Red Carpet Time

Thank goodness it’s only the Oscars that are mostly about frocks. In the heritage world we take a more sedate approach to the giving and receiving of awards. But I should warn you that the season is about to begin.

Two important prizes are about to be announced with apparently different purposes. The Art Fund Museum of the Year award has real money attached – £100,000 for the winning institution. It recognises, of course, what is in the judges’ view the best museum of 2013, usually because of an investment made in the previous year. So the brand spanking new Hepworth Museum in Wakefield was bound to be on the shortlist, but so are several museums housed in historic houses.

art fund finalists

The Art Fund has announced the finalists for Museum of the Year

Notable among them is the William Morris Gallery in East London, a collection of the extraordinarily influential works of Morris, his friend the artist Edward Burne-Jones and other key figures in the Arts and Crafts movement. Its home is the elegant Georgian house where the Morris family lived and where the young William spent his formative years. The refurbishment over the last few years at the gallery has created a fine space for the display of a remarkable collection of objects and paintings and while it is quite definitely presented as a gallery not a house, the interiors have provided an opportunity to recreate the interiors of William Morris’ workshop and of the original Morris & Co shop. As a display space, as an educational experience and as a continuation of the life of an important historic house, the William Morris Gallery is exemplary, and gives its visitors a truly up to date museum experience.

William Morris Guidebook

William Morris Guidebook

Dedicated to another dimension, are the Visit England Awards for Excellence. These pick up on the best in what England can offer tourists coming to the country or any of us, when we step outside our front doors to go on a visit. All of the finalists in the Large Visitor Attraction and most in the Small Visitor Attraction categories are heritage sites. Great, for example, to see Blenheim Palace, Beaulieu and the Roman Baths in Bath all up for a gong; it is a list of England’s longest standing and most important tourist attractions. Other categories cover accommodation and business, sustainability and open access, so these awards are good at celebrating the business side of tourism.

Visit England Awards for Excellence

Visit England Awards for Excellence

Sitting comfortably between these two awards schemes are the Hudson’s Heritage Awards. Here we are trying to recognise every part of what heritage sites have to offer for visitors in whatever guise they come: for a day out, as shoppers, as diners and takers of tea, as brides, as adventurers and as picnickers. But they also recognise the how well run heritage sites are for the future: the contribution of staff and volunteers, new commissions and commercial investments. Nominations for these awards are open now and run until September (or August if you want to nominate your favourite picnic spot).

Hudsons Awards 2013 Nominations Now Open

Hudsons Awards 2013 Nominations Now Open

Just like the Oscars, underneath the hype that surrounds each of these award schemes is a determination to maintain and improve standards at museums, in tourism and at all heritage places. We may not indulge in quite the same lengths of red carpet in heritage tourism but pay attention to the winners – they will each introduce you to what we do best.


Tightening the Belt on Heritage

Written by Sarah Greenwood

We can’t ignore the impact of our current national belt tightening on our heritage. The climate of austerity has some victims. Shambellie House in Dumfries & Galloway was until now, Scotland’s Museum of Costume. Scotland’s museums service has decided to close it to save money.

Shambellie was the home of 20th century book illustrator, Charles Stewart, who devoted his life to collecting costume, particularly from the 1830’s, but from the early 19th century to the 1950s. Most of this extensive collection he squirreled out of junk shops and charity shops in London and Edinburgh and satisfyingly it includes underwear and accessories.


Some of the costumes at Shambellie House

Anyone who visited Shambellie and was agonisingly laced into a Victorian corset will be daily thankful they weren’t born 150 years ago. Charles Stewart left the collection to the Royal Scottish Museum and the house to the Department of the Environment in 1977; it was opened to the public in 1982. Always a bit forgotten, most people will not even have been aware it was there; the new Museum of Scotland has rather distracted our attention in the past decade.


Dinner is served at Shambellie House

Shambellie, itself, is a fanciful house built for the Stewart family by David Bryce in 1856, about the time he was designing Edinburgh’s Fettes College buildings. The static displays of costumes in the rooms there tried to convey typical moments in the life of the house – Christmas Eve and family parties. The costume collection will revert to the main museum in Chambers Street in Edinburgh, where it would be marvellous to see it given space for display.

The future of Shambellie must now be uncertain, but at least the walled garden has been rescued by local gardener, Shelia Cameron, and is now restored around the rebuilt Victorian greenhouse and its surviving fruit trees and camellias.

shambellie gardens

Shambellie Gardens

It is more cheerful to hear from Christopher Boyle about his brave enterprise in rescuing ruined Kirklinton Hall in Cumbria. His family were last here when it was a bleak Border fortress in the 12th century but such a long time away from the place has not put Christopher off the task of rescuing this massive ruined mansion.

Once a pretty 17th century house, it changed hands several times and was doubled in size in the good times with Victorian wealth. When a dodgy enterprise, in which the Kray twins had an interest, ended with a destructive fire in the 1970s, it looked like Kirklinton’s life was over.

kirklinton hall oct 2012

Kirklinton Hall October 2012

Enter Christopher, who has a plan to rebuild the 17th century heart of the house while running a series of events under a temporary roof in the Victorian section. It’s quite a backdrop – a spectacular gaunt outline against the Cumbrian sky – and sets off a wedding, a performance or even a picnic like nowhere else. Kirklinton Hall is having an open day the Easter Monday where you can see what has happened with the restoration so far and what the plans are. You can even record your memories of your day at Kirklinton Hall with their Oral History table. For more information see Hudson’s Heritage.

Cornish Chairs and The Car Park King

Written by Sarah Greenwood

Opening the newspaper to see the skull of Richard III with a hole bashed in it by a halberd – yes Richard III’s actual skull – can’t fail to give you a bit of a thrill. The drama of it!

richard III skull

The recovered skull with severe damage

I’ve been haunted by an image of the blow falling and the ghastly muddy messy confusion of a Wars of the Roses battle. Then the naked body of the King, now suddenly ex-king, carried off to Leicester, abused and handed to the Priory to put into the ground without pomp or recognition. There’s something of the pub brawl about the Wars of the Roses; the battles were vicious and bloody and largely fought between a small group of people who knew each other well and were often related.

It’s a period full of myth, and contrast between the tall handsome knightly elder brother Edward IV and Richard, the youngest brother, ‘short of stature’. Now we know he had was bent, scoliosis made one shoulder higher than the other which would have surely meant that he walked a bit oddly and wasn’t a top swordsman. It’s tough on the Richard III Foundation who have long wanted to overturn the legend and reinvent Richard as an upright character. So the miracle of modern science tells us that, physically at least, he would not have stood straight, but was he morally upright? The mystery remains.

Reconstruction of what Richard III may have looked like

Reconstruction of what Richard III may have looked like

And disinterring bodies is not only happening in Leicester. Down in Cornwall archaeologists have been checking out another myth. Sir James Tillie was surely a great friend to have. Anyone who chooses to be buried in their best clothes well provided with tobacco and alcohol must have had a brilliant zest for life.

Just like the Pharaohs, Sir James clearly wanted to be sure that he was well provided with earthly pleasures in the afterlife and family legend remembered that he asked to be buried sitting up in his best chair with his books, pipe and wine after he died in 1713. He also chose his burial spot carefully, building a mausoleum in his garden at Pentillie Castle to make the most of the sweeping views across the River Tamar, still one of the most beautiful spots for a wedding.

Sir James Tillie's Mausoleum, mid-renovation at Pentillie Castle

Sir James Tillie’s Mausoleum, mid-renovation at Pentillie Castle – picture courtesy of Pentillie Castle

This week, the Coryton family found the remains of their dead ancestor and, yes, it seems he may indeed have been sitting in a chair, decayed woodwork with what looks like leather covering with metal studs surrounding his bones, would fit perfectly with a late seventeenth century chair. This garden mausoleum, later embellished by Humphrey Repton, is probably the earliest in the country so well worth the funds for excavation and restoration provided by Natural England and the Country Houses Foundation.

The Vault of the Mausoleum from the roof - picture courtesy of Pentillie Castle

The Vault of the Mausoleum from the roof – picture courtesy of Pentillie Castle

No need to test these bones, unlike poor old Richard III, Sir James Tillie’s descendants are still around to clean up his mausoleum and raise a glass to him. How pleased he would have been! For more information on what is happening at check out the Pentillie Castle website.