Behind the Scenes at the Royal Observatory

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.

The Astronomer Royal Apartments

The Astronomer Royal Apartments

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:

“This chair was owned by Captain Cook, and the blue one belonged to Nelson.”

Nelson's chair (blue) and Cook's chair

Nelson’s chair (blue) and Cook’s chair

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.

Fantastic stuff.

We also had a look around the Octagon Room, a really beautiful space designed by Christopher Wren.

Portraits in the Octagon Room

Portraits in the Octagon Room

Octagon Room

Octagon Room

What’s that in the corner? Another Secret Door?

A secret door in the Octagon Room

A secret door in the Octagon Room

I wonder where this one leads?

2 responses to “Behind the Scenes at the Royal Observatory

  1. Pingback: Great Fakes: Piltdown Man | Jack's Adventures in Museum Land·

  2. Pingback: Brighton Pavilion’s Secret Tunnels | Jack's Adventures in Museum Land·

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