Special Six: Taunton Museum Highlights

During my recent holiday in England, I visited the Museum of Somerset with my sister. The museum, which is located within the 12th century Taunton castle, had a lovely collection of exhibits about life in the Somerset region from prehistoric to present day.

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The castle, designated as an ancient monument, has an interesting history from its 12th century beginnings to its decline in the 16th century, its role in the siege of Taunton in 1644/45 and as the site of the hangings of 144 of Monmouth’s supporters, following the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

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View from an older section of the castle

The reconstructed castle has several interesting galleries on display. While I enjoyed the different sections in the museum, the following six are the exhibits that I enjoyed most.

(1) The tree of Somerset

The sculpture greets you as you enter the ground floor gallery of the museum. The 175 year old Somerset oak tree on Quantock hills was originally felled to be made into beams. However, it was created into an artwork by Simon O’Rourke, reflecting some of the stories and objects to be found at the Museum of Somerset.

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(2) Plesiosaur fossil

The Plesiosaur fossil is displayed in the Great Hall of the castle museum. Discovered by a Somerset fisherman, this fossil of a Plesiosaur was the first complete skeleton to be found in Britain for more than a century. The marine reptile thrived during the Jurassic period but became extinct about 66 million years ago.

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(3) The Low Ham Mosaic

The floor mosaic was found in the bath block of a 4th century Low Ham Roman villa. The mosaic floor, which tells the story of Vigil’s Dido and Aeneas, is considered to be one of the most famous objects surviving Roman Britain.

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(4) Frome Hoard

The Frome hoard was discovered in 2010 and is the largest hoard of coins ever found in a single container in Britain. The 160 Kg hoard is thought to have been buried in the 3rd century at Witham friary near Frome.

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(5) The Shapwick Canoe:

The canoe was made from an oak tree trunk felled in 350 BC and was found in 1906, preserved in peat.

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(6) Wild Art: Nature Re-Imagined, an exhibition by the Neal brothers

During my visit to the museum, there was a lovely exhibition of photography, sculpture and paintings by the Neal brothers. The brothers’ art career stemmed from their inspiring childhood explorations of the Somerset countryside.

There is much to discover about the history of the region, at the Museum of Somerset.

Have you visited Taunton and its castle museum? What is your favourite exhibit, from your own visit, or from my special six?

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[I am linking this post to City Tripping #62]

MummyTravels
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A Cruise on Lake Geneva

It was seven years ago that I visited Lausanne for a couple of days. I particularly remember the cruise I took from Morges to Lausanne, across the picturesque Lake Geneva. Here is a photo tour of the cruise from Quai Lochmann to the Ouchy waterfront.

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Swiss artist Milo Martin’s work “Boy and Girl”, Morges

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Water fountain at Ouchy port lakeside gardens

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Ouchy waterfront

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Lake Geneva is easily one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen to-date.

Which is your favourite lake cruise?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #61]

Wander Mum

Bath Experiences: A morning at the Jane Austen Centre

I had wanted to have breakfast at the 18th century Hall and Woodhouse pub restaurant so I decided to try out the restaurant on the morning I visited the Jane Austen Centre, as it was nearby at Old King Street. The warm crumpets with a pot of hot tea was delicious.

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Crumpets at Hall and Woodhouse

I had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying my tea and the spacious restaurant, before walking over to the Jane Austen Centre.

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After being given a souvenir guide book, I was directed to the waiting room at the centre. I browsed through the souvenir, which included 34 lesser known Jane Austen facts, as I waited for my guide. Soon enough, Serena, the guide for my tour turned up.

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We walked into a room which had the Austen family portraits on its wall. Serena spoke about Jane Austen’s immediate family – her parents and her siblings. I learnt that Jane Austen’s parents were avid readers and encouraged their children to make use of their library at home. Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother, had enjoyed writing poetry and there is one of her rhymes included in the exhibition room. The Austen siblings seem to have been close to each other and had interesting and diverse careers. I also learnt that one of Jane’s siblings, the one indicated by a question mark in the portraits on the wall, had been born with disabilities and had been raised separate from the family, together with an uncle. Serena also mentioned that all Austen siblings knew sign language and probably learnt it to communicate with the second brother, George. I wonder why sign language had not made it into Jane Austen’s writing, as many other facets of her life and people she knew did show up in her fictional characters.

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After the overview of the Austen family, Serena led me to the exhibition room. The exhibition is quite a small one but it does have some interesting objects. It starts with a walk down a corridor lined with framed photographs. The first two are copies of Cassandra’s sketches of Jane Austen. Apparently, the Austen family had felt that the sketches were not reflective of Jane but since it is the only one in existence, it has become her official portrait.

Further down the corridor, there is a map of Bath with places where Jane Austen stayed during her time in Bath. The places reflected the family’s deteriorating financial circumstances. While the building of the Jane Austen Centre has nothing to do with Jane Austen, it is at least similar to the building at No 25 Gay Street further down the same road, where Jane, her sister and mother moved to after her father’s death.

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There were some interesting framed snippets such as the Laws of Bath written by Richard Nash Esq, the Master of the Ceremonies of the Pump Room, in 1707. The quite humorous laws end with the line “whereas Politeness, Decency and Good Manners, three ancient Residents at Bath have, of late, left the Place, whoever shall restore them, shall be rewarded with Honour and Respect.”

On one section of the wall were three portraits indicating the men who had a brief romantic connection in Jane Austen’s life. The portrait in the middle is the younger brother of close friends of Jane, who proposed to her when he turned 21. Jane initially accepted his proposal of marriage but after considering it for 12 hours, turned it down the next day.

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At the end of the tour, there was a little table with a plate of cookies that Serena invited me to try. They were called Charlotte Palmer’s Fine Little Cakes and are made fresh daily for the Jane Austen Centre from a period recipe in Laura Boyle’s Cooking with Jane Austen & Friends. The cookbook is available at the Jane Austen Centre gift shop.

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On the adjacent table was a humorous recipe in rhyme, for a plum pudding, thought to have been written by Jane Austen’s mother and found in the recipe book of Martha Lloyd, a close friend of Jane.

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Just before entering the gift shop, there is a little area with desks and writing materials, where I tried my hand at writing with a quill.

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The Jane Austen Centre offers the visitor a lovely, little eclectic exhibition, the charm of which lies in the one hour guided tour, where the guide brings to life insights into Jane’s life. It is an interesting stop on your Jane Austen trail in Bath, before or after you have visited Jane Austen’s home in Chawton village in Hampshire.

The Centre also has a Regency Tea Room, where you could have ‘Tea with Mr. Darcy’ or ‘Lady Catherine’s Proper Cream Tea’ among other options. Of interest is also the Jane Austen festival held in Bath, organized by the Centre every September.

Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Jane Austen Centre. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #13]

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Bath Experiences: In the neighbourhood of the Circus

Another iconic Georgian architecture in Bath, designed by John Wood and completed by his son, is the Circus. John Wood, the senior, apparently had surveyed Stonehenge and ensured the diameter of the Circus was the same, as he believed that Bath had been the main Druid centre of Britain. The circular space surrounded by townhouses is in the vicinity of a couple of Bath’s museums.

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Turning off one of the three entrances to the Circus, onto Bennett Street and walking a few steps brings one to the Assembly Rooms and Fashion museum.

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The Fashion museum, housed in the Assembly rooms, was founded by designer Doris Moore in 1963 and initially opened as the Museum of Costume with the private collection of Doris. It is now owned by the Bath and North East Somerset Council.

I was handed an audio guide before I started my walk through the collection. The interesting collection started from fashion during the Tudor period and how a man or woman living in 1600 would have dressed for different occasions. In this post, I share what I learnt about the evolution of fashionable wear in Bath, during my visit to the museum.

This linen waistcoat, is thought to have belonged to Lady Alice L’Estrange, wife of a member of parliament during James I’s time. The waistcoat, worn over a petticoat and loose gown, is considered an informal dress worn at home in the 1600s.

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The open robe, worn with a silk petticoat designed to be seen, was the formal dress for social occasions in Bath during the 1730s, the heyday of Georgian Bath.

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The brocade woven silk closed robe was the alternative choice for a lady of fashion in the mid 1700s.

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By 1800, there was a huge demand for simple muslin, produced in Scotland with lightweight cotton fabric from India.

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Crinoline came into fashion by the mid 19th century, and a lightweight printed cotton dress with a separate bodice and skirt worn over a cage crinoline, was considered fashionable day wear. At one point, the cage crinoline was halved and became the bustle though I still can’t quite imagine how women sat on chairs with the bustle or full cage crinoline.

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The collection continues on till present day, but I didn’t find them as interesting as the 16th to 19th century fashion.

Emerging from the fashion museum, I asked about the Assembly rooms but they were closed to visitors that day, as there was a function taking place. I returned to the Assembly rooms on another day, and though the rooms were being set up for yet another function, I was allowed to have a look this time. The Assembly rooms, opened in 1771, were purpose built for an assembly – an 18th century form of entertainment. The two main rooms were the ball room and the tea room, with the octagon room connecting both.

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Ball room

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The octagon room was originally intended as a circulating space, where guests could listen to music or play cards. A new card room was subsequently added and which functions as a cafe today.

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Tea room

I walked around the three rooms, trying to imagine what Jane Austen would have observed on her first visit to the rooms.

On Bennett Street, opposite the Assembly rooms, is the Museum of East Asian Art.

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The museum’s website states that it is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the arts and cultures of East and South east Asia. The museum’s collection, of around 2000 objects spanning from 5000 BC to-date, is housed in a restored Georgian townhouse. While the museum was interesting, I was a bit tired after having just spent several hours in another museum and so I briefly browsed through sections of the museum. Of the different objects on display, the ruyi scepters caught my eye. Apparently, ruyi scepters have had various uses in Chinese history from being a conversation stick, where the person holding the ruyi scepter could talk, to being a backscratcher.

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After exploring the museums near Circus, I decided to stop for lunch at the cosy family run restaurant, Same Same but Different on Bartlett Street. The restaurant’s website proudly announces that they only use local Bath based suppliers for their food, which in turn is made from scratch.

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I had their tasty soup of the day with toasted bread, though I think they are more popular for their all-day breakfast/ brunch menu from what I observed from the orders placed at adjacent tables.

The Circus is certainly a neighbourhood that one needs to walk around, admiring the 18th century architecture. Dropping into the Assembly rooms to see the primary public rooms that provided entertainment to the visitors to Bath in the 18th century is also not to be missed and if you have time, and the interest in the evolution of fashion in Bath over the last 400 years, do explore the Fashion museum.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Fashion Museum and Museum of East Asian Art. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #59]

Wander Mum

Bath Experiences: Skyline Bus Tour and Green Rocket juice

I had wanted to visit Prior Park , especially to see the beautiful Palladian bridge there, during my stay in Bath. Since the park was one of the stops along City Sightseeing‘s Skyline bus tour, I decided to take it to the park and back. I soon learnt that the park was only open during the weekends in winter and as it was a weekday, it would be closed. However, I decided to simply go on the circular bus tour to see parts of Bath outside of its historic centre. I am glad I did that because I very much enjoyed the Skyline tour.

One of the first buildings to catch my eye on the bus tour was St. Mary’s at Bathwick. According to the church’s website, there has been a church at the site for around a thousand years. The present building though was built in the early 19th century.

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One of the stops along the skyline tour is the Holburne museum, formerly Sydney hotel, located in Sydney pleasure gardens. The museum houses the art collection, of Sir William Holburne, which was bequeathed to the people of Bath by Holburne’s sister in 1882.

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We passed No 4 Sydney Place, where Jane Austen and her family stayed from 1801 – 1804. It has now been converted into 4 self-catering apartments, where visitors to Bath can stay at.

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The view of the city from Bathwick hill was lovely. However, I was seated on the other side of the bus so this was all I could capture on my camera.

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We passed the old Roundhouse, which was the Bathwick toll house. It had been managed by the Bath Turnpike Trust, which was set up in 1707 for maintaining and improving the roads, and continued to collect tolls till 1878.

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The North road was quite scenic, though the audio commentary informed us that this road had been quite unsafe a couple of centuries ago due to the highwaymen along the route.

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Our circular tour took us through Widcombe before returning to Bath city centre. For those who enjoy long walks, the 6 mile Bath Skyline walk in summer might be a lovely option.

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After being dropped back at the starting point on Manvers Street, I decided to stop by Green Rocket cafe, a vegetarian cafe and restaurant, to have a fresh juice. I went for the cafe’s namesake juice, which had a delicious mix of apple, cucumber, broccoli, celery, parsley and spirulina. It was the last ingredient that made me go for the Green Rocket juice simply because I had never heard of spirulina before and learnt that it is a blue-green algae, considered a super food.

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Since the City sightseeing ticket included both of their Bath tours, the Skyline tour and the City tour, I also decided to go on the City tour. This tour started in front of the Abbey.

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Guildhall

After a near circular short loop via High Street and Grand Parade, the bus tour took us around the city, stopping at key stops close to several of Bath’s attractions. The city tour is best taken on the first day of one’s visit to Bath to give a better feel for the city as well as cut down on the walking in between attractions. I, on the other hand, took this at the end of my three day visit when I had walked around the city centre a lot and visited the museums I had wanted to so the city tour wasn’t as enjoyable for me as the Skyline tour had been.

I did have a lovely view of the city and took some beautiful photos of places I had walked past previously.

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Queen Square

I would highly recommend the Skyline tour as I enjoyed both the audio commentary and the scenic route around Bath. The city tour is better taken on one’s first day or two in Bath.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me a free ticket on the City Sightseeing Bath tours. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to Faraway Files #12 and City Tripping #60]

Suitcases and Sandcastles
MummyTravels

Bath Experiences: Visiting No 1 Royal Crescent

A lovely November morning in Bath, I decided to visit the Royal Crescent. I first stopped at the Bath Bun at the Abbey Green to try out the famous Bath bun, which was created by Dr. Oliver for his patients in 1761.

After having my sugar fix for the day, I made my way over to the Royal Crescent. Admiring the row of terraced houses from the green, I turned to No 1 Royal Crescent, the first of the houses to be built on the row.

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No 1 Royal Crescent has had various occupants starting with a wealthy landowner, Mr. Henry Sandford, who lived at the house from 1776 – 1796. At one point in its history, the house was a seminary for young ladies. The Bath Preservation Trust is currently responsible for conserving the house and it is now a house museum decorated and furnished as it would have been during Sandford’s residence at the house.

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My tour of the house started in the morning parlour on the ground floor. The parlour had been laid out for breakfast. The residents of the house would have had their breakfast in this room, before having the table folded away to receive callers during the day.

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The study was my favourite room in the house. Especially with that telescope, writing desk and large chair, among the many interesting objects in the room. However, if I had visited the house in the 18th century, I would not have been able to see this room because it was the Gentleman’s retreat and according to the museum website “a sanctuary where a cultured Georgian might indulge his interests in science, inventions and the natural world”.

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The room on the other side of the ground floor was the formal dining room, which was usually opened when having guests over for dinner.

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Climbing the stairs to the first floor, I came across another set of two rooms. I walked into the room above the dining room which was called the ‘Withdrawing room’ where the ladies withdrew after dinner to have tea and play some music on the harpsichord.

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Across the floor was the lady’s bedroom, which was decorated in a soothing pastel and floral design.

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On the second floor was the Gentleman’s bedroom which had furniture by George Hepplewhite, one of the leading furniture makers of that time.

The best feature of the Gentleman’s bedroom was the lovely view of the Crescent.

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Using the stairs, I walked back down to the ground floor and further to the basement area. The kitchen passage lined with jars led to the kitchen and scullery.

It was interesting to see the kitchen equipment and utensils that had been in use. Meat and other perishable food was kept cool in the meat safe in the scullery, which was basically a cupboard away from the heat of the open range stove in the kitchen.

Two other rooms in the basement were the servants’ hall and the housekeeper’s room. Though sparsely furnished, the housekeeper had some privacy while she sorted out the bills and household requirements.

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The visit to No 1 Royal Crescent provided a lovely insight to how a wealthy resident in Bath would have lived in the 18th century. The house museum is definitely a must see during one’s visit to Bath.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to No 1 Royal Crescent. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #58 and Faraway Files #15]

MummyTravels
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