Smelling the Past: Museums and Imagination in a Spectator Age

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John Wood Architecture Lecture


Christopher Woodward, Director of The Garden Museum

Tuesday 25 September


A reception to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Re-Launch of BRLSI preceded the John Wood Architecture Lecture. Members of the BRLSI and visitors gathered in the Jenyns Room for the reception which was kindly sponsored by the Chairman of the BRLSI, Dr Steve Wharton.  He congratulated those who had contributed to the success of the Institution over the past 25 years and he proposed a toast to its continuing success in the future.  To help ensure a financially secure feature he announced the launch of BRLSI 1824 Fund appeal.


Betty Suchar convened the lecture welcoming the Chair of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Councillor Karen Walker, His Worshipful the Mayor of Bath and the Mayoress along with Councillor and Mrs Patrick Anketell-Jones.


This was the Inaugural John Wood Architecture Lecture sponsored by the Bath Society Fund represented by Dr David Dunlap, former Vice Chair, and Mrs Charlotte West, daughter of the late Major Anthony Crombie who formed the Bath Society and led it for many years. 


The guest speaker, Christopher Woodward, started his career as Director of the Building of Bath Museum, now renamed the Museum of Bath Architecture. He was also Director of the Holburne Museum for several years and was then appointed Director of the Sir John Soane Museum in London, before taking up his present post as Director of The Garden Museum in Lambeth. 


The speaker addressed some of the modern challenges facing museums today.  These are particularly difficult when what is to be represented is present on the outside such as a garden or there is an important process that needs conveying.  He showed an example of how one might illustrate two famous gardeners, Gertrude Jekyll and Vita Sackville-West, by displaying their gardening boots.


The Garden Museum is based in the Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth which was deconsecrated in 1972 but then in 1976 two garden lovers, Rosemary and John Nicholson, campaigned for its rescue.  Mr Woodward told his audience that the Garden Museum is not just for gardeners but it is important that it is ‘open to children who may never have seen an earthworm’.


Christopher Woodward went on to describe how visitors to his museum enjoy a permanent display of paintings, tools and historic artefacts. These include Gertrude Jekyll’s desk, two 17th Century terracotta watering cans, a glass cucumber straightener invented by George Stephenson, and a very early Flymo. 


A special display has been added in another gallery called the Ark, named after the Tradescants’ house and museum in Lambeth where these 17th century gardeners and plant hunters lived. This gallery, displaying twenty precious Tradescant items on loan from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is a cabinet of curiosities and serves as a tribute to the Tradescants’ own museum set up by them at their home. Their museum was one of the wonders of 17th century London.