Scalps, Death Masks & Ancient Hot-Cross Buns

tudorhouseAlthough we are very different in many ways, the Engineer and I do like to go out and about on expeditions – when he can spare the time from playing with real steam engines and his many other interests, and I’m not reading, writing, painting, pottering, or being Grandma (note I make no mention of housewifely duties which are against my religion). Something that always gets us both going (we’re seriously nerdy) is anything historical. I am always drawn to ancient houses; a castle or stately home will always be high on my list, and costume museums will see me rushing to buy a ticket. The Engineer is happy to come along with me but his real interest is in industrial archaeology, particularly steam engines, which I also like, so a trip out that covers our two passions is the way we usually manage things.

Anyway, the other day we combined our various interests in a very satisfying manner. He needed a trip to Maplin’s to buy some gadgety thingy and I needed to think about the logistics of an ancient garden so we did both by dropping in on Southampton’s Tudor House museum (see picture above) after the Maplin’s stop. We sat in the coffee shop thinking our profound thoughts, the one about the gadgety thingy and the other gazing out at the reconstructed Tudor garden that proved an ideal example for the book in hand.
Incidentally, the garden was designed by Dr Sylvia Landsberg, who also designed Queen Eleanor’s mediaeval garden at Winchester Great Hall  QEleanor'sgarden– the very garden I ‘borrowed’ for my latest book, The Dead Queen’s Garden. (see the inevitable plug for the book at the end of this post)

I hadn’t been to Tudor House for years. I think I dragged our reluctant children round it about 30 years ago but for me the memories go back a very long way. My aunt lived in Southampton so every summer holiday I was put on a coach from Bournemouth for two weeks. There were three things I insisted on doing every time:

1) I had to go to Romsey Abbey to see the scalped-looking head of auburn hair, complete with plait, that is all that’s left of a young Saxon girlplaitromseycropped2) I had to check up on Oliver Cromwell’s death mask that was displayed in the museum above Southampton’s ancient Bargate cromwell and 3) I had to visit Tudor House to see the fossilised hot-cross-bun that had been found there.hotxbun

I suppose I was a very strange little girl – but you can see where my interests lay even at the age of about seven: a preoccupation with death and history!

I’m happy to report that the auburn hair and the hot-cross-bun are still on display (photos above from local tourist sites) but when I asked it seems nobody knows what happened to Cromwell. Serves him right, anyway, so the photo here is from the British Museum.

Well worth a visit and even if history doesn’t float your boat (and you don’t, as I did, get beside yourself with excitement at the discovery of King John’s Palace at the far end of the  knot garden) you can take a peaceful coffee or lunch break in an oasis of peace – Tudor House

Finally, a brilliant first review for The Dead Queen’s Garden Dead Queen's Garden - FINALfrom author Sally Zigmond  here and a reminder that the book is still available at a discount and post free from  (ebook out at the end of April)


9 thoughts on “Scalps, Death Masks & Ancient Hot-Cross Buns

  1. So interesting (once again) and such a lot of information. I love reading your blog Nicola. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the wonderful photos too. I love visiting graveyards and old churches – so much to see and feel and read there. Warwick Castle is fantastic – if anyone has still to go and see it – go!

  2. Very enjoyable and I fully understand the list of ‘must-see’ items you needed to check on. Your grannie must have been such a wonderful woman. I think I saw the Cromwell death mask at the Ashmolean years ago. Either there’s a rich trade in copies or it’s on a Progress round the land. Your photo shows a face that i would pick out as Cromwell’s even if you hadn’t put a name to it.

  3. I use to drag my son kicking and screaming round graveyards as he’s holiday treat. I felt it was good for him all that maths, reading, history and fresh air. Well, I was researching our family history at the time. 🙂 Kids never happy unless your doing what they want, bless them. I wonder what he has in store for his children.

  4. Cromwell’s death mask (or something claiming to be it) is now at Warwick Castle – I saw it there in August 2012 :-). Oliver Cromwell and Warwick The Kingmaker, what a lovely pair!!

  5. You won’t be surprised to learn that I had my own set of ritual visits to be made while on holiday, but I love your list of must-see items! Lovely to have family who indulge the whims of strange little girls.

    • No surprise at all, Jodie! My granny and I used to love visiting cemeteries too and when we’d ‘visited’ relatives and admired some of the enormous angels and so forth (shades of Dr Who!) I would pinch discarded flowers to decorate the tiny abandoned graves of babies.

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