One of my favorite places–William Herschel Museum, Bath


I find a lot of people don’t know about this museum in Bath, so naturally whenever I get the opportunity I spread the word. It’s the home of the astronomer William Herschel, and where he discovered the planet Uranus in 1781 (I mean, through a telescope. He didn’t find a major planet lying around among the old newspapers, which is the sort of thing, on a less celestial scale, that happens in my house). Herschel’s story is fascinating. He was a refugee from Hanover and a musician (you can buy recordings of his works), and traveled around England for a time as an itinerant music teacher before settling in Bath. There, one of his pupils paid him with a telescope, and he figured out he could make a better one. So he did. His sister Caroline joined him in England and was also an astronomer, and after the discovery of Uranus many famous names flocked to his observatory at 19 New King St. Eventually King George III invited him to move near Windsor to continue his work there.
The house is gorgeous and intimate–on a much smaller and modest scale than the houses of the Royal Crescent, for instance, and beautifully restored (I kidnapped a pic of the music room–note the “wall to wall” carpeting–actually long strips of carpet, and the intricate wallpaper) and full of Herschel’s books, furniture, and telescopes. His laboratory still features the cracked flagstones from a mishap of 1781. There’s also a charming garden, with a replica of his telescope.
I only discovered this museum the last time I visited Bath and I’ve been in love with it ever since.
Anyone else care to share their favorite place?
Janet

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13 Responses to One of my favorite places–William Herschel Museum, Bath

  1. Janet:

    Oh, excellent post! If I ever get to Bath, heck, if I ever leave Brooklyn again, I’ll check out Mr. Herschel’s House. I grew up in Cambridge, MA, and just over the river in Boston was the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (http://www.gardnermuseum.org/index.asp), which was Ms. Gardner’s house and fabulous collection. It was there I first encountered John Singer Sargent (and what is it about three names? Next I’ll be calling myself Megan Alyssa Frampton), who is my favorite painter. Having art in someone’s home is a lot different than in a museum, and I used to go there a lot when I was younger. It definitely affected my perspective and opinions on art forever.

  2. Cara King says:

    I’ve only ever been in the shop in the Herschel museum, Janet — but I mean to go next time. πŸ™‚

    Hmm, museums I love… I do love the “Building of Bath” museum (in Bath) — utterly fascinating! I think the “Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood” (in London) has some fantastic stuff, but the last time I went it was still not very organized, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it… I think the “Wallace Collection” in London has some of my favorite art ever… (I adore Fragonard and Boucher and Watteau and that ilk, and Gainsborough and Reynolds and their ilk too…!) πŸ™‚

    I actually found some great Regency research material in the Science Museum in London, too…

    As for non-museum places — I think Chiswick House is perfect. Oh, and Kenwood House (with the Iveagh Bequest) is smashing… Oh dear, I really need to stop now or I’ll rattle on forever!!!

    Cara
    (trying to out-Cara someone) πŸ™‚

  3. You know, I’ve been consistently out-Cara-ing you since I made the snarky comment. Hoisted on my own petard, but will I stop? No, mhwa ha ha ha!

  4. Looks like a cool place, Janet. I can’t add any favorite British museums since I’ve not even been out of the U.S. But I do love historic sites here, particularly Colonial Williamsburg.

  5. Elena Greene says:

    Janet, you are making me want to go back so badly! This looks like a fascinating place, and one to prompt story ideas, too. I’ve never read a Regency with a character into astronomy, at least not a good one. The only one I read had a heroine was supposed to be into astronomy, but she never did go out to stargaze. No moonlit meetings by the telescope with a geeky-but-sexy astronomer hero. (I find intelligence very sexy.) It was a big disappointment. But perhaps this has been done better; I certainly haven’t read enough to be sure!

    But I digress. Favorite places. I have so many of them, in England and here. Standard ones like Royal Crescent Number 1, Chatsworth, the gardens at Sissinghurst. But I’m also heavily influenced by outdoor settings. Places like Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District, Tintagel. I’ll have to post some pictures sometime.

    Now I really want to go back!

    Elena, wondering if her kids could handle the trip

  6. Todd says:

    I loved the Herschel museum as well! I find the 18th century a fascinating time from the history-of-science point-of-view. (Whew! Too many hyphens.) It’s been a few years since I’ve been, but I plan to go back the next time I’m in Bath.

    Also in Bath, the Building of Bath Museum is top notch. It made me appreciate the beautiful Georgian architecture even more.

    In London, the Geffrye Museum has a display of rooms done in different period styles with proper period furniture, wainscotting, etc., including a Regency room and a Georgian room. When we went it was close to Christmas, and all the rooms were decorated for Christmas as they would have been in their periods. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest to get to–you have to take the Underground and then get a bus.

    Love the Gardner Museum in Boston, too, and The Cloisters in Manhattan.

    And BTW, Elena, one of my favorite Regencies is LADY ELIZABETH’S COMET by Sheila Simonson, in which the heroine is an astronomer.

    Todd-the-exhibitionist

  7. Cara King says:

    Yes, Elena, I highly recommend LADY ELIZABETH’S COMET, by Sheila Simonson. Her Regencies were on the realistic side — the relationship grew over the period of months, IIRC, and there was a lot going on. Very interesting.

    At the moment, my favorite local museum-type-place is the Huntington (aka the Huntington Gardens, Huntington Library, or Huntington Museum) in the Los Angeles area. Gorgeous gardens, great old books and manuscripts, and my favorite sort of art (Gainsborough, Lawrence, etc). And they do a great tea! πŸ™‚

    Cara

  8. Todd says:

    Ooo, yes, the Huntington! Yum.

    Todd-who-could-use-a-cup-of-tea-about-now.

  9. Elena Greene says:

    Thanks for the suggestion, Todd and Cara! LADY ELIZABETH’S COMET goes onto my TBR pile now. I wonder if perhaps some of it was inspired by Caroline Herschel? I’m pretty sure she discovered a comet. I remember reading about her in a really interesting reference book, THE SCIENTIFIC LADY by Patricia Phillips.

  10. hi Trish–
    I hope to get to Williamsburg this fall sometime–I’ve never been altho it’s not so far from where I live.
    And Todd, to my deep regret I didn’t get to the Building of Bath Museum last time–I was running out of time, and decided instead to go on a pilgrimage to the house my aunts used to own, up one of the steep hills and a fair walk from the center of town. But next time…
    Janet

  11. Todd says:

    I think visiting your aunts’ old house sounds like a worthy use of time. πŸ™‚ But when you get back to Bath, I do recommend the Building of Bath Museum.

    Todd-who-repeats-himself-repeatedly

  12. I love the Building of Bath museum! Last time I went with a group of other writers, and I doubt they had ever seen people get so excited about old paint smaples before. πŸ™‚ Bath is a beautiful city, and I can’t wait to go back someday.

    In the meantime, maybe I could make it to Williamsburg, since it’s just a wee bit closer!

  13. McVane says:

    My favourite place is the Dunmore Pineapple at Dunmore Park [near Airth] in Stirlingshire [Photo].

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