Travel Report: Hollytrees Museum – Colchester, England.
May 2019. If you’re coming to Colchester for a visit, then you’ll almost certainly be heading straight to the town’s main attractions, Colchester Castle and the leafy confines of surrounding Castle Park. While you’re exploring the park, keep your eyes open for the handsome Hollytrees Museum, a three-hundred-year-old Georgian townhouse lovingly converted into a museum of local life. The house was built in 1718 upon the order of a rich old widow by the name of Elizabeth Cornelisen.
May 2019. But Cornelisen died just a year later without ever having lived in her new home. it was then inherited by her niece, Sarah Creffield, who lived here with her husband Ralph between 1719-1725. When Ralph also kicked the bucket, Sarah later married a prominent local man by the name of Charles Gray, that’s the dude shown above in the cartoon cutout. Gray was a keen historian and prominent Colchester man who was so ludicrously well connected he ended up receiving Colchester Castle as a birthday present from his mother-in-law! Anyway, Gray ended up devoting a great deal of his time to improving the house and planting the holly trees from which the building got its name.
May 2019. Gray kept a number of antique clocks at Hollytrees, a few of which have found themselves into the museum’s Bernard Mason Clock Gallery. Colchester was a major clockmaking town back in the day and this collection at Hollytrees Museum includes some amazing originals from all over town.
Bernard Mason was the original owner of these impressive machines, hence the gallery name. Mason was a local businessman who devoted his retired life to seeking out and purchasing Colchester’s grand old clocks. By the time he died in 1981 he’d amassed two hundred clocks, all of which were gifted to the town in his will.
The Garden Room Gallery features old photographs and paintings of Hollytrees over the years, along with heirlooms from the families who lived here. In the 1800s the house was inhabited by The Round family, who were bankers and major landowners. I wasn’t sure which family this hugely impressive doll’s house belonged to, but needless to say they would have been some seriously privileged kids.
You can peer inside each of the nineteen rooms on display and admire all kinds of fine detail from costumes and figurine props to wallpaper, bedding and home deco. A sign gives visitors a welcome reminder that this is an original antique doll’s house, so keep yer mitts off!
By the 1900s Hollytrees was home to a number of tenants who rented out different parts of the house. It wasn’t until 1929 that the building, now owned by The Colchester Corporation, was turned into a museum of medieval antiquities. Head up to the first floor where you’ll find The Childhood Gallery and its impressive range of traditional toys, board games, musical instruments and books. A snakes and ladders theme is cleverly incorporated into the floor.
I loved The Old King Cole wallpaper! And even better, I’d been completely oblivious to the fact that Colchester has a claim on Old King Cole’s vague identity. Quite a few historians believe the king in the nursery rhyme to be Coel Hen, aka Coel The Old, a Welsh-born king of northern England sometime towards the end of Britain’s Roman rule in the 4th century. Apparently Coel lived his later years in… yes… Colchester, and there’s even a legend that suggests he ended up giving his name to the town. Coel… Col.. get it?
Hollytrees Museum is a quirky, free experience, so if you’re in and around Colchester Castle it’s well worth at least 20-30 minutes of your time. The museum is open from 10:00-17:00, Monday to Saturday.
For more on my adventure in this pretty English town, check out my other travel reports from Colchester.
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