Tomorrow I am heading to the UK to attend the Open Palace Programme. The programme consists of three weeks of travelling to various heritage sites in England and taking part in workshops and hearing lectures from the professionals that work in these incredible places. Topics covered will include conservation, education, visitor programmes and collection management. So although these sites and their collections are very different from those that I work with in Nelson, the focuses of the programme are relevant to anyone working in the Heritage/Museum Sector. On the programme alongside me are about 25 other history nerds from New Zealand, Australia and the US with heritage backgrounds (study or work).
We start in Bath, the day after one of my best friends gets married in Sheffield. Luckily this is a meet-up rather than the first official day of learning, and I’ve got the whole day to make my way to Bath, bridesmaid dress in tow. Our Bath accommodation is a restored Georgian town house, so I’ll be immersed in the 18th century right from the get-go. I love this time period, mainly for the exquisite clothing, and I cannot wait to visit Bath’s renowned Fashion Museum.
The entire city of Bath is a World Heritage Site, and here we’ll be learning from the staff at the Bath Preservation Trust. Time will be spent at No.1 Royal Crescent, Beckford’s Tower and Museum and the Museum of Bath Architecture, not to mention all the places we will be free to visit in our spare time. I aim to head to the Fashion Museum, the Holburne Museum, the Jane Austen Centre, and (of course) the Roman Baths.
After our four days in Bath we leave for Brighton, stopping for a visit at Stonehenge on the way. Over our weekend in Brighton we will spend time at the Royal Pavilion and the Regency Townhouse. When I lived in London I would often visit Brighton for day trips, getting a much needed seaside fix that any New Zealander living in a landlocked foreign city will be able to identify with. Two of my closest friends and I would visit in January to celebrate our birthdays, when it was freezing and strangely empty on the pier, and we could get a kick out of being the only people buying Brighton rock and riding the carousel in huge winter coats.
From Brighton we head to Windsor, visiting the medieval town of Lewes on the journey. Here we’re visiting the 15th century townhouse of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, which I won’t quite believe until I’m walking round inside it. We’ll stay the night in Windsor and spend the following day at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world (!). The next stop is Oxford; I’m looking forward to visiting the Ashmolean Museum, the first purpose-built museum in England.
Stowe is our next location, focussing on Stowe House, created between 1677 and 1779. Here we will learn from the professionals of Stowe Preservation Trust, touring the house and incredible landscape gardens as well as having a formal dinner in the house itself. After Stowe we leave for Woburn, where we’ll be looking at collection management and interpretation at Woburn Abbey. Woburn Abbey is a historic country house owned by the Duke of Bedford and was originally built as an abbey.
Our final base is London for the last week of the programme. We arrive at the beginning of a free weekend, and I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and visiting my favourite bookshops and eating spots from when I lived in London. I’ve been dreaming of a particular Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road for the past two and a half years!
Over the next week we will spend time at the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Apsley House, Fulham Palace and the British Library. One of our session leaders at the British Library is Tracy Borman, the Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces. Tracy Borman is a historian and I’m currently reading her latest book ‘The Private Lives of the Tudors’. I got it out from the library as I knew she’d be speaking on the programme, but I wasn’t expecting to find it so gripping! This book explores all of the elements of the Tudor kings and queens’ every day lives that we don’t often hear about; such as how much food was prepared in the enormous palace kitchens, or how the fabric and clothing ordered by the monarchs reflected politics at the time (like ordering more purple clothing when feeling insecure in their reigns, purple being a colour that only the royals could wear). I’m really glad I decided to read this before I left, as it has got me even more excited about the Open Palace Programme than I already was (if that’s possible). I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Henry VIII’s velvet-covered toilet seat.