Isle of Man: Cregneash Open Air Museum

Last month, I visited the Isle of Man, an island full of history and spectacular scenery, and today I’m looking at the village of Cregneash which has a special place in the hearts of Manxmen. Even in the mid-19th century, this isolated village was known for its insistence on keeping to the ‘old traditional ways’ of farming and living and where the inhabitants still spoke Manx, a Gaelic language most closely related to Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic which was rapidly dying out elsewhere on the island. Cregneash became a sort of ‘curiosity’, a place to be visited by Victorian visitors who wanted a glimpse into the Olden Days.

Approaching Cregneash with its traditional thatched and whitewashed cottages

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What the Servants Did

I’m always intrigued, when visiting a Stately Home, or indeed, any home from yesteryear to see how the domestic arrangements worked. And it’s surprising how many things there are in common – from cottage to stately home. The first thing you notice is how important the class system was.

Kitchen in Keats’ house

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Painshill: A Gothic and Romantic Landscape

Earlier this week, I visited what is surely the most astonishing landscape garden in England: Painshill, near Cobham in Surrey. It was built by the Honourable Charles Hamilton (1704 –1774) in the eighteenth century. Hamilton was intoxicated – there is no other word for it – by the Classical ruins and Gothic architecture which he’d seen on the Grand Tour. Once back home, he set about buying land in Surrey and started building dramatically ruined follies and then creating a spectacular landscape around them to show them off to their best advantage. His fantastical creation was, and is, unlike anything else in Europe.

Ruined Abbey: all it needs now is ivy, moonlight and an owl!

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Chiswick House and Gardens: ‘my earthly paradise’

Chiswick House, barely five miles as the crow flies from central London, is one of the capital’s hidden gems. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire called it ‘my earthly paradise’ . 

Chiswick House

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Inspired by Kenwood House: Take a Heroine

If you need inspiration for a novel, you could do a lot worse than visit your nearest stately home. The magnificent Kenwood House, built in the 1760s by Robert Adam for the Earl of Mansfield, is not too far from where I live. It struck me that what novelists sometimes need is not an in depth knowledge of a stately home’s architectural highlights but a record of some of the everyday objects which a heroine would come across.

Rear of Kenwood House, showing the Orangerie

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John Killer’s Cabinet Dolls’ House

This week I’m going to look at how dolls’ houses reflect society and their home owners’ social aspirations.

According to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, dolls’ houses weren’t originally made for children but for the education of young ladies. They were both instructional – the servants you will have and this is what they should be doing – and aspirational – your duty is to help your husband go up in the world and, for that, you need the right sort of home with the right sort of things in it.


Killer Cabinet House: photo courtesy of the V & A’s Museum of Childhood

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Princess Charlotte and Claremont

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), the only child of George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and, later still, George IV) and his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, had a short but tempestuous life. She was the only child of her parents’ unhappy and short-lived marriage, and heir presumptive to the throne. Sadly, she was destined to become a pawn in the breakdown of her parents’ disastrous marriage.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (1796-1817) by George Dawe, Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

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The Gallows of Downpatrick Gaol

What must it have been like to be held in a prison where the gallows was always visible? Suppose that you had been condemned to hang and would soon be climbing those wooden stairs and feel the hangman put the noose around your neck. The very stones of the place must have smelled of misery and hopelessness – the thoughts jostled through my mind when I visited Downpatrick Gaol, now a museum, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

  1. The gallows in Downpatrick Gaol

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Searching for Tutankhamun: Howard Carter’s Hotel

I have often wondered where the archaeologist Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame, actually stayed whilst excavating in the Valley of the Kings on the trail of Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922. I imagined a dusty tent, perhaps with a flickering hurricane lamp, and mosquito nets over an uncomfortable camp bed somewhere nearby.

 Howard Carter (1874-1939) Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

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