Knowle and Totterdown Local History Society
Our visit to the American Museum (2015)
On Saturday the 11th of July Gary, our neighbour Audrey and I made our way to Bath to meet up with friends of the Knowle & Totterdown Local History Society for a tour around the American Museum at Claverton. I have visited this unique Museum many times, but have never before joined a small personalised tour. It was a sunny day so we met up in the Cafe garden before our tour of the House.
We were split into several groups and our tour guide was a most charming lady named Jane Rose. Jane gave us the history of the building and how the Museum was the creation of two individuals, one American and one British. They wanted to celebrate our common heritage and Anglo-American partnership by way of the arts and artistic elements of everyday American life. Our first stop was to the first floor where we came across a large display of hand made quilts. We marvelled at the bold patterns, the brilliant colours and designs, still very vibrant even after all these years. One of them was called The Baltimore Bride Quilt 1820-1850 made by cotton piecing and applique. Bride quilts were made by groups of women who were members of the Methodist Church in Baltimore, sometimes Biblical quotes were included in the design. Since my last visit I noticed a working long case clock entirely made out of fabrics - incredible intricate work - it must have taken years to create. The design was made up of references to Time with a padded heart as a pendulum - most intriguing!
We then made our way to a 17th century room known as a Keeping Room. This particular Puritan dwelling, in a lay out from about 1690, was made up of beams and floorboards from Wrentham, Massachusetts. The term Keeping implies that the room is multi purpose and therefore combines living, dining, with a kitchen and bedroom in one - much like a modern bed-sitting room!
From here Jane took us to the Perley parlour which looked most elegant with a beautiful polished table with an exquisite tea service laid out ready for tea in front of a glowing fire - it looked most inviting. This room was once occupied by Captain William Perley 1735-1812, hence the name.
On we went to what was known as the Lee Room an early 18th century dwelling. Here we saw family life in this one room, living, eating and sleeping occurred in the same place - there was even an off shoot which had what was known as a Borning Room! The Lee room contained a shelf of British Delft China, a spinning wheel and even a wig stand so the home owner must have been fairly wealthy. It was interesting to see American versions of British furniture - a fireback even had the coat of arms of George the second!
Before we left the first floor we wandered into what was known as the Textiles Room which gave us an idea of the American way of quilting and the growth of samplers often embroidered by young girls. One of the samplers dates from 1774 and made from silk on linen made in Rhode Island.
Then we arrived on the Ground Floor to visit The Shaker Sister's Workroom. The Shakers believed in simplicity and their crafts reflected this tradition - the furniture was of simple design but elegant all the same.
The Pennsylvania German Room was quite a contrast with gaily painted tinware called spatterware but gaudier than what we associate with modern day barges. We saw colourful painted cupboards, intricately painted chairs very decorative and ornamented - a great contrast to the room before.
From here Jane led us into a very elegant room called the Greek Revival Room. This room belonged to a wealthy New York family of about 1830, and contained velvet drapes at the windows, a harp, and a mahogany pianoforte cabinet, Neoclassical architectural details, elegant furniture and tableware - great opulence - they obviously wanted to show off their great wealth and fortune.
The New Orleans Bedroom was next with its dark four poster bed, elaborate dressing table with silver backed hairbrush and stand. This room reflected the style of 1860 with a French influence and demonstrates the wealth of the antebellum planters of Louisiana.
Next we followed Jane into the Stencilled Bedroom of 1830 where all the wallpaper was painstakingly stencilled by itinerant painters who travelled across the country making their living. This room had beautifully decorated bedding with an elegant dressing table and four poster bed. The walls showed Folk Art paintings of children using bold colours.
We then passed into a hallway with cases full of silver platters and cutlery before making our way to the lower level to the South West Rooms which showed us wooden statues, art and furniture before we came into Conkey's Tavern. Years ago there was always a smell of gingerbread here being freshly made for visitors, but Health and Safety put an end to that unfortunately - a great loss. This room contained typical objects from an 18th Century Tavern with ceramic redraw, stoneware, and Windsor chairs, a style that was introduced from England in the 1720s.Tavern keepers were important men in their communities and often leaders of the local militia. The remaining rooms were mostly artefacts - including a " Dumb Stove " in the shape of George Washington which was cast iron but painted to look like bronze. Apparently these models were placed over a source of heat and radiated warmth - most odd! There were displays to attract younger visitors, and an exhibition regarding the Pilgrim Fathers who had bought The Mayflower second hand. It used to be employed to ferry wine supplies to the Baltics but proved dangerous when Atlantic storms tossed it about - it must have been frightening.
From the lower level we made our way to a well deserved lunch in the restaurant before exploring the extensive gardens with its old fashioned shop, the arboretum, and the Mount Vernon Garden with its topiary. We didn't have time to do full justice to all of the garden but we will visit again. There are many people who don't know that we have been blessed with this most interesting Museum - so close to home too. Our thanks must go to Peter Reid who kindly organised our most enlightening visit.
Then into the last two rooms - the Deming Parlour an 18th Century room with fashionable red drapes, an elaborate large gilt surround mirror, a tall writing desk, elegant furniture and patterned carpet - obvious wealth here, and then into the Deer Park Parlour. This late 18th room represents a home in Baltimore - and was stunning with its French wallpaper, its porcelain pots on top of an elegant marble fireplace. Two large alcoves held rather grand flower displays, a large armchair was silk covered - everything about this room reflected great wealth and the owner wanted the world to know it.
Thanks to K&TLHS member, Hilary, for her great review of our July visit. Peter arranged another top class event!
copyright 2018 Knowle & Totterdown Local History Society