phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Discover: The American Museum in Britain
Image Credit: The American Museum in Britain

Discover: The American Museum in Britain

20 May 2017 | Laura Garmeson

Just outside the dappled limestone of Bath, there is a beautiful and incongruous place. The 125-acre estate of Claverton Manor may seem at first glance to be the most English of country settings, but it is in fact a museum dedicated to North American history and culture. Within its walls, visitors are able to trace the history and character of one of the most powerful nations on earth, through a vast collection of quintessentially American objects and installations. The American Museum in Britain certainly wears its stripes with pride.

The American Museum first opened its doors to the public in 1961, thanks to a transatlantic alliance of four colleagues – a psychiatrist, an antiques dealer, a furniture restorer, and the museum director – hoping to display American achievements in the decorative arts and promote Anglo-American understanding. Within just three months of opening, the museum had received over 20,000 visitors, and it remains the only museum of American decorative and folk art outside the United States.


                                          
In truth, the hilltop site of The American Museum in Britain is worthy of a trip in itself. The nineteenth-century Claverton Manor sits augustly in place as though carved out from a jar of set honey, surrounded by acres of velvety green grounds. Walk round to the front of the house and you can stand on the sloping ‘infinity lawn’, which crests to give way to the vast patchwork of fields of the Limpley Stoke Valley, threaded through with the River Avon. It’s a breathtaking sight.
 
After soaking in the view, head into the cool foyer of the house to discover the museum itself. Remarkably, the manor's original structure has been preserved in such a way that the museum seems to have grown organically around it like a vine. The tour begins down in the winding passageways beneath the house, where America’s early history is presented in a series of rooms and displays. Native American history is particularly well documented here, with magnificent Cheyenne headdresses jostling for space alongside wood-carved totem poles, as busts of George Washington and the founding fathers look on.


 
The rich, messy tapestry of American history unfolds quickly from room to room, with an array of objects illustrating each key phase. Carefully preserved pieces of clothing dating from the American Civil War hang uncannily alongside painted portraits in which they are worn, and grainy photographs shed further light on the grim history of slavery. The museum does not shy away from America's long history of oppression, oscillating instead between different view points; the famous 'melting pot' can, of course, be as monstrous as it is celebratory.
 
Following on from the earlier history, the museum broadens out into a series of rooms furnished and decorated in the style of different periods. These installations tend to grow in magnitude and lavishness as you proceed through the exhibition, culminating in the oppressive opulence of a bedroom owned by a New Orleans plantation-owner. The vast mahogany bedframe rears up in semi four-poster fashion, carved in a garish, French-inspired Rococo style. It would have been shipped over to the US in pieces, then assembled and sold on. The care and detail with which these rooms have been restored and brought to life here is painstaking, and the effect is like being briefly submersed in another time.



A trip to the American Museum is really two days out in one. There is a pleasing counterpoint to the picturesque, lofty charm of Claverton country manor in its being crammed full of the sprawling history of America, complete with a rootin'-tootin' wagon drawn up outside as though Uncle Sam himself had just dropped by for a visit. Their exhibition space has a revolving programme – the current Jazz Age collection on display will be a treat for any fashionista flapper fans – and the terrace café serves a fine selection of American-themed pastries, including a cherry-encrusted ‘George Washington cake.’ Suitable for families, history buffs and those just looking for an interesting day out, the American Museum is – either way – well worth a visit.
 
For more information, including opening times and ticket prices, see the museum's website.
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Win a Vineyard Tour and Tasting for Two!

Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard - Win a Vineyard Tour and Tasting for Two!

Win a Vineyard Tour and Tasting for Two at Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard!

The Museum of Transology

The Museum of Transology

As Brighton prepares for Pride festivities in early August, the city is also due to celebrate its longstanding commitment to supporting the acceptance and equality…

TOM’s Film Club: An Interview with Michael McDermott

TOM’s Film Club: An Interview with Michael McDermott

The Old Market, or ‘TOM’ as staff and regulars affectionately know it, is a multi-arts venue in Brighton with a colourful past and a big reputation…

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol is known throughout the UK for being a leader in arts and culture. The city’s theatrical offerings are no different – here is our round up…

A Hungover Guide to Bristol

A Hungover Guide to Bristol

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. That awful moment when you are forced to face the consequences of the night before which escalated all too easily…

Top 5 Veggie Restaurants in Liverpool

Top 5 Veggie Restaurants in Liverpool

Scousers, rejoice! We've compiled a list of Liverpool's tastiest vegetarian and vegan hideouts. From gallery-meets-café, The Egg Café, to sustainable, charity establishment, Meeting House, we've got…

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is one of the UK’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations to visit. A mixture of medieval charm, Georgian elegance, and modern-day chic,…

A Theatre-lover’s Guide to Brighton

A Theatre-lover’s Guide to Brighton

There’s many a hidden gem to be found in the narrow, winding streets of Brighton’s North and South Lanes, and the wider boulevards that run throughout…

Come Rain or Shine: Weatherproof Fun in Bristol

Come Rain or Shine: Weatherproof Fun in Bristol

Known to be one of the wettest cities in Britain, if you're planning a day out in Bristol, you need to come prepared. Fortunately, we've…

Top 5: Castles to Visit in Southern England

Top 5: Castles to Visit in Southern England

The South of England is dotted with castles big and small. From pretty stately homes to imposing strongholds, these architectural archives reflect the country's military…

Most popular

The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

As one of the UK’s greenest cities, Bristol and its citizens are well versed in cycling lore. The city and its surroundings are criss-crossed with well-maintained mountain and leisure trails so read on for our selection of some of the best…
Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is one of the UK’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations to visit. It’s a hard task fitting in all its wondrous sights in a day, but here’s our how-to guide on getting the best of the bunch for under £20.
Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol is known throughout the UK for being a leader in arts and culture. The city’s theatrical offerings are no different – here is our round up of where to look for a top-notch evening of entertainment.
A Book Lover’s Tour of Literary Britain

A Book Lover’s Tour of Literary Britain

From Shakespeare’s Stratford to the city that birthed The Boy who Lived, we have compiled the essential must-see destinations for literary lovers.
Win Two Tickets to the Event of your Choice!

Shoreham Wordfest - Win Two Tickets to the Event of your Choice!

Fancy expanding your literary imagination? Or perhaps sourcing inspiration for your great novel? We are giving away two tickets to the event of your choosing at this year’s Shoreham Wordfest!  
A Culture Calling Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe 2017

A Culture Calling Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Every August the incomparable Edinburgh Festival takes root in the Scottish capital, bringing with it hundreds of thousands of performers, critics, musicians, comedians. Read on for our guide to some of the shows to look out for.
An Interview with Tessa Lynch

An Interview with Tessa Lynch

We speak to the seminal artist about her upcoming performance at Bristol's Spike Island
A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

Now that we've all agreed that falafels are the best food to grace the earth, we've compiled a list of the best spots to indulge in these cheeky little chickpea chappies.
An Interview: Mischief and Madness in Moominvalley

An Interview: Mischief and Madness in Moominvalley

Moomin mania is coming to Bristol. We speak to Bristol-based collective Lost and Found on their performance.
A Hungover Guide to Bristol

A Hungover Guide to Bristol

Feeling last night's pint a little too much? No fear, we've made a list of the best hangover spots in Bristol.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!