The American Museum in Britain is situated on the outskirts of Bath. A free shuttle bus service runs hourly from the city centre. Following our visit to the Roman Baths on Thursday 20 June, we hopped on the bus in two shifts to head out to Claverton Manor, the grand location where the American Museum collections are housed.
Once the group had explored the amazing gardens and enjoyed the astonishing view of the surrounding countryside (a million peaceful miles away from life in east London) they discovered a museum rich with objects and information describing the history of America in a way that was easy to digest and assimilate. The Adventurers spent a long time in the interactive American Heritage Exhibition in the basement level which provided an engaging overview of key dates and events. They were generally less impressed by the static recreation of period rooms on the first and second floors of the manor, with the quilt collections especially unappreciated by our group. I had little interest in the quilts but did gain much from quiet contemplation of the reconstructed rooms – although the magical, dreamlike quality of the exhibits on these floors was occasionally unhelpfully interrupted by visitor guides eager to share their knowledge of the collections.
We had included the American Museum in our itinerary because of the Gangsters and Gunslingers special exhibition (until 3 November 2013) displaying treasures belonging to private collector David Gainsborough Roberts. Without wishing to stereotype young Londoners, the exhibition as advertised appeared to promise much of interest to our group. In fact, Gangsters and Gunslingers is likely to appeal to anyone familiar with gangster movies or cowboy films from the golden age of Hollywood. My particular favourite item was the business card of gunfighter John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday, which revealed he had enjoyed an arguably less glamorous early career as a dentist in the 1870s. Other intriguing items on display included Wyatt Earp’s gambling dice and ‘cheat’ gadgets for ensuring success at the card table and a 1930s notebook full of poems (some original, some transcribed from other sources) handwritten by Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde fame, or infamy. The quirky content of the exhibition rewarded close examination and more than compensated for the relatively unadventurous design and layout. The club members certainly took a lot from the visit: ‘I learnt so much today about some events and characters from history that really interest me. I could have stayed in the exhibition room all day.’
From my initial exploratory phone enquiry to the end of our time at Claverton Manor, the customer service at the American Museum had been excellent. The shuttle bus even made a special return trip to Bath to accommodate our group and we arrived back in the city centre in time for a leisurely stroll alongside the beautiful Pulteney bridge (see photograph above) before rounding off a full day of sightseeing by climbing more than 200 steep and spiralling stone steps to the top of Bath Abbey bell tower to enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the almost uniformly picturesque city. As one member remarked: ‘It doesn’t look like a place in England. It feels as though we’ve gone on holiday abroad, to Spain or Italy or somewhere.’
For more about the American Museum and the Gangsters and Gunslingers exhibition, click here: http://americanmuseum.org/
To find out about booking a Bath Abbey Tower tour, click here: http://www.bathabbey.org/towertours