d also been told about this during my visit to Wordsworth’s house, Dove Cottage.

The top floor, or attic, contained the Nursery, where the children of the house would sleep and have their lessons, and the Governesses’ bedroom.  Georgian families were quite large, so it was a surprise to see such a small amount of space allocated to the children. However older children would be sent away to boarding school and during the holidays the family would decamp to their country house, so the older children probably hardly ever needed to stay at the main residence.

The guided tour took about an hour in all (including the film) and allowed us to gain a glimpse into the life of an upper middle class family and their servants in the late 18th Century. Quite often its the grand houses of the aristocracy that are preserved and open to the public. Looking around these grand houses is interesting but doesn’t provide a picture of how the majority of the population used to live.  No. 29 provided an insight of the life of more modest people, albeit still not representative of the masses of working people who lived in the great cities of Britain and Ireland. Unfortunately their houses are long gone and their stories rarely told in standard histories.