Northamptonshires Hidden Heritage

Northamptonshires Hidden Heritage

Mr. Darcy, the Vintage Band, a Carpetbagger’s kit and the Goldfish Sellers.

Blog by Judith Allnat

On the trail of Northamptonshire’s hidden heritage, we had some fantastic experiences and found out some weird and wonderful things. I enjoyed the company of young people from the Northampton Youth Forum and finding out their responses to the special places that we visited. Here are some of my special highlights:

At Oundle Museum, the young people were able to try on period costumes. As the museum is in the old courthouse and cells, I asked them to ‘create a criminal’ by naming and imagining a character and what they might have done to end up in the dock . As a result we shared the blood-curdling tales of Cassius and Cornelia Emory and Jasper Ashby, the revenge of Magnolia Butterworth, the story of Christmas tree felons Harriet and Ivy Porter and the disorderly doings of undertaker, Orson Hogg. I enjoyed the characters immensely and hope we might develop them further in a workshop. There is more to come on their dastardly deeds…
Two of the costumes included frock coats and top hats: ‘Mr. Darcy’ style. When having a group photo taken outside the museum, it would have seemed churlish for the gents not to tip their hats to passers by – something that took local motorists by surprise!
The consensus was that the way the exhibits followed a time line from the Roman era to the present day made it interesting. Comments were: ‘I liked the way it went through time in one small town’ and ‘It was good the way it went from BC through to AD’. It made me laugh when one of the group pointed at a 1980’s photo and said ‘Look at their retro glasses!’ Seems like yesterday to me. Which all goes to prove that time is relative…

At the Prebendal Manor we encountered the past in a very ‘hands on’ way through using the senses. We held a 1,000 year old arm bone, smelt Victorian smelling salts (old nappies!) and rope woven from Lime bark and rubbed soap made from soapwort and water (very bright green) into our hands.
Dressed in medieval costume, the impromptu ‘Vintage’ band was formed and mastered ‘Hot Cross Buns’ on Gemshorn, Bone Whistle, Flute and Rebab. Who could forget this performance, or the grumpy faced gargoyles and the three- winged goose ? The visit was full of quirky things and the place has a special magic.
It’s often the tiny details that catch one’s imagination. Inside the Manor House we saw the spot where King Knut was reputed to have sat playing chess because he was bored. We also saw a ‘squint’, a hole cut diagonally through the wall so that you could look secretly at whoever approached your door before you let them in. I couldn’t help but see the bored King Knut in my mind’s eye, constantly jumping up from his chess board every time he heard a sound, to look out in the hope of a visitor.

At Harrington Aviation Museum we explored the exhibits then made a group list of things we would like in our kitbag if we were soldiers climbing into a plane through the ‘Joe hole’ about to go on ‘operation carpetbagger’. What we came up with was:
A parachute (definitely)
Gun and ammo
Dehydrated food
Fake ID
Water purification tablets
A map concealed inside a pencil

Having watched a film of the base in its operational heyday, it was strange to realise that we were sitting in one of the rooms that had been featured. For me, these moments are fascinating; as though the past is tapping you on the shoulder.

My favourite room at Kelmarsh Hall was the room decorated with wallpaper in a Chinese design. The colours are rich; the scene, one of flowers, foliage and exotic birds with tiny people at the bottom going about their daily business, playing games and selling goldfish. The wallpaper is in fact canvas hung on battens so that it’s portable and can be moved from house to house. I was intrigued by the whole idea of this blurring of the line between wallpaper and art. There was no obvious pattern repeat and all the walls were covered so that the impression given was of standing inside a painting.
The word I kept hearing from the young people as they wandered the rooms and gardens of Kelmarsh was ‘beautiful’. We talked about the symmetry of the Georgian architecture and the way that this was continued into the formal garden creating a sense of order and peace. There is something enchanting about visiting places that draw us for a little while into the past; we were all loath to leave the walled garden and venture out again into the modern world.


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The Northamptonshire Museums and Historic Houses Forum has existed since 2002 and provides its many members of museums, heritage attractions and historic houses with a friendly network of support.