I love getting behind the scenes; whether that means exploring a mysterious warehouse full of weird things or navigating my way around a depot full of old buses and trains. Getting to go behind the scenes in a museum is something that I will never tire of. This weekend I was lucky enough to get a back-stage pass at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
So, what did I get to explore on this tour? The apartments of the Astronomer Royal in Flamsteed House. It’s an odd little syntax, isn’t it? Why Astronomer Royal and not Royal Astonomer? Word order aside, the stories that were revealed to us by Amy Miller, our blue-gloved guide for the tour were fascinating. When you see a pair of blue gloves, you know you’re in for a good tour. Do you know why? Because blue gloves means that some objects are going to be handled!
It was quite a treat to see these four rooms where the Astronomers lived and worked because the apartments are going to be the home of a new exhibition called Longitude Punk’d, so they will look very different very soon.
The passion Amy showed for her topic was practically palpable.
She reveals that nothing that we’re seeing in the apartments today was ever actually here when the Astronomers worked and lived in this space. “But,” she adds in a lovely lilting transatlantic accent , “people back then had very similar tastes, like how people back home all shop in Potterybarn.” It was quite something to see an early version of the IKEA-effect (as I like to think of it) in action.
Just when we think that we’re just seeing that old museum trick of telling “they would have used something like this ” when they mean “we don’t actually have what they used” Amy told us:
I am particularly fond of the neo-classical urns and the scene painted on Nelson’s chair.
And just like that, everything changed. Even the desk (which you can just about see) had an interesting story. Although it was a fake, it as a fabulous and elaborate fake. It was claimed by a ‘Pamela Hardy’ – a creation of two dodgy antique dealers from Eastbourne, a fictitious character claiming descent from Thomas “Kiss Me Hardy” Hardy fame. Amy proceeded to go through everything that was wrong with it.
We also had a look around the Octagon Room, a really beautiful space designed by Christopher Wren.
What’s that in the corner? Another Secret Door?
I wonder where this one leads?