The Bolingbroke Collection

*The Shine a Light Project has been a collaborative effort involving many different departments across the museum service. To reflect this we are publishing some blogs written by contributors to the project from outside of the core team based at the superstore. This week’s blog is written by Helen Renton, Assistant Curator at Strangers Hall, and explains the origin of the Bolingbroke collection (a large proportion of the furniture removed from the 24 crates are objects that form part of the Bolingbroke collection).

The Bolingbroke Collection

By Helen Renton

Strangers’ Hall was for centuries the home of wealthy merchants and mayors of Norwich. The oldest part of the building dates from the early fourteenth century, and the house was extended and embellished by a succession of occupants. In the 1790s it was purchased by local Roman Catholic priests and served as their presbytery until 1880.

Strangers' Hall in the 1900s

Strangers’ Hall in the 1900s

By the end of the nineteenth century Strangers’ Hall was standing empty, neglected and almost derelict. In 1896 it fell into the hands of a property speculator who planned to pull the building down and redevelop the site. Leonard Bolingbroke, a local solicitor, bought the house, saving it from demolition. He was an enthusiastic collector, and furnished the house with his own collection of antiques. He appointed a caretaker and in May 1900 he opened it to the public as a folk museum, one of the first of its kind in Britain.

Bolingbroke wanted to display objects used in everyday life as an alternative to the stuffed birds and fossils on show in most museums at that time. The collections were placed in a series of period room settings, just as they are today.

The Georgian Dining Room

The Georgian Dining Room

When the museum failed to pay its way Bolingbroke moved in with his wife and family of six children. He continued to admit the public to some rooms and in 1922 presented Strangers’ Hall and its contents to the City of Norwich as a museum of domestic life.

Leonard Bolingbroke with his family

Leonard Bolingbroke with his family

Since then Strangers’ Hall has continued to expand its collections, mainly through the generous donations of individual members of the public. The museum now has one of the largest domestic life collections in the country, encompassing everything from jelly moulds to jigsaw puzzles, from vacuum cleaners to Valentines.


Strangers Hall website

Twitter: @StrangersHall

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