Tuesday, 31 July 2007

National Art Library

Today, we visited the National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1852, the South Kensington Museum, which later became the Victoria and Albert Museum, was created. The library is housed in part of the museum. This means that the library is taking up some valuable exhibit space, causing a love/hate relationship with the museum.

The centre room of the library is where the enquiry desk (reference desk), the counter where books are picked up, dropped off and readers are registered, computers with the library's catalog, and a ready reference collection are all located.

The marshalling area is where all of the requests come through and are organized. The staff have to use a findings list in order to find where the items are located. They look up the press mark on the book and check the findings list because most of the books are stored by size and not by subject. The pressmarks on the spines of new books relate to the size of the volumes. For instance, a 603 book is 20-30 cm in height. Once the request is filled, the books are put in a pidgeonhole which has numbers corresponding to the desk at which the reader is sitting. This saves cluttering up a reading desk if the reader does not look at the book quickly. Also, some readers request items which they might never pick up.

Over 8,000 periodical titles are housed in the periodicals stacks. Approximately, 2,500 of these, however, are actually getting current issues still published. The National Art Library differs from the British Library because they collect all sorts of periodicals, not just the British ones. This means that many different languages are located here. The periodicals are all rebound into hardbacks. One reason for this is to preserve the issues and collect them in one place. Another reason is because it would be harder for someone to slip an entire hardback book into their purse or bag. I was kind of amazed to learn that there is no sort of security system in place. None of the items are tagged. True, there is a record of who requested what item but that doesn't seem like it would deter many people.

Both of the women giving our tour stressed that the library was tight for space. This fact was obvious when we were in the stacks. I would hate to have to do any shifting in there. A problem with this lack of space is that the new books coming through cataloging are beginning to back-up. The shelving in the staff area was filled with books which have recently come in but can't go anywhere because there is no space for them. Luckily, readers can still request these books. I get the feeling that the situation is frustrating for everyone working there.

Next, my group was able to view some book art and other impressive books. Here are some of the class looking at the book art.

My favourite? Definitely Drawings in a Nutshell. They are little drawings of nuts in a little book which is in a nutshell. Love it.

But I liked the Empty Bookcases book, too.

And this travel journal/scrapbook/autograph book was amazing. The artist/creator/author was a wonderful artist.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Writers' Museum

Today, we went to the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh. It primarily concentrates on the lives of Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, all Scottish authors. A temporary exhibit space features different authors, too. While we were there, it focused on Ian Rankin, author of the Detective Rebus series based in Edinburgh.

The house was built in 1622. In 1907, it was donated to the city to use as a museum. Inside the building, we were able to see some items from the different authors' lives including a printing press at the top of the building (unfortunately the audio explanation about it was broken), a set of walking sticks, Burns' writing desk, a dining table where Scott wrote some of his novels, pictures of Stevenson throughout his life, and much more.

I found the Rankin and Rebus exhibit interesting. I had heard of this series before but had never read it. After going to this exhibit, however, my interest was caught and I think I will. The first book Rebus appeared in was called Knots and Crosses. Originally, the author planned to kill that character off but his editor convinced him not to. While researching for Knots and Crosses, Rankin himself was briefly considered a suspect in a real life case in Edinburgh that was similar to his plot.

When I was getting ready to leave the museum, I happened to see this sign on the stairway. "Warning: During reconstruction it was found that this stair had been built with steps of varying heights. This was sometimes done in old houses in order that persons unfamiliar with the dwelling might betray their presence by stumbling. The feature has been retained."

Monday, 23 July 2007

National Archives of Scotland

Today, we visited the National Archives of Scotland. There was major reconstruction work going on at the General Register House so this picture is from their website.

The National Archives owns three buildings: the General Register House, the West Register House and the Thomas Thomson House. The General Register House was opened in the late 1780s and was built specifically to house the records of Scotland. In 1970, West Register House was acquired for more storage space. By the 1980s, still more space was needed and the Thomas Thomson House was built. It opened in 1995 for record storage and is almost full today.
The National Archives is open to the public and, because it is funded by the government, does not charge to use the records. The Archives houses records from the 12th century up to the present. The materials vary widely from vellum documents to digital copies and everything in-between. It houses state and parliamentary papers, valuation rolls, church records, wills, private records, taxation records, family and estate records, and much more.

The archivist who talked to us gave us a number of helpful websites about the archives and the services it provides: the NAS site, the SAFS site, the SCAN site, Scottish Wills site, and a self-help guide to reading documents.

The Archives is working on a number of digitization projects in order to preserve the heavily used delicate records they own. For example, they are digitizing Church of Scotland records which are very useful for family history researchers. They currently are working on the Registers Archive Conversion Project which is digitizing land registers, another heavily used collection. Another project they are working on it the Image Library Project in conjunction with the National Library of Scotland.

The final part of the lecture was showing us actual documents. One letter was from Mary, Queen of Scots, to her mother. Another was a church record scroll which contained the first written record they (the Archive, at least) have from 1494. Someone was being paid with "aqua vitae" or water of life which is what we know of as whiskey. It was also interesting to see a poem about the British Railway system which went through the alphabet. Some of the lines are still true today!

National Library of Scotland

Today, we visited the National Library of Scotland. Interestingly enough, it is located across the street from Edinburgh's public library.

The library has a very varied collection, everything including 3 million maps, musical recordings, film archives, government documents, manuscripts, and books. Because the library is a national depository, they get a copy of every book published. Every week 8,000 works are added to the collection. Like the British Library, the National Library of Scotland is dedicated to collecting, preserving and providing access to materials.

This library had the exhibit that I liked the most of all the places we visited. The John Murray Archive is a recent addition to the library. John Murray opened a publishing firm in 1768. Seven generations later, his decedents sold the publishing firm's collection of materials to the National Library for £31.2 million. Some of these materials included letters to and from Murray and his authors, others were handwritten manuscripts, and publishing equipment.

According to the archive's brochure, "John Murray published many of the most important thinkers and writers of the past two centuries: people whose words helped shape the modern world." Some of these important thinkers and writers were Charles Darwin, Jane Austen, and Lord Byron.

The library and archive have begun a large digitizing project with a goal of digitizing 15,000 items. They want to make sure they are able to minimize the damage to fragile items and make the archive's resources available to a larger number of people. Their goal is to be finished with cataloging the entire archive within 3 years. Because the collection was largely uncataloged when it arrived at the library, they are still making interesting discoveries. They are 1 year into this project.

The archive did not want to lock themselves into the traditional idea of an archive. They wanted to make an interesting and interactive exhibit for visitors to enjoy. In many archives, the displays are "text-heavy" which can become dull after a while. Items on display need to be put into context for visitors and sometimes the documents on display need to be translated or typed out so that it is legible. All of this contributes to more text for visitors to read and a display which might not engage their interest.

The design of this archive exhibit took 3 years to complete and was created by the library, researchers (like John Murray VII), and designers. They made sure to visit other libraries and museums to see how others were making their displays. They determined that there are 4 characteristics of a good display for them. 1) Materials should be displayed in a theatrical way. 2) object rich displays with minimal labels were more interactive. 3) Use of light and shadow could be very dramatic. 4) They wanted to teach people more about the publishing trade. The purpose of the archive was to show the documents/manuscripts, help visitors understand the people behind them, give context and provide audio transcription/narration.

I think they did a great job making an interesting exhibit. The exhibit was really kind of dark with these glass cases filled with clothing, manuscripts/letters, and other objects which represented the person who the case is about. For instance, one woman who wrote a cookery book had a dress and cap, letters to Murray, and a mixing bowl and spoon in her case. Inside these cases were no labels and no writing other than that on the manuscripts. Instead, there was a touchscreen in front of the case where you could select which item you wanted to know more about and the information would come up on the screen. Also, the item you were looking at would be highlighted in the case. I loved how creative it all was. Below is a sketch I made to explain the cases a little bit more.

In addition to the cases, they also had little tidbits of information about the world of publishing. At the end of it exhibit, there was a "table of publishing" (I don't know if this is actually what they called it). You could "publish" your own book but tapping on the table like a giant touch screen. It was so much fun to play with and you got some pretty funny titles.

As I said before, this was probably my favourite exhibit. It grabbed your attention and kept you involved.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Jane Austen Centre

A group of friends and I went to Bath, today. For a related blog post about the Roman Baths, please click here.

We stopped by the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street. The Centre focuses on the years that Austen spent living in Bath which gave her the most fodder for her later novels. The building where the Centre is located is not actually one of the places Austen lived in while in Bath. It is, however, very similar to the house at 25 Gay Street. Both of the houses were built between 1735 and 1760 by the same architects, John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger.

Upon entering the Centre, you are taken upstairs for a brief lecture about Austen's history, her family, and her time in Bath. The tour guide then led us down to the permanent exhibition area. The permanent exhibit is devoted to the time that Austen lived in Bath, 1801 to 1806. I liked that the area and the time of the books were really put into context. For example, there was an explanation about salaries and how much a man would have to be worth in order to have various things like multiple servants or a carriage.

One interesting display was the Mystery Dress. This dress was found in pieces in a bag by an antiques dealer. They were able to painstakingly reconstruct the dress and it looks so beautiful! For more information, click on the picture of the sign to see a bigger picture.

Inside the permanent exhibit, there was a temporary exhibit about the costumes used for a ITV presentation of Persuasion. After seeing all of the costumes, I really wanted to see the show!

Roman Baths Museum

Some of the class went to Bath on our research day today. For a related post about Bath, please click here.

The site of the Roman Baths had been sacred even before the Romans arrived in Britain. The hot springs found in Bath are the only ones in England and the rest of the United Kingdom. For this reason, ancient peoples used to come there and offer sacrifices and honor the gods of the spring. When the Romans arrived, they dedicated the baths to the goddess, Minerva. The Roman Baths Museum does a good job of informing visitors about the area's history and is one of the most well-preserved ancient Roman spas in the world.

The columns and statues that a visitor sees today around the Great Bath are not actually an original part of the ancient spa. These are Victorian additions. The water in the Great Bath is green because of the algae reaction to the sunlight. In Roman times, the Great Bath would have been covered and the water would have been a normal colour.

My favourite display at the museum was the "Objects from the spring" area. Some are things you might expect like coins. Over 12,00 ancient coins have been found there. The objects that really interested me were the messages offered to Minerva. Many of these were curses asking the goddess to punish those who had harmed the writer or his or her families. Many more curses than prayers have been found in the spring.

I was disappointed that the display about the signet rings that I had seen in 2003 had been replaced by another display. In the water, many signet rings slipped off fingers or the jewels' fastenings were loosened by the hot water and dropped into the water. Some of the carvings on those were just amazing. My favourite was a picture of a man holding a mare and her foal.

Here is a picture of a hippocamp mosaic.

And here we are sitting on the edge of the Great Bath.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Bodleian Library

In Oxford, we visited the Bodleian Library. Today, the library encompasses 4 buildings: the Old Bodleian Library, the New Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Clareadon Building. In our tour, we visited 3 of these buildings. The following map is taken from the Bodleian Library website.

The Old Library was originally intended to be only the school of divinity, not a library. Because the construction of the divinity school took 65 years to complete, they built on another story to the building and added the library in 1488. The king's brother at the time, Duke Humfrey, donated his collection of Renaissance influenced books and so it was called Duke Humfrey's Library (creative, huh?). There was no real organization with the first library because there was no librarian appointed and no plan for book acquisition.

Later, during the English Reformation (where Henry VIII changed the state religion from Catholic to Protestant) most of the books and manuscripts were destroyed because they were Catholic texts. Just think of the works that are no longer around because of that!

The next area the guide took us is called Convocation Hall. This room was were the convocation of the university met. These were the ruling men of the university including the chancellor (head) of the university and all of the heads of the various colleges. Parliament was even held in that room. Once during the plague and Great Fire of London because no one wanted to be in London while everyone was dying of plague. The other time was during the reign of Charles I and the English Civil War.

The next room of the Old Library was the Chancellor's Court which was a law court presided over by the chancellor of the university. The chancellor also had power over the people of the town as well as the university. The townspeople did not like that at all and there was a lot of 'town and gown' animosity.

The Bodleian library got its name from Thomas Bodley who used his own money to repair and expand the library. It opened in 1602 with ~2,000 texts. That was a huge number when you consider there were only about 100 students at the time. The Old Library was designed as a combination chained library (i.e. the books were chained to the desks) and a gallery library. Our tour guide, Matthew, said that the rest of Europe had already implemented gallery libraries but England had not. The chained book that he showed us is a reproduction so that tour groups can be showed a chain book. This does not mean, however, that the chained books are not used. Readers can request to see these books though they are under supervision by the library staff which they are using them.

One fact that I found fascinating was that there have been only 24 head librarians at the Bodleian library since 1602. Talk about long lived!

The next building we visited was the Radcliffe Camera, a round building next to the Old Library. Matthew said that this building is probably the most photographed building in Oxford. Bet many of the people taking those pictures don't know that it is a library. It wasn't originally intended to be a library, however. Curved walls must be a nightmare for the library staff and book storage. In 1860, the building became a part of the Library.

The two reading rooms, the upper and lower cameras, were simply amazing. I think I would always try to study in the upper camera if I went to Oxford University.

I liked seeing the conveyor belt that took the books from one building to another. Like all libraries and libraries housed in separate buildings, I am always amazed that things get from one place to another so smoothly.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Women's Library

The Women's Library in London is a very interesting place to visit. Currently, they have an exhibition, What Women Want, until September 15th.

This exhibition focused on 7 aspects of women's lives: pleasure (leisure time), having a voice, beauty, equality of work, safety and security, freedom and independence, and home life. Each of these aspects were in separate sections of the exhibit space and had items on display such as magazines, photos, buttons and a fact area which listed some statistical information. I found the statistical information very interesting and informative.

The pleasure section included a breakdown on how women in the UK today spend their free time.

TV & videos:
2 hours, 9 minutes or 44% of free time
1 hour or 21% of free time
25 minutes or 9% of free time <--they obviously didn't poll librarians!
Sports and exercise:
11 minutes or 4% of free time
23 minutes or 8% of free time
Hobbies and games:
15 minutes or 5% of free time
Volunteer work and help:
14 minutes or 5% of free time
Entertainment and culture:
6 minutes or 2% of free time
Other or unspecified:
10 minutes or 3% of free time

For each of the other sections, I will write the heading and put some of the interesting information as bullet points under it.

Having a voice
  • Since 1918, only 253 women have been elected as MPs
  • 28% of local councillors are women
  • 25% of British MEPs are women


  • In 2004, the top cosmetic surgery procedures for women in Britain were breast augmentation, breast reduction, eyelid surgery and face/neck lift.
  • Around 1 in 100 young women has bulimia nervosa.
  • 55% of men rate looks as the most attractive thing in a woman and only 1% said intelligence
  • 22% of young women admit to staying at home because they think they don't look good.

Equality of work

  • Women now make up 46% of the labour force in Britain and 70% of women are in employment.
  • Since 1975, when the Equality Pay Act came into effect, the full-time pay gap has closed considerably, from 29.5% to 19.8% in 1997 and from 21.2% in 1998 to 18.4% in 2004.

Safety and Security

  • The number of rapes reported in England and Wales is rising, but only 5.6% of 11,766 reports in 2002 led to a rapist being convicted.
  • There were approximately 13 million incidents of domestic violence against women in 2000.

Freedom and Independence

  • Use of the oral contraceptive pill was highest, at 28% in the mid 1970s and early 80s. Usage then fell and has never since reached the same level of use. In 1998, 24% of women aged 16-49 used oral contraceptives.

Home Life

  • In 2000-1, women spent over 2 hours a day doing housework, cooking, washing up, cleaning and ironing, one hour more than men.
  • The average number of children per household has declined to 1.8 in 2001 from 2 in 1971.

I think my favourite thing about this exhibit was the wall where visitors could tack up their thoughts and responses to each of the sections. It was a good way to make the exhibit interactive and I liked seeing what other people thought about it.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

The tour started with us walking up the Geometric Staircase, an engineering marvel. Click on the picture to go on a virtual tour of the cathedral. Because we were not able to take pictures in the library and because I would never be able to take such a great picture, these pictures are taken from the virtual tour site and the library's webpage.
The weight of the steps of the Geometric Staircase are even divided between those above and below so it 'hangs' off of the wall. For you Harry Potter buffs, the scene in the 4th movie with them coming down from the North Tower was filmed there. Once we came to the top of the steps, we were offered a pretty impressive birds-eye view of the main floor of the cathedral.

Next, we went into the room where the Great Model is held. This model showed how Christopher Wren wanted the cathedral to look like. It was rejected because it looked too much like a Catholic cathedral though he still retained many of the same elements in the finished building. The room where the model is housed was originally supposed to be part of the library because it has huge windows and a ton of natural light and designs on the walls of ink bottles, pens, and books.

Going into the library was like going into your stereotypical image of an old library. Bookshelves on every wall filled with old books with lovely leather bindings. Antique desks piled high with books being worked on. High windows letting in light which picks up the dust swirls. That smell of old books. It was wonderful.
Many of the books there date to after the Great Fire of London 1666 which had destroyed many of the original holdings. You can understand why no one is allowed in there without the supervision of the librarian, Joseph Wisdom! Many of the books in the current collection were donated by Bishop Henry Compton who donated 2000 books. He also convinced other senior clergy to donate their libraries as well. Today, the collection holds approximately 13,500 volumes.
Anyone is allowed to use the library though they do have to be cautious about this. Many of the texts are priceless documents which might be damaged by careless or too much handling. There is also, unfortunately, the risk of theft associated with such valuable documents. Readers are closely supervised by the librarian and only allowed to have 3 documents or texts at a time. In some cases, the librarian will handle the book and turn the pages for the reader.
It was a wonderful experience to have such a "behind the scenes" look at St. Paul's Cathedral and the workings of its library.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Museum of London

I really liked visiting this museum. I had never really heard about it before though my guidebook did mention it as an oft-overlooked treasure. It is the largest urban museum in the world. Other museums like the British Museum do include some information about London but mostly focus on different sections of the world also. The Museum of London, however, focuses solely on London and its people through the ages.

Our speaker, John Cotton, is the curator of the prehistory section of the museum. His talk was a very interesting combination of the history of the museum and the design of the prehistory exhibit. The museum, built in 1976, is the result of a combination of the Guild Hall Museum, London Archaeology Museum and Archives and the London Museum (which had previously been housed in Kensington Palace). The Museum of London employs 150 people in the main museum and 150 people at an archaeology archives building.

The museum draws three main types of visitors: people who want to know more about the Victorians, people who want to know more about the Tudors and the Stuarts, and the people who want to know about Roman London. (I fall firmly in the last group.) Mr. Cotton's job is to draw them into his area and educate the visitors about a time period in which they didn't know they would be interested. In order to do this, he and his team took great care in the creation of their exhibit, London before London.

They wanted visitors to take home 4 messages about the exhibit. One, that the climate has fluctuated over the course of history. Two, that the River Thames was (and still is) very important to the city of London. It was sacred to the people who originally settled there. They offered sacrifices to the river such as spears, swords, coins, and even human sacrifices. Even today, sacred items such as small statutes of Hindi gods are being found in the river. Individual Londoners define themselves as South or North Londoners depending on which side of the river they live. Taxi drivers primarily operate on one side or the other because that is the territory that they know well. The third message is that people were individuals. Many times, we tend to think of prehistory peoples rather than individuals. The museum wants to put a face to the individual and make visitors relate to them. The fourth message is that the legacy of the prehistory people did not stop when the Romans arrived.

The time and amount of work that it took to put together the design of the exhibit will definitely make me think about how museums decide to display their items from now on. They carefully decided how much text was too much because they didn't want visitors to read the captions but never look at the items. The designers also wanted people to really understand how important the Thames is so they mimicked the idea of water by an entire wall lit with blue light.

I will definitely have to keep my eye out for other ways that different exhibits use light and color to draw attention to what they are trying to impart to the visitor.

Down the hall from the prehistory exhibit, for instance, was the Great Fire of London display. They used red, a color that many of us associate with flames, all over the walls and floors. You couldn't mistake the area you were in!

As much as I liked the prehistory display, my favourite part was the Roman section. I am just a Roman History junkie. They did a nice job of recreating scenes from everyday life.

And finally, would couldn't love a museum with a sense of humour? Where else would you find this on display?

Friday, 13 July 2007


The tour of the Parliament building was very interesting. I knew a little bit about British politics but this tour was able to give me more background information.

Most people only know Parliament as the place next to the clock tower (what many people mistakenly call Big Ben. Big Ben is actually the bell inside the clock tower.) But it is so much more interesting than just that! The building that we now know as Parliament was originally called Westminster Palace. The building was actually rebuilt in 1845 after a fire damaged the previous palace. The last king to live there was Henry VIII.

Parliament is divided into two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The differences between the two rooms were very obvious when one looks at the difference in decoration techniques! The House of Lords is where the sovereign's throne sits and seems like it is wall to wall gilt and red carpet! The Queen addresses (and visits) Parliament once a year. No sovereign is allowed to enter the House of Commons ever since the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell ran the country. The decoration of the House of Commons is much simpler than the House of Lords, much more wood panelling and green carpet.

The House of Commons was damaged in the Blitz of WWII. During that time, it met in the House of Lords. The current room was built in exactly the same plan as the former chamber so there are still only 440 seats. This lack of seating can cause difficulty because, if you don't get there early to stake out a seat, you would have to stand for the duration of the session. The seating arrangement of both of the Houses mimics the seating in a church with both sides facing each other and the head of the House at the front of the room perpendicular to the members' seating.

I was highly amused by the two red lines on the floor of the House of Commons. Our guide at Parliament did not go into great detail about these lines but, luckily for me, one of my London Alive tours did. The lines hark back to the days when the MPs all wore swords. The lines are 2 sword lengths apart so that, in the heat of the moment, debates would not devolve into duels. The members would be told to "toe the line" meaning that they should step back behind the red lines. I wonder how many people who take the tours or watch the sessions on TV know this history.

After we went through the House of Commons, we went into St. Stephen's Hall where the first House of Commons was located for 300 years. St. Stephen's Hall is only large enough for 440 seats which is why only that number is in the current House of Commons. Ah, historical precedent.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

British Library

The British Library was a fascinating place to go for a library school class. Our guide, a librarian himself, was very informative and interesting. He showed us staff areas that normal tours don't go to so that we could understand more about the workings of the library.

He told us that the library has 3 functions: acquire a national bibliographic archive, keep the national bibliographic archive forever (i.e. once it comes in, it never leaves), and to make the archive accessible to all those who want to see it. This means anyone can get a card with the proper identification within 20 minutes. The 20 minutes is a very important time frame because the library is required to process applications by order of the government and so they can keep getting money.

It was very interesting learn that the library processes over 1 million requests per year and approximately 22,000 requests each day. Wow, to have that amount of circulation! Just think that each of those requests are processed in 70 minutes or less.

Another thing I found interesting was that the library classifies its books by size rather than some other type of classification system. Once I think about it, this makes complete sense. They only have so much space so it is logical to maximize what you do have. Books are able to be found by using their shelf mark or holding mark on the spine of the book. This mark tells whomever is retrieving the book exactly where to find it in the stacks and on the shelf. Our guide said that, if something is misshelved, however, it usually is never found again. Well, unless someone happens to run across it while looking for something else.

I think my favourite part of the library was the collection of King George III. This column of books was really displayed in a wonderful way, almost like artwork. When he donated them, he stipulated that the books must be on public display and must be used. I'm thinking that he never thought of the difficulties this might cause much later. The architect did a wonderful job fulfilling those directions and making the collection something that everyone could enjoy.

The last part of our tour took us to a small model of the library. Our guide had us look at the model and tell him what it looked like to us. He then told us that the library was designed to look like a ship. (Personally, I would never have guessed this!) The architect, who was in the navy during WWII, never had command of his own ship so he built himself one instead!

Here is a picture of some of us on the book bench in the lobby area of the library.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


Our class went on a trip to Oxford (briefly) and Stratford-upon-Avon today. In Oxford, we only had a little time to walk around the city before heading out again. I'm very happy that we will be coming back later in the month. Then we continued on to Stratford-upon-Avon and all things Shakespeare.

Places visited in Stratford-upon-Avon:
  • Shakespeare's Birthplace

  • Hall's Croft

  • Nash House (New Place)

  • Swan Theatre for a production of Macbeth

Shakespeare's Birthplace was very interesting. His parents, John and Mary, bought the house in 1556 and passed to William upon his father's death. William and his wife, Anne, lived in the house briefly but did not make it their primary residence. Inside the house, was a window which early tourists carved their names. I always find graffiti like that interesting. The garden around the house was so pretty and full of such colourful flowers.

Hall's Croft was owned by John Hall who was married to William's daughter, Susanna. Hall was a doctor so much of the house was devoted to Elizabethan medical instruments and learning as well as Hall's own medical practice. He kept a journal so it was interesting to read his own words about his experiences. The only disappointing thing about this house was that there was no guided tour of any sort so you had to pick up a history of the building on your own.

The Nash House, or New Place as it was known, did have a guided tour for a portion of the house. It always makes for an interesting tour when the guide is enthusiastic about his or her subject. The guided part of the house has been preserved so that visitors can glimpse what a house of that time would look like and get an idea of some everyday activities. The non-guided part of the house is set up as an exhibit about book publishing in Shakespeare's time and all of his works. I really liked going through that area. The part that I liked the most was the quiz about his works. You had to answer a question like "In which play does a laundry basket play a part?" and then lift a flap to find out the answer.

New Place, the house which Shakespeare bought when he returned from London as a famous playwright. The house today, however, only exists as a set of foundations. The house was torn down because the owner next door in Nash House would have had to pay more taxes if it continued to stand. Unfortunately, I didn't write down if Nash was the one who torn New Place down or if it was an occupant of the house after his death.

The play, Macbeth at the Swan Theatre, was well done. The representation of the 3 wyrd sisters was very interesting. They were portrayed as younger women who were present in almost every scene though the other characters couldn't see them. It made them really feel like they were pulling strings behind everyone's actions. The thing I could have done without was Macbeth seeing visions of the other guy's decendents stretching forward to forever being represented by babies hanging over the stage. Some of them were burnt or covered with blood and just looked gross. But the actors did a good job and Lady Macbeth was a very convincing mad woman.

We got back to London around 1.30 am. It had been a very full and very long day!

Monday, 9 July 2007