- Ingrid and Elissa
Research Log: Ingrid's Travels
Is it too straightforward to just begin this by saying "I saw lots of old things and places"? Because that's exactly what I did.
I have been wanting to go to the UK to do and see everything relevant to this project that I possibly can for a long time now, so when the chance came after I graduated in May, I took it.
The itinerary I drafted up wound up being a month long, because I knew I wanted to immerse myself to some extent. (When my mother asked why I wanted to stay in London for so many weeks, I said "museums" and she seemed to think that was an acceptable answer— though that they agreed so easily may say more about the extent of my nerdiness than her agreeability.)
Rather than drone on about the things I did and all my escapades and let myself gush about all of it, I think it would be more enjoyable, relevant, and succinct to tell you about the places I went to to get a sense of what Victorian life was like.
There was no way, of course, I would be able to see and do everything I wanted, so I prioritized as best I could. The following list of locations were ones I found indispensable for molding my conception of Victorian England!
One of the most valuable experiences I had in doing research was in visiting living museums. Most museums provide a distant retrospective with videos and anecdotes sufficing for the experiential aspect, but to be able to really be surrounded by people dressed and acting as though they're really in a past era is a treat.
The most notable living museums in England include Beamish, the Blackpool Country Living Museum, and Blists Hill Victorian Town, and I was able to visit two of them.
Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
Beamish was the first museum I visited on this trip. It's located in County Durham up north, and features a variety of living history exhibits, including an early-1900s pit village, town, and colliery.
Although the time period the museum is set in is a little past my period of interest (the 1870s) there were, as with any human settlement, things that linger from previous decades.
Of Sense and Soul features two main settings—London and a small (tentatively fictional) town in Shropshire. It's important, then, to really understand what that distinction is like, and being able to take a tram between the pit village and the town helped solidify my ideas of proximity and differences in lifestyle between these two differently developed places.
I also spent some time at the museum's 1820s Pockerly House area, where I learned more about pre-Victorian life and the radical changes the Industrial Revolution brought.
There were many people at work, but it was also quite crowded on the day we went and that detracted from the full immersion for me. Overall, however, I enjoyed it enough that I went back a second time to see what I had missed! My camera is also full of photos from Beamish, so it was definitely a great place to visit.
Blists Hill Victorian Town
I visited Blists Hill Victorian Town in the middle of my trip, and I was especially excited for this museum because they also encourage the use of special tokens modeled after British pre-decimalized currency. Trading in a few modern pounds at the bank got us pounds, shillings, and pence, and these could be used within the museum to purchase goods from the town's various shops.
These included a grocer's, a chemist (where, incidentally, the BBC show Victorian Pharmacy was filmed,) a drapers, a stationers, a photographer's, and many more. (You can view the attraction map here.) The town, being modeled off of a mining town, also features exhibits such as a blacksmith's, a saw mill, a foundry, and a mine.
Where Beamish felt like distinct pockets of settlements, Blists Hill felt more like a whole community, with actors playing music at the pub and wandering through the town and working at their stations.
(By the way, the bakery here does the best shortbread I've ever had, if you're interested in that.)
I spent the bulk of my time in London looking for both specific museums and places within the urban sprawl. House museums, however, stood out as most informative because the Victorians were very particular about their living spaces.
These are listed in the order by which I saw them, but if you want them in period order, it'd be the Dickens Museum, then the Carlyle House museum, then the Leighton House Museum and, lastly, Emery Walker's House.
Leighton House Museum
Photos were not allowed in this property, so these photos are from various web sources.
This could not be called the most typical of late-Victorian furnishings, but it definitely packed an amazing punch.
The house, built and lived in by the painter and sculptor Sir Frederic Leighton, was tailor made to his tastes and practical use. It was a house built for one very artistically minded man, with just one small bedroom and other rooms that were filled to the brim with Ottoman and Italian Renaissance inspired decorations. Each doorway feels like a portal into another world, but they all work together for Leighton's artistic vision.
Though this could not be deemed as a picture of typical Victorian furnishings, it let me know that there is opportunity to play with the aesthetics of the past and draw inspiration from beyond the typical conception of Victorian interiors.
I'm still sad that photos weren't allowed, but the stunning photos from the official site sufficiently capture the house's highlights.
Carlyle House Museum
Carlyle House was perhaps my favorite house museum to visit. (For one thing, they allowed photos and you could sit on some of the chairs! Those are huge bonuses in my book.)
It was the home of Thomas and Jane Carlyle from 1834 till 1881, upon Thomas' death, and the building itself is very typical of what one might expect from a middle class terraced home.
What I loved about this museum was the very lived-in feeling of it. Its rooms had evolved through time, with the addition of pieces of furniture and the attic study. Signs placed throughout the house told visitors about the lives of the Carlyles and the people who knew them, including other notable thinkers of the 19th century.
The museum made it very easy to imagine people milling about and attending to their daily lives, and it is a huge source for inspiration for our character Hugo's lifestyle in particular, who would we have living as a lodger in a comfortable middle-class household like this one.
Charles Dickens Museum
Of course, I had to come here. Though I'm not very acquainted with Charles Dickens' writings, it would be impossible to ignore his influence as someone who wrote heavily about early to mid-Victorian life.
This is where Dickens spent the earlier part of his career, and he and his family moved in just a few months before Queen Victoria began her reign in 1837. The furnishings, therefore, are very much to the fashion of the late Regency era, as are its fittings. It was still a helpful look into precedents for the era OSAS is set in and the types of furniture and spaces that would have carried on into the 1870s despite trends in interior fashion.
It is another typical Georgian house, much like the Carlyle's house in Chelsea, but feels less lived-in due to its higher ceilings and comparatively simple furnishings. It is, however, larger than Carlyle House and gives a better glimpse into what a family home looked like in the early Victorian era.
Hammersmith Terrace: Emery Walker's House and the Morris Museum
www.emerywalker.org.uk/ and williammorrissociety.org/our-museum/
Photos were not allowed in Emery Walker's House, so photos of it are from various web sources.
Emery Walker and William Morris were proponents of the late-Victorian Arts & Crafts, Private Press, and Socialist movements, and their community on Hammersmith Terrace flourished towards the turn of the century.
Part of what reawakened my love for Victoriana was learning about Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement, so it was a treat to be where it all started! It was interesting to see how different Walker's house was from the previous houses I had visited. The house was inhabited by Walker's daughter Dorothy and her late-life companion Elizabeth de Haas after Emery's death, but much of the interior remained the same despite the changing of times.
Its eclectic furnishings and coziness make it the most lived-in house museum I visited, and it was accompanied by a nice talk.
Outside of London
There were some day trips I absolutely had to make out of London, and Audley End House and Down House were the two most highly prioritized on that list.
Audley End House
There were no photos allowed inside the actual mansion (which you should still definitely check out via the link above), but the service wing and exterior was a free for all!
Audley End House was a little outside of my scope for OSAS but I had to go, if only for the 1880s Service Wing. It's a sprawling Jacobean (early 1600s) mansion that survived into the 1900s wartime period, and it's awe-inspiring inside and out. There's also an expansive kitchen garden and beautiful green grounds for visitors to enjoy the sun on.
I scheduled my visit for one of their Bringing Audley End to Life weekends (April-September) and was able to meet Mrs. Crocombe of Youtube fame! I asked her a few questions about what she and her kitchenmaid were making—teacakes, lemonade, and shortbread if I recall correctly.
(If you don't already know who Mrs. Crocombe is, head over to English Heritage's The Victorian Way playlist! It's an absolute treat.)
Anyway, it was magical.
Photos were not allowed inside Down House, so interior photos are from various web sources.
By this point I was in the last few days of my trip. My feet were sore and my brain was filled to bursting, but I had to make it to the home of the Darwins.
The house was built in the early 18th century and then was modernized in the late 18th century. Eventually, the house was bought by Charles Darwin in 1842, and they made the place their home, adding on cosmetic and structural changes as the years went by. Here, the Darwins created a free-willed family life, unusual for parents of the 19th century. The expansive gardens and natural surroundings also allowed Charles Darwin to conduct experiments in his outdoor laboratory, and he developed his work On the Origin of the Species here.
I mainly visited to see what Darwin's laboratory was like, as we have a character who is a Naturalist in his own right, but I was very pleasantly surprised to learn even more about Victorian family life than expected. At Down House, I saw an unexpected side of Victorian parenting that was much more lax than research had led me to believe.
I returned home with lots of helpful knowledge, great memories, and renewed enthusiasm for all the backgrounds I will inevitably have to draw!
Oh, and some really cool souvenirs.
All in all, a very successful trip.
I hope you enjoyed this log, and maybe you'll even go on a little Victorian tour yourself!
If there are any areas of research you'd like us to cover in a future research log, you can let us know on CuriousCat! We'd love to hear from you.
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