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Abington Park Museum virtual tour

Accessing Abington Park Museum

Sit back and enjoy a virtual tour of Abington Park Museum. Wander through the public galleries and historic rooms virtaully. On your way look out for the blue markers. These indicate films of our tour guide volunteers sharing the history of the building and the people that once lived here. The films can be viewed in any order but we suggest you start with the introductory film in the Great Hall.

Abington Park Museum virtual 360 experience

This experience was created by our volunteers to improve and enable access to Abington Park Museum. Volunteers researched the history of the building, scripted the films, featured in the films and critiqued the 360 experience as a whole. As a result the look, feel, and content of this experience is a testiment to our brilliant volunteers! The project was funded by a grant from Museum Development East Midlands. We offer many diverse volunteer opportunities.

Abington Park Museum Tour Transcriptions

The Great Hall 1
Welcome To The Museum

Welcome to Abington museum, a building that's at least 500 years old and has served as the manor house for the village of Abington, an asylum and, more recently, as a museum. You wouldn't guess it's age from the outside though, because the east and south wings were remodelled in the eighteenth century. But come inside and you find yourself in a typical medieval hall house. It was used for dining and the service area was that end with the kitchen and scullery. That would have been screened off though and above it there would have been a minstrel's gallery to entertain the family. Imagine tables the length of the room, perhaps a hearth in the centre with a vent in the ceiling to allow the smoke to escape. The lord and his family would have been seated with their guests and their family at this end on a dais, and you can still see the remains of that dais with the step over there in the corner. The Lord that was here was John Bernard and his coat of arms can be seen in the middle stained glass window over there. You also have to imagine in this room that the walls were panelled with beautiful, coloured wooden panellings. And we're going to look at those panellings in our next room which is called the Oak Room.

The Great Hall 2

But the manor of Abington is much older than this hall. It was first recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086 and at that time the population was 18: 12 villains, 5 bordars [smallholders] and 1 slave all bound to the land. The lord of the manor was the Norman Richard Engaine, or Richard the Engineer, and before him the Saxon Alwin the Hunter who has possibly been dispossessed at the conquest. The remains of the medieval farming can still be seen in the ridge and furrow in the park.

Oak Room
Oak Room 1

Well here we are in the Oak Room which is in the 17th century addition to the south side of the house. It's called the Oak Room because of the beautiful oak panelling in here and we think the panelling came from the great hall, simply because there's been additional panels put in to make it fit into this room. It's called 'linen fold' and the pattern that you see on the panels but also you'll notice we've got the coat of arms above the door: the coat of arms of the Bernard, once again with the bear. And you can see the letters J, M and B up there, the I is actually a J, and they stand for John and Margaret Bernard. That enables us to date the panelling in this room. Unfortunately there were 2 John Bernards, they both married a Margaret, one after the other, but at least we can date the panelling to somewhere between 1485 and 1508. Elsewhere in this room you'll notice not just the linen folds, but there are actually some pictures carved: very interesting, fascinating stories in picture which my colleague Douglas will tell you about in more detail.
There's also though a legend attached to this room. The legend is that somewhere in this room behind the panelling are hidden  papers that once belonged to William Shakespeare. Maybe some lost sonnets, maybe some unfinished plays – who knows? In the 19th century there was a Shakespearean scholar called James Halliwell-Phillipps, a well-known scholar, who was convinced that those papers existed in this house. Why did he think that? Well people were surprised when Shakespeare died that he didn't leave any papers behind, but Shakespeare had a daughter Susanna who married and became Susanna Hall. Phillips thought that Shakespeare might have handed the papers on to her on his death. But Susanna died, but she had a daughter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, Shakespeare's granddaughter, married twice and her second husband was another John Bernard of Abington manor. So did she have the papers and did she bring them here? And if she did what happened to them? Well Philipps pointed out that in 1649 when Elizabeth came to this house to become Elizabeth Bernard the Civil War had just ended and England was under the rule of the puritans and the puritans disapproved of plays and disapproved of the theatre. Not only that: next door, the church, the rector was a puritan. So perhaps Elizabeth felt she had to hide those papers to stop them being discovered. In 1878 James Halliwell-Phillipps asked for permission to search the house for the papers and he was given permission both by the owner of the house and by the then-tenant but for some reason that search was never carried out. So are the papers still here? We don't know. But James Halliwell-Phillipps was an interesting character. He was well-known for gathering, collecting manuscripts and he even gave some manuscripts to libraries. But there was another side to him: not everyone thought well of him. For example he eloped with his employer's daughter and his employer accused him of stealing a priceless manuscript of Hamlet. The British Museum wouldn't allow him to have membership because they suspected him of stealing manuscripts. He certainly cut up priceless manuscripts and pasted them in scrapbooks – we know that because you can see the scrapbooks at Shakespeare's Birthplace Museum in Stratford. So maybe it's just as well he wasn't let loose on Abington Abbey.

The Oak Room panels
Oak Room 2

The carvings in the Oak Room at Abington date from between 1485 and 1508. We can tell this from the heraldry above the door from John and Margaret Bernard who had them made originally for the great hall: they were moved here in 1700. This was about the time of the battle of Bosworth and this panel here has got the Tudor rose in the middle which would have come into being in 1485. After that battle we've got the two lions, the fleur-de-lis which represented the flag of England at that particular time and above it the crown of England. And the Bernards were trying to show that they were important supporters of the king and of royalty at this particular time. They did actually claim to be descended from royalty through the Neville family: an earlier Margaret Barnard, her mother was actually one of the Scrope family who was related to the Nevilles from whom we get the royal line of this country. There would also have been various shields of various families who were in the neighbourhood and the Barnards again would have been trying to show off their importance within that scheme of things within that group of families.
We have a number of medieval subjects: we have the Green Man above the fireplace, for example, which was a very popular subject. We've got a complete set of the Labours of the Months which were very popular on church gardens in particular. Very unusual to have a complete set. Here above me we've got September showing the grape harvest – the grape harvest very important at that time to provide wine for feasting which would have taken place regularly in the great hall. Next to it they're knocking acorns off the oak trees in order to provide food for the pigs to fatten them up to kill them for the winter, salt them down to provide food because of course we had no refrigerators at that time.
These carvings are very similar to what you would find on some of the best bench ends in churches up and down the country. Surprisingly religious subjects are very much in the minority in these carvings but we have the very popular Passion symbols shown here on this particular panel next to me. In the middle you've got the five wounds of Christ, above we have the clock that represents Peter's denial of Christ whilst he was in the garden of Gethsemane and here we've got the shields showing various instruments used to scourge him, to put him on the cross, to arrest him and take him down from the cross and so on. The bottom there is the ladder used to put him on the cross and the cloak that Roman soldiers threw dice to decide who would have it – it was a seamless cloak so they couldn't cut it up. There are three dice on it, each with a figure 5 representing the five wounds of Christ. Further along – the top of the panel there – is the Pelican In Her Piety. The pelican in medieval mythology would peck away at her breast and she would bring her young back to life after they had died and this represented of course the resurrection.
Very unusual and rare subject in this one next to me here is of Saint Veronica's handkerchief. Saint Veronica wiped the face of Christ on the cross and on the linen his face appeared later on, very similar to the story of the Turin Shroud. This is held by a couple of angels dressed in feathers and in medieval times people dressed themselves up in feathers to represent angels in the old miracle plays that took place usually at Easter.
We've also got various creatures, mythical creatures. We've got muzzled bears and so on: bear baiting was a popular pastime at that particular time.
Further over we've got medieval romances. We've got the story of Reynard the Fox: here he is in a pulpit preaching to the geese and below he is eating one of the geese for his supper. Obviously very hypocritical and this particular scene was used to show the hypocrisy of the friars at the time: how people regarded them as being keen on obtaining money on the one hand and on the other hand preaching virtue, going around various towns and villages. We've also got – people were very fond at that time of carving the world upside down – and we've got a scene there where a woman has got a distaff in her hand that she'd use for spinning inside the home and she's attacking her husband who's holding the baby dressed in swaddling bands. And he's got the face of monkey that represents sin and foolishness.
So we have a whole range of different subjects here. We've also got linen fold which was coming in at this particular time and was replacing these medieval scenes on typical carvings inside buildings. The panelling provided warmth, provided insulation and would have kept out draughts so it was very important from those aspects. But we've got religious subjects as I say, we've got heraldry, we've got mythical creatures, we've got the linen fold, we've got various coats of arms an so on, we've got medieval scenes, medieval romances, we've got domestic scenes, we've got a whole range of subjects here and this is probably the finest collection of wood carvings you would find anywhere in a domestic setting in this country. Abington really deserves to be much better known for these carvings and they are well-worth a visit.

Abington Gallery

William Thursby had no children so he was succeeded by his nephew William Thursby and then by another nephew Richard Thursby. In 1701 the house passed to another nephew called John Harvey and John Harvey had his named changed by act of parliament to John Harvey Thursby. Now we have to call him  John Harvey Thursby the first because there we going to be another 3 John Harvey Thursbys. It's very easy to remember their names, not always quite so easy to remember which one is which. But this  John Harvey Thursby the first is behind me here in the portrait and he's an important person in the history of this house because he remodelled the east and south wings in the Palladian style that was fashionable in the early 18th century. Between 1736 and 1742 he got an architect called Francis Smith of Warwick to remodel the two fronts of the house as we see them today. He also emparked the land and removed the village that was here, it is said, by agreement. The remains of the village can still be seen, by the way. They're between archway cottages and the children's play area and if the lights in the right way you can see the humps and bumps where the houses used to be and there's a long linier hollow which was once the street of the village.  

The Staircase
Stair Case

We're on the Elizabethan staircase of Abington museum in the south range that was added by William Thursby who inherited the house in 1669. William also built the water tower in the park which doubled as a pigeonry and provided meat and eggs for the family. In 1671 he had a map drawn up of Abington which you can see in our gallery downstairs and it's very interesting to see what Abington was like at that time and how much it has changed in the years since. The second John Harvey Thursby inherited the house in 1764 and you can see his portrait here above the staircase. He is shown in hunting clothes carrying a musket because he was a verderer of Rockingham forest – that's an important forest official. You might think Rockingham is a long way away from Abington but actually in those days and earlier it was in the south-west corner of Rockingham forest. Now John married Anne Hanbury and she has an interesting story; she was a strong devotee of Shakespeare and enjoyed Shakespeare's plays and she was a bit of a 'fan' if you like of David Garrick, the great Shakespearean actor of the time: a star in his own time. And she wrote to Garrick and they struck up a pen-friendship together. In 1778 he visited Abington Manor and he brought with his a shoot from a Mulberry tree that had grown in Shakespeare's garden at Stratford and the two of them planted it here in front of the house in token of their friendship. Ann died before her husband and he had an epitaph placed in the church recording her and this is what it says: “Here lies the daughter of William Hanbury of Kelmarsh and wife of John Harvey Thursby. What manner of woman she was the last day shall determine.” A 19th century writer speculated that Anne was a woman of high spirit and it was said that she gambled, that she lost her husband money. We'll never now the truth of that and we'll never know the whole truth because Anne was never able to tell her side of the story.

The East Wing
East Wing

We're now in the East Wing of the house and there are some features here which illustrate what a curious building this is which has had so many different uses over the years and has had so many people living here. For example here you can see a doorway which was once the entry to the minstrel's gallery in medieval times. Over here you can see a door at a very odd angle because this was once a self-contained living space, possibly used by a mother-in-law of the family like a kind of modern granny flat. John Harvey Thursby the third is largely remembered for rebuilding the church. The church actually dates back to 1200 but in 1823 it was blown down in a storm and in the following year John Harvey Thursby the third had it rebuilt so it's now largely a 19th century building with a medieval porch. The forth John Harvey Thursby inherited the house in 1840 but never lived here and in 1842 he sold it to a rich banker called Mr. Lewis Lloyd. Lewis Lloyd never lived here either: he bought the house as an investment but from 1845 onwards it became an asylum. The asylum was run by Thomas Octavius Pritchard and Thomas had come from Wales to be the superintendent at St. Andrew's hospital, or as it was then-known as the lunatic asylum. Thomas was a strong believer in a new method of treating mental illness, known as the 'no restraint' method. He believed that instead of locking people up or restraining them in other ways, the way to treat mental illness was to relieve them of stress, give them pleasant surroundings and practical activities to do. He introduced those ideas at St. Andrews but unfortunately was not able to convince his employers fully that it was the right thing to do and so he resigned in 1845. In fairness to his employers I should say that they were also concerned about Thomas's fondness for alcohol. But Thomas came here, he rented the building from Lewis Lloyd and he opened his own private asylum here and he called it the Abington Abbey Retreat. Now of course Abington manor house was never an abbey but people still do call it an abbey today and it dates from Thomas Pritchard's time. He had in 1846 about 26 patients here. They had a piano, an organ, other musical instruments, newspapers and magazines, books. They were able to do needlework, other handicrafts, play cricket in the park, attend the church. There were even sometimes organised visits to the seaside. The whole idea was to relieve stress and help them to become well. Sadly Thomas Pritchard was only here for two years because in 1847 he died of cirrhosis of the liver but he was succeeded by his cousin, also called Thomas Pritchard and his cousin married the first Thomas's wife and so it continued to be managed by Dr. and Mrs. Pritchard. When the second Thomas Pritchard died it was taken over by his brother Henry Pritchard so it was very much a family concern for most of the 19th century. When we get to the end of the time of the asylum in 1892 when the lease ran out and Henry Pritchard died it reverted to the Lloyd family, but by then Lewis Lloyd had died and his son had died and it was inherited by his granddaughter, Harriet, or as we should call her, Lady Wantage because she had in the meantime married Lord Wantage.

Lord and Lady Wantage are an interesting couple. Lord Wantage was originally Robert Lindsay – when he married Harriet Lloyd they both changed their name to Lloyd-Lindsay: quite a modern thing to do. He had been in the army in the Crimean War, one of the first Victoria Crosses and he'd also made friends with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea and the two of them were lifelong friends of Florence Nightingale and instrumental in forming the National Society for Aid to Sick and Wounded in War or as we would call it today, the British Red Cross. So Harriet inherited this house in 1892 and when the mayor of Northampton, Edwin Bridgewater, rather cheekily asked her whether she'd like to donate the house and the land to the town she agreed. And so in 1897 the public park of Abington was opened to the public for the  first time at the same time as they celebrated Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee and two years later this building opened as a museum and it's been a museum ever since. And so today, no longer out in the country as it once was becuase the town of Northampton from the late 19th century crept gradually around it and today it's enjoyed by all of the people of Northampton who can come here, enjoy a beautiful park and a fascinating museum. I hope you've enjoyed this virtual visit and that you'll visit us again.