Sometimes Google Maps just goes into apoplexy. It was twisting and turning, taking us to roads that were closed off and we had to pay on a toll road twice. Is it the hills or the incomprehensible road system (to strangers) of some parts of Bath that Google couldn’t cope with, which I now know much more than I did when I started. What was really annoying is that after an hour of this chaos, we found that the American Museum at Claverton in Bath was only a few miles from where we were staying and should have taken 20 minutes to get there. If you know how, and rely on an old-fashioned map, it is quite easy to find.
Never mind, so much for modern technology, it was worth it in the end. The fine mansion house Claverton Manor was built in the 1820′s by Jeffrey Wyatville, better known for his work at Windsor Castle, Longleat and Chatsworth, on the site of a previous building. Snuggling into the countryside, Sir Winston Churchill gave his first major political speech here in July 1897 and since 1961, it has been a unique museum, the American Museum in England, bringing the history of America as portrayed through its decorative arts, to Britain, the only museum of its kind outside America with the displays embedded into the 19th century rooms, including a few historic rooms from different parts of America, all circulating around the fine staircase hall. Particularly fine are the rug and patchwork collections and the collection of naive art, plus the museum does not stay within the United States, but also explores some of the religious art of South America. I also loved the historic maps; it is always fascinating to see people’s view of the world based on what they know from explorations – one map has Cuba taking up almost the whole of North America, because that is what they thought they had found at the time.
Reinforcing the links between the UK and the USA, the current special exhibition explores America’s contribution to the Allies in the First World War, which was not without controversy back in the motherland, which you can understand. Why should American soldiers give up their lives for what was really a pointless war in Europe?
Moving into the landscape, the Museum’s current project is bringing a little of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon to the hills of Bath, with a recreation of his garden, designed by Oehme, van Sweden who will include native plants from North America, to be completed this autumn.