Perhaps it’s my own northern soul swaying my line of thinking but I often find myself frustrated when travel lists for British historical sites, for the most part, usually consist of locations in London or its surroundings. The entire country is full of so much history and regional gems. It’s a great shame they are often overlooked for the more well-known structures that bring in so many international visitors. So, let’s explore some great places in my home county that are worth a visit but are lesser know. I promise the crowds will be less daunting then those in London.
Hill Top, Cumbria.
For a timeless and quaint day out for the family why not visit Beatrix Potter’s home? Potter brought the small farm in 1906 as her escape from London and eventually settled there. Her love for the area came from summers spent in the Lake District as a child, the landscape and wildlife directly influenced many of her works. During her time there she brought more surrounding farmland in an effort to save it from development, this helped her lifelong friend Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley bring the National Trust into existence.
Visitors can explore her home and see some of her more personal positions such as her dolls house, built by her one time fiancé and publisher, Norman Warne (Who unfortunately passed before they married). An additional house nearby is dedicated to her artwork and books. For the children, who may be charmed by her stories will also be excited to join in on the regular nature walks and tours that the National Trust theme around her stories and personal life.
Whitby is most notable for its association with Dracula and, by extension, gothic culture. Whitby Abbey is directly mentioned in Bram Stokers novel, after a ship wrecks on the shores, a large dog bounds from the ship and up the 199 stairs to the Abbey. The dramatic feat of architecture looms over the town with a haunting presence, it’s not hard to see how Bram Stoker was possessed by its image. But Whitby Abbey has a history that goes back to the 7th century. Once you climb the steps you’ll be greeted by the beautiful remains of classic gothic design. It was once a Benedictine monastery, whose first abbess was Anglo-Saxon priestess named Hild, Grandniece of the first Christian king of Northumbria. It was one of the few double monasteries of its times, meaning it hosted monks and nuns. Many great figures of Yorkshire’s early middle ages where buried here. Not limited to the crusader knight, William de Percy and magna carta signatory Richard de Percy. It survived conquest and political changes until its dissolution under Henry VIII. Visitors can not only see the abbey’s ruins but can also experience the site’s official museum, Cholmley house. Which features historical artefacts in the setting of a 17th century house. If you still want to take a walk on the darker side a Dracula tour of the town also runs regularly.
Hull Maritime Museum.
Britain has a long and colourful maritime history. From Naval warfare and trade to the whaling industry there is a great deal for us to explore. Hull itself was a key location in maritime history for over 800 years, practically in the whaling industry. But centuries prior it was known for its importance in trading. Kingston upon Hull? Well, in the 13th century Edward I claimed ownership of the town to capitalise on the thriving international trade. During the industrial boom of the 18th and 19th centuries it earned its place in manufacturing and shipping goods from all over Yorkshire. The maritime museum has a rich collection of artefacts from the whaling history of the town, including a complete whale Skeleton, the common travel routes, equipment and scale models of the trawlers. But this is only the beginning. The museum also documents the trading links that where fostered over the centuries and regularly changing guest exhibits. As an added bonus you can visit the fully restored deep sea trawler docked on the river nearby. The ‘Artic Corsair’ will be open to the public by the beginning of 2020.
Thackray medical museum, Leeds.
A former union workhouse turned museum, it features examples medical history. Everything from Roman medical practices to the grim realities of illness in the Victorian slums. Visitors with a stronger stomach can watch videos of surgical procedures from the early 19th century and the development of the practice. Other exhibits exist that examine midwifery and the treatments offered in war hospitals. This even extends to displays depicting the Post war understanding of PTSD in WWI veterans and their treatment in society. It also prides itself on being highly interactive and assessable to children, having a whole gallery that teaches though large scale models and games to help them learn about the body. Other exhibits seek to amerce visitors in the historic environment. Such the reconstructed Victorian slum that allows you to meet characters to discover what may have made them ill, you could also visit the slum doctor to receive period accurate recommendations for illnesses.
Honourable mention…Fairfax House, York.
I might be bias again, I worked here for a spell during my time at university. This beautiful, lovingly restored Georgian town house. It was the seasonal home of Gregory Fairfax and his daughter, Anne. But Fairfax was not going to spare any expense on this house. He made it his mission to make it ‘The finest townhouse in the country.’ The design is a feat of 18th century art that was brought to life by John Carr, a prolific architect who had designed everything from domestic homes, Churches and public buildings. (Notable works include Chatsworth House and alterations of Castle Howard). Known for his palladian style with hints of Rococo he gave the house a unique flair unlike any other in the city. Bespoke plaster work was done by Giuseppe Cortes, who wove messages into the designs that mirrored Catholic imagery (The Fairfax family was Catholic, despite the discrimination at the time. He was one of the many who practiced the religion but kept it on a quiet basis) and references to famous poets. The sheer love and masterful restoration poured into the house warrants a visit when you visit York.