Thursday 25 January 2018
Today, Linda and I went to Harrow's Borough Museum, in the charming setting of Headstone Manor. The River Yeading runs nearby, and there were catkins overhanging the water of the moat.
The museum exists in three buildings, apart from the Great Barn, which is reserved for weddings and other events of that nature. The gardens around are being interestingly planted, and will be lovely in a year or two
We began in the small barn, where a film outlined the main events in the history of the manor, and then crossed the bridge into the manor house.
This area has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and, while the museum has comparatively few artefacts, its collection is well displayed and explained. As befits a community museum, children and families are generously catered for. Rather a nice cartoon mallard (called Bill, hoho) points the way to various puzzles and activities, and there are cases showing the fruits of collaboration with local schools and colleges.
The Romans were here, conveniently for the A5 (or, as it was then, Watling Street) and the Anglo-Saxons had a shrine, or Herga on Harrow Hill. It is thought that Herga morphed into Harrow as a name.
The Domesday Book confirms what a prosperous place this was in 1087. Its lord was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and it was a country home for succeeding prelates until Henry VIII annexed it in 1545 and then sold it on to Sir Edward North. But of course the land continued to be farmed by tenant farmers, whatever was happening to ownership and power.
A country area until the arrival of the railway in 1837, Harrow rapidly became commuter territory. But a number of industries also flourished here, and we learned about them as we wandered from room to room.
We saw a microlith from the stone age. In Roman times, a potter alled Doinius worked in the village, and his (signed) pots have been found far away, just as Samian ware had been found in Harrow
The Whitefriars glassworks was one of the most famous industries of the area, and we saw examples of Whitefriars work, as well as the interpretations of the local Art College Students
Next we came to the area with the dressing up box, but also an excellent opportunity to cut up (wooden) vegetables to make a stew. We were especially impressed with some plastic lettuce leaves, which seemed completely real, and with the interesting information. Did you know that Tudor cooks always cooked fruit before putting it in a pie? even strawberries? apparently for health reasons!
This is where the bread oven had been put in the the 17th century, presumably making the bedroom above nice and cosy.
Also here was a display of 20th century toys, and some clothes and wallpaper of the period. Another room had some material about the First World War, though it felt a bit detached from other things we had seen,
There was another room upstairs devoted to the Whitefriars glass works. Who knew that the chandeliers for the Bath Assembly Rooms were made by Whitefriars? Another local firm was Hamilton's (Paintbrushes; there was a display case of them)
There was a room with material about Harrow Private School, explaining that the Trustees had set up John Lyon School in the 1876, to fulfil the terms of the original Tudor endowment, since by then there was little free or local about Harrow School.
We know that borough museums always have an area about famous residents. Mrs Beeton, of Household Management fame, lived in Pinner, so she is recorded here. But I thought much more interesting was the story of Daniel Dancer, the local 18th century miser, who slept on straw and ate sheep found dead in the fields, and left a derelict house with every cranny stuffed full of coins and treasury bills. Of course, anyone who has read Our Mutual Friend knows about Dancer, because his was one of the lives which Noddy Boffin pretended to emulate when he was trying to develop a character as a skinflint
In several places, we came across projections of former residents, who described aspects of their lives. One was the housekeeper to the Archbishops, who led us into an account of how things had been before the Thomas Cranmer handed the property over to Henry VIII
Finally, as we left, we past a splendid toposcope set in the ground, with useful distances: Lambeth Palace would have been seven hours away by horse; Bentley Priory is four seconds away by Second World War Spitfire; the Bannister Stadium could be reached in 5.2 minutes if you run a sub-4 minute mile.