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Travel Report: Hollytrees Museum, Colchester.

Hollytrees Museum.

Hollytrees Museum, Colchester.

May 2019. If you’re coming to Colchester for a visit, 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, keep your eyes open for the handsome Hollytrees Museum, a three-hundred-year-old Georgian townhouse lovingly converted into an exhibition of local life. The building dates back to 1718, when a rich old widow by the name of Elizabeth Cornelisen built it for herself. Just for kicks.

Charles Gray Hollytrees Museum.

“Welcome to Hollytrees Museum!”

Sadly, Cornelisen died just a year later, without ever actually living in her new home. It was then inherited by her niece, Sarah Creffield, who lived here with her husband Ralph between 1719-1725. After Ralph died, Sarah married a prominent local man, Charles Gray.

Charles Gray Colchester.

Mr. Charles Gray (1696-1782).

Gray was a keen historian, businessman and politician respected by just about everyone in Colchester. In fact, Gray was so well connected, he ended up receiving Colchester Castle as a birthday present from his mother-in-law!

Subsequently, Charles devoted a great deal of his time to improving both the castle and his nearby townhouse. Soon after moving in, he began planting the holly trees that gave the building its name.

Hollytrees Museum.

The Bernard Mason Clock Gallery Colchester.

The Bernard Mason Clock Gallery.

Colchester used to be a major clockmaking town. Gray kept a few antique clocks at Hollytrees, which eventually found themselves into the Bernard Mason Clock Gallery. Mason was a local businessman who spent his retirement seeking out and purchasing Colchester’s grand old clocks.

Hollytrees Museum Colchester.

Hollytrees Museum, Colchester.

By the time he died in 1981, Mason had amassed two hundred clocks! He gifted his collection to the town of Colchester in his will, hence they finally ended up at Hollytrees Museum. You can see them neatly arranged in a tiny room on the ground floor.

Antique dollhouse Colchester.

The Garden Room Gallery.

The Garden Room Gallery features old photographs and paintings of Hollytrees throughout the years. You can also discover a few heirlooms from the families who lived here.

In the 1800s the house was inhabited by The Round family, who were bankers and well-to-do landowners. Tucked away in a corner, I found myself drawn to this quite magnificent antique dollhouse.

Antique miniature dolls Colchester England.

Hollytrees Museum.

You can peer inside each of its nineteen rooms and admire all kinds of fine detail. Most of the dolls are tiny, smaller than the palm of one’s hand. A sign serves visitors a welcome reminder that this is an original antique doll’s house. So keep yer mitts off!

What To See & Do, Colchester.

Antique toys Hollytrees Museum.

The Childhood Gallery.

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, became a museum.

Head up to the first floor where you’ll find The Childhood Gallery and its impressive display of traditional toys, board games, musical instruments and books. They’ve even cleverly incorporated a Snakes & Ladders theme into the floor.

Old King Cole Hollytrees Museum.

Hollytrees Museum. 

I particularly loved The Old King Cole wallpaper! Moreover, I’d been oblivious to the fact that Colchester has a claim on Old King Cole’s vague identity. Several historians believe the king in the popular British nursery rhyme to be Coel Hen, aka Coel The Old.

Coel was a Welsh-born king of northern England who ruled sometime towards the end of the 4th century. Apparently, he lived his later years in… (drum roll)… Colchester! What’s more, there’s even a legend that suggests he ended up giving his name to the town. Coel… Colchester, get it?

Donation box Hollytrees Museum.

Hollytrees Museum.

Hollytrees Museum is a fascinating insight into local life throughout the centuries. It’s also free to enter, so if you’re in and around Colchester Castle I’d say it’s well worth a look. The museum opens from 10:00-17:00, Monday to Saturday.

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For more on my adventures in this pretty English town, check out my other travel reports from Colchester.

Or maybe search further afield with my articles from all around England.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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  • I’ve Bean Travelling

    I love miniatures, that dollhouse would have been right up my alley for something to see 🙂

    November 12, 2020 - 2:30 pm Reply
  • Memo

    Antique clocks never cease to impress me. The workmanship and detail require a real artist’s touch. Is the antique doll house a miniature of the museum building itself?

    November 12, 2020 - 4:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m with you on the clocks. We saw an exceptional antique clock gallery in Istanbul last month too. I wasn’t aware that the dollhouse was modeled on Hollytrees.

      November 12, 2020 - 4:35 pm Reply
      • Memo

        I’d just noticed that the facade of the doll house had identically placed doors and windows as the house shot in the original picture. It appears to be from the back though.

        November 12, 2020 - 8:55 pm
      • Leighton

        Now I see what you mean!! Great spot, I never made the connection. I wonder if it was originally made that way. Or if they made the facade to match the exterior after the fact.

        November 12, 2020 - 9:12 pm
  • Rebecca

    Very fascinating that Colchester was a major clock-making industry! Antique clocks are elegant and beautiful in their own right, and although I’m not the biggest museum-goer, Hollytrees Museum looks like a worthwhile place to check out whilst in town. Looking forward to more reports from Colchester (and the UK) soon!

    November 13, 2020 - 4:29 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you appreciated it. I’m not much of a museum goer myself and I think I generally prefer the experience in these smaller more intimate spaces.

      November 13, 2020 - 10:12 am Reply

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