Abbey House Museum

Abbey House Museum

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Abbey House Museum in Leeds is a living history museum which takes visitors into the very heart of 19th century life. Housed in the building which once stood as the gatehouse for the 12th century Kirkstall Abbey, the museum now contains a host of re-created houses and shops designed to reflect 19th century life.

Abbey House Museum history

Kirkstall Abbey was founded in around 1152, yet following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII fell to disrepair and eventual ruin. Its gatehouse however was turned into a dwelling house and received renovation over the years, including a 15th/16th century wing and early 20th century additions. At one point it operated as a farmhouse, and at another was the home of the Butler family, the owners of Kirkstall Forge, before in 1926 being purchased by Leeds City Council.

In July 1927, Abbey House Museum was opened in the gatehouse as a bygones and folklore museum, and in the 1950s three Victorian streets were installed – Abbey Fold in 1954, Harewood Square in 1955 and Stephen Harding Gate in 1958.

By 2001 it had received a vast refurbishment, with new shops and houses to explore.

Abbey House Museum today

The museum’s authentic Victorian streets afford visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and smells of 19th century Leeds. Providing a hands-on experience that is particularly family friendly, the Abbey House Museum includes a number of galleries, including one devoted to childhood as well as information about the history of Kirkstall Abbey itself. Each year the museum also holds a new exhibition inspired by its collection and a number of events run throughout.

Alongside the museum guests may stop for refreshment at the Gatehouse Cafe whilst admiring the imposing Kirkstall Abbey ruins across the road.

Getting to Abbey House Museum

Abbey House Museum is situated in the village of Kirkstall in Leeds on the A65, and there is a large free carpark next to the museum on Abbey Walk. The nearest train stations are Kirkstall Forge and Headingley, both 1 mile away, while the 33, 34 and 757 buses all stop outside of Kirkstall Abbey, a short walk to the museum.

Abbey House Museum - History

Abbey House Museum
Kirkstall Road, Leeds
0113 230 5492

The site of the Abbey is just across the modern A65 Kirkstall Road.

A brief history
The core of Abbey House was originally the inner gatehouse of Kirkstall Abbey, founded in 1152. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries the gatehouse was blocked at either end and became a house.

Since then the house has been a farmhouse and also the home of the Butler family, the owners of Kirkstall Forge. In 1926 Leeds City Council bought Abbey House.

Bygones and folklore
Originally considered as a judges' lodging house it opened as a bygones and folklore museum in July 1927.

During the 1950s three Victorian streets were formed. Abbey Fold in 1954, Harewood Square in 1955 and Stephen Harding Gate in 1958.

In 1996 a bid was developed for the complete renovation of the buildings and the collections and submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Abbey House closed in Spring in 1998 and all 70,000 artifacts were removed into storage.

Following the two-year £1.5 million refurbishment the museum re-opens on Saturday 20 January 2001 with twelve new shops and houses to visit.

Visitors will once again be able to walk down the accurately re-created Victorian streets and visit the shops and houses of old-time Leeds around 1880.

There are also three galleries in the museum including the Childhood Gallery.

Information is also displayed covering Kirkstall Abbey's construction, history and closure.

The Lady Of Abbey House

photo by Graham Coad

photo by Graham Coad

Note the Cloam ovens inside the railings

Mrs Simpson watching the parade. This photo would have been taken in 1951, the year the Festival of Britain was held.

A Young Mrs Simpson watching the parade from the arch


Visitors to Padstow Museum often ask about the striking old building on the North Quay known as Abbey House. Long felt to be one of the oldest houses in Padstow with a history going back to before the Prideaux family took over the control of the area from the Priory of Bodmin. With its ancient Cataclew stone archway overlooking the inner harbour and rough doors leading to storage underneath and reputedly even a tunnel leading up to Prideaux Place, it stands out as a special place. Rented by the Prideaux&rsquos to families with interests around the harbour such as the Nances and Carters it was, sometime in the 1930&rsquos, rented to Harry Simpson and his second wife Annie, who when the property was offered for sale in 1938, purchased it. This began an association that would last until Annie&rsquos death in 1981. Her last years were coloured by her increasing erratic and irrational behaviour at her window, her stage. She died in hospital on 20th August 1981 Little is known of those early years in Padstow except that for a time one of her husband Harry&rsquos sons from his marriage to Rose, Maurice Barrow Simpson and his wife Evelyn lived with them (1939). There was another son Arthur Barrow Simpson both involved in the family firm of &lsquoLivery Outfitters&rsquo based in South Audley St, Grosvenor Square, London. All this information gleaned by recent Internet searches including the information that his first wife of 33 years died at Goss Moor Roche in 1923. It is known that Annie was a member of the Red Cross during the War and, post war, in the WRVS. She is remembered driving an open top Standard 8 car. But what of her life before she married Harry Simpson. ? We start with the Census entry for Annie&rsquos Morrell family living in Queens Park Paddington in 1911.

The Lady of Abbey House

Her father Charles Morrell is working as a general labourer and is 44. He and his wife Elizabeth have been married 22 years and Annie aged 12 has an elder sister Dorothy aged 16 and a brother John 14, both working in the &lsquoSlipper Trade&rsquo. William 13 is at school, as are Annie, Lilly 9 and Violet 6. One last sister Ethel 2 is at home. We know Annie left school at 14 and went to work for a Wholesale Grocers in Farringdon Rd where she rose to a position of Ledger Clerk at the end of 1917, earning 35 shillings per week. Her father was now in munitions work and in April 1918 Annie enlisted in the Queen Mary&rsquos Army Auxiliary Corp as an admin clerk and typist. She would have worn the uniform of green or khaki jacket, skirt and cap. In Feb 1919 she was discharged on compassionate grounds and became a nursemaid. The next important piece of information we have is the Marriage Certificate of 27th February 1926 which took place at Eton Register Office between Harry Simpson aged 58 Widower, Master Tailor residing at &lsquoChez Nous&rsquo Ovalway Gerrard&rsquos Cross Bucks and Annie Morrell aged 26 a spinster of the same address. We know nothing of what led up to the marriage of this working class girl and the wealthy widower. We do know the couple went on a world cruise for the honeymoon and in a few years would find themselves living among us in Padstow. It would be easy to speculate on the many years Annie spent alone in her atmospheric old home on the harbour side after Harry died in 1947. There were many like her living quietly and managing their own affairs and for most of the time this would be her lot. Locals who came into contact with her noticed a change in her behaviour. She went shopping and visited the post office as usual but would be heard talking to herself as her mental health declined She had no family nearby and locals working around the harbour area did their best to protect her from curious onlookers who would see her at her &lsquowindow&rsquo and hear her comments on the world as it passed by. The house was sold on and no one has lived in it since permanently for any length of time. Maybe that is rather fitting as there will never be another Annie Simpson.

John Buckingham Padstow Museum In response to the many questions. I have attempted to answer some of them. Thanks to Glynis Kent for her Internet research.

Abbey House

Abbey House is available to hire for corporate functions, meetings, events, parties and more.

Abbey House is an important part of the Glastonbury Abbey estate, both historically and today. Built as a residence in the early 19th century for the then owner of the grounds, John Fry Reeves, it is sited to provide spectacular views down the axis of the abbey church.

Abbey House today retains much of its Tudor Gothic character and is the perfect setting for a range of private functions with one of the best views in Somerset. Four accessible ground floor rooms with differing characters are available to hire, as is the beautiful and spacious garden which looks out over the abbey ruins.

The versatility of the spaces and quiet peaceful setting allow for a variety of uses. Whether you are hosting a large family function, an academic conference, or a meditative gathering or workshop, Abbey House has rooms to suit. The rooms also interconnect, creating a flowing space for large celebrations such as wedding receptions.

What&rsquos more, being under the management of Glastonbury Abbey, event hire at Abbey House contributes to the independent charity which preserves the house, abbey ruins, and its grounds.

Please take a closer look at each room and download our hire information sheet (pdf).

Classes will be split into 2 groups for each workshop, each group spending 45 minutes in the workshop and 45 minutes exploring the museum's galleries with their responsible adult. The following workshops are led by a member of the museum's freelance education staff and provide the opportunity to handle and explore objects from the museum's collections: Toys and Games £45 per class, Houses and Homes £45 per class, Shops and Shopping £45 per class, Going to the Seaside with craft activity £50 per class, Victorian Christmas with craft activity £50, Meet the Victorians FREE.

A drop-in morning for children aged 0-5 years and their carers. Enjoy craft activities, games and make friends together at Abbey House Museum. 10.15-12.00, normal admission applies (children are free) with no extra charge.
Dates for 2009 are as follows: 24th February, 25th March, 22nd April, 20th May, 17th June, 15th July, 12th August, 16th September, 14th October, 11th November, 9th December. No booking necessary. Call for more details.

How to obtain

The Monkey Club activities are free - just drop in.

Tudor Place

A model of Federal-period architecture in the nation’s capital, Tudor Place was home to six generations of Martha Washington’s descendants from 1805 to 1983 and the enslaved workers and servants who lived and worked here. With over 18,000 decorative objects, including the largest Washington Collection outside of Mount Vernon, Tudor Place sits on 5 ½ acres in the heart of Georgetown.

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Murder in the Museum – A 1930s Mystery at Abbey House Museum

M urder in the Museum is one of the best-loved penny slot machines at Abbey House Museum in Kirkstall.

Made by Leeds sisters Alice and Eveline Dennison in 1934, it shows a 30s murder mystery worthy of Agatha Christie! This film, made by Target Productions at Temple Newsam House, re-imagines the story behind the slot machine with some colourful characters from the museum’s past.

It’s a mechanised murder mystery machine which has captivated generations of Leeds museum-goers.

So when Abbey House Museum’s quirky 1930s penny slot machine finally gave up the ghost, it would have been a crime to let the historic attraction simply gather dust.

Luckily, after the machine broke down recently, experts at the Kirkstall attraction searched for the right team of specialists and, after some complex restoration work, the fabulous Murder in the Museum contraption is now back up and running.

Kitty Ross, Leeds Museums and Galleries curator of social history said: “The penny slot machines have always been one of our star attractions and Murder in the Museum is a firm favourite with adults and children.

“The machine is not only colourful and fun, it’s also a wonderful window onto a golden age of crime fiction, when these sorts of comic and macabre machines were the latest thing and helped to spark a fascination with grisly crime stories that still exists today.

“Everyone at the museum is pleased to see Murder in the Museum back up and running, particularly as it plays such an important part in our Crime and Punishment exhibition which has been such a huge success so far.”

Played out by a series of small, automated models, Murder in the Museum’s main suspects include a woman with a large handbag, a man lurking behind a display cabinet and a man hiding inside an Egyptian sarcophagus.

The machine was made in 1934 and is the work of Leeds sisters Alice and Eveline Dennison, who followed their father John into the family business, building mechanical fortune telling machines and working dioramas for installation at exhibitions, fairs and bazaars.

Alice had worked as a governess and then as a dress maker and was the inspiration behind many of the costumes worn by the models that feature in the family’s machines.

Her sister Eveline studied art and carefully crafted the models themselves out of wood and clay.

The family originally operated out of Blackpool Tower, selling their machines to the Tower Company in 1944. Quoted in the Blackpool Gazette in 1963 the Dennison sisters said:

“The most popular models we created were always those with a morbid flavour – ‘Supper with Death’, ‘Midnight in the Haunted Churchyard’, ‘Murder in the Museum.’

“Anyone who imagines that children prefer fairy stories are way off beam. During the 20 years we held the business we learned a lot about human nature.”

Murder in the Museum is now available to see at Abbey House Museum alongside the Crime and Punishment exhibition, which explores the history of law and order in Leeds and the rest of the UK from the 1650s to today.

An accompanying film, which features a live-action version of the story, has been produced in collaboration with Target Productions and includes local amateur actors and actresses.






Malmesbury - The Queen of Hilltop Towns

Atop a perfect flat hill encircled by the River Avon at the southern entrance to the Cotswolds, sits Malmesbury, said to be the oldest continually inhabited town in England. Malmesbury is rightly called the "Queen of Hilltop Towns" being England's oldest borough with a rich history over 1000 years.

Officially Malmesbury can be traced back to the fifth century, but modern excavations have revealed the remains of an Iron Age Fort, which casts the settlement possibly as far back as 500 BC. Malmesbury is also home to England&rsquos oldest hotel, the Old Bell, which has been offering bed and board since 1220.

The honey stoned streets, a quaint tumble of 17th and 18th-century shops and inns bustle under the gaze of the imposing and beautiful seventh-century abbey. When St. Aldhelm founded the monastery the site soon became a place of pilgrimage and learning, and in the 10th Century, Athelstan, the first king of (all) England and grandson of Alfred the Great, made Malmesbury his capital. He is buried under the abbey grounds.

Nearby Abbey House is famous for its lovely five acres of gardens, a feast of formal landscaping and wild spaces dotted with fishponds that cascade into a valley carved by a tributary of the River Avon. A romantic oasis in the heart of the community, the gardens are often used for concerts and events through the summer.

The town with its medieval streets, old courtroom, and almshouses is lovely to walk around. In the marketplace you&rsquoll find an elaborately engraved 15th-century market cross which is one of the best preserved of its kind in the country. You can also take to the scenic river path on a walking tour and learn some of Malmesbury&rsquos colourful stories.


Malmesbury probably owes much of its long history to geography. Perched on top of a cliff-flanked hill almost completely surrounded by water, it might well be the country&rsquos best naturally defended inland location. The hill is also dotted with freshwater springs, which would not only have sustained settlers but were considered to be holy wells as far back as the seventh century.

The actual date when Malmesbury received its official charter is a little unclear. It may have been as early as 880 under King Alfred, but the generally accepted date is 924 during the reign of Edward the Elder.

The ancient abbey was founded in AD 675. A centre for learning and pilgrimage, it once had a spire taller than Salisbury Cathedral. It has since evolved through three restorative incarnations and although much lies in scenic ruins today, it is still used as the local parish church.

Perhaps the abbey&rsquos most famous resident was Eilmer, known as the Flying Monk. He is thought to be the first person on record to ever attempt to fly. Legend has it that after attaching wings to his hands and feet he soared airborne for more than a furlong, only to fall hazardously (although not fatally) to the ground. Undeterred by rendering himself lame in the attempt, Eilmer (or Oliver as he is sometimes known) wanted to give it another go, but the abbot forbade him. To this day he continues to pop up in the town&rsquos rich historic tapestry. In the 1920s a stained glass window was installed in the church depicting him with a pair of wings, while a lane off the high street (Oliver's Lane), is said to mark the site of his bumpy landing.

The great south door to the abbey - surrounded by eight bands of stone ornament Apostles - One of the most outstanding Romanesque sculptures in Britain

Malmesbury was originally the ancient frontier of two kingdoms, resulting in centuries of animosity and strife. The defensive position of the town along the route from Oxford to Bristol made it a strategic military point in more recent centuries, particularly during the
English Civil Wars. It was fiercely fought over and is said to have changed hands seven times. The south face of the abbey still bears the scars of cannon fire and gunshots.

The town flourished in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as a weaving centre and became known for producing fine silk and lace.

The population of Malmesbury is currently only 5,400. The area's main employer Dyson (founded by James Dyson, inventor of the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner) has its headquarters on the edge of the town and employs around 1,600 people.


Malmesbury Abbey

Malmesbury Abbey stands proudly over the town of Malmesbury, the seventh-century abbey is one of England's most historic sites and the town's star attraction. The Abbey is at the centre of Malmesbury and can be seen for miles around.

In 1539 King Henry VIII dissolved the monastery, which at the time, was the centre of worship. It was bought by William Stumpe, who arranged for it to become the parish church, and it was consecrated as such on 20th August 1541. Since then it has been a place of worship almost continuously.

Abbey House Gardens

The sprawling Abbey House Gardens surrounding the abbey are famous for their beauty, walks, history &ndash and particularly roses. The house on the site dates back to the 13th century.

The Garden has an extensive collection of roses - one of the largest in England. With the abbey as dramatic backdrop its five acres feature more than 10,000 plant varieties spread between formal gardens dotted with fish ponds and a wilder section that cascades into a valley cut through by a tributary of the River Avon.

The Old Bell Hotel

The Old Bell Hotel claims to be the oldest in England and has provided refuge for weary travellers since 1220. Today guests still find the sanctuary of a quintessential Cotswolds hotel, where old fashioned values include impeccable service, utter comfort and a focus on the pleasures of eating and drinking.

Athlestan Museum

Named after the first 'King of all England', buried in the nearby abbey. Athelstan Museum tells the history of a town built to a Saxon road plan on the site of a 2,500-year-old Iron Age Hill Fort and the area surrounding it.

Situated a few minutes away from the historic abbey and Abbey House Gardens, this family friendly museum is located in the town hall facing the main town car park. The newly refurbished museum contains displays of local life and history.

Athelstan Museum, Cross Hayes, Malmesbury, SN16 9BZ. Tel: 01666 829258.

Bremilham Church

Located on Cowage Farm, Foxley-cum-Bremilham west of Malmesbury, Bremilham Church is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest church in use in Britain. It measures just four metres by three point six metres.

Inside there&rsquos scarcely room for a congregation larger than ten, seating for just four and no room for an altar. Only one service a year is carried out at the church - Rogation Sunday Service is held at Bremilham Church on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

Westonbirt Arboretum

Westonbirt Arboretum is a few miles west of Malmesbury and is England&rsquos finest collection of trees gathered upon a heritage landscape offering 17 miles of accessible paths fantastic for exploring, walking, relaxing and learning about nature.

Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QS. Tel: 01666 880220.

Highgrove House

Highgrove House and Gardens, the private residence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.

The Cotswolds home of Prince Charles, Highgrove Estate includes Highgrove House and Home Farm, which produces organic vegetables, beef and other produce &ndash all of which are available locally. The nearest town is Tetbury where Highgrove shop resides on the High Street.

Lacock Abbey and Village

Lacock Abbey & Village is a 30 minutes drive south of Malmesbury, Lacock is a village captured in time, a favourite Cotswold filming location for period dramas and films including Pride and Prejudice, Moll Flanders, Emma and the Harry Potter movies due to its painstakingly preserved historical streets and elegant abbey.

Bath is an iconic English city, unparalleled for its architecture, history and modern amenities and is just a 45-minute drive southwest of Malmesbury. Bath is the only designated World Heritage city in the UK.

The city is far more than museums and old buildings. It has a lively cultural scene with several festivals and all kinds of shows, concerts and exhibitions filling up the events calendar.

This box is seen on 600 of our webpages


The Leeds Inspired website lists thousands of events happening in Leeds every year. You’ll find gigs, exhibitions, dance,&hellip

Watch the video: Inside Amberley Museum - A tour of the 36-acre site


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