The house where Hollytrees Museum is situated was built in 1718 on the site of an Elizabethan house by a London builder, Thomas Blagden, for Elizabeth Cornelisen of Camberwell, London. Nothing of the earlier house survives, but some of the old timbers were reused within the new building. The new house was square in plan with three storeys of four rooms and a basement containing the kitchen and store rooms. The west elevation included a small projecting bay containing the staircase, half landings and closets. Because of the considerable social changes in the 200 years since construction, it is difficult to be precise about the original uses of most of the rooms. The building was completed by March 1719 but sadly Elizabeth Cornelisen died before she could live in it.
The house passed to Sarah Creffeild who later married Charles Gray (1696 - 1782) in 1727, when the house passed to him and he lived there until his death. He was a significant figure in the town, being an attorney, a Justice of the Peace and one of its Members of Parliament between 1742 and 1780. He was also a prominent antiquary, being a Trustee of the British Museum and a friend and correspondent of the Essex historian Philip Morant and the famous antiquary, William Stukeley. These interests may have stimulated his mother-in-law, Mary Webster, to buy him Colchester Castle as a wedding present, adding it to Hollytrees estate which already included the eastern half of what has become Castle Park. Much of Gray's energies went into the improvement of his house and estate. He restored the Castle, landscaped the grounds, built the arcade at the north east corner of Hollytrees and planted the trees which give the house its name.
In 1748 Gray commissioned the local architect, James Deane, to add an extension to the west side of Hollytrees. The extension contained a basement scullery, servants' room and arcade to the garden on the ground floor, a library and two attic rooms. A large fragment of the original wallpaper in one of the attic rooms was rediscovered in 1928 and is preserved in the museum store. Little is known of alterations to the house during the 19th century when it was owned by the Round family who were major local landowners and prominent members of Colchester society. However, a diary written by Charles Gray Round (1797 - 1867) gives some idea of life in the house in the first half of the 19th century. Census returns show that there were a considerable number of people living in the house. In 1881 there were nine members of the Round family and the same number of servants. It is likely that some, perhaps most, of the servants were accommodated in a block to the west that also contained stabling and which was demolished in 1926 to complete the setting for the war memorial.
The visitor can enjoy 300 years of history in this beautiful Georgian townhouse through hands-on exhibits and displays. Highlights include: The dolls' house - a full model of Hollytrees House. Displays demonstrating what family life was like for rich and poor people in Georgian and Victorian Colchester. You can hear the stories of those who lived and worked in Hollytrees. There are also Clocks and watches, ranging in period from the mid 17th century through to the mid 19th century. The display includes the first clock Bernard Mason bought!
Visitors in wheelchairs and parents with pushchairs can now gain access to all public areas of the museum via a lift. Due to the nature of the building the lift has two sets of doors, opening on different sides. Visitors using electric scooters or larger motorised wheelchairs may have difficulty using the lift. However, there is a manual wheelchair available for use, if required. Display cases and text are at wheelchair height and mixed with other audio and tactile elements to bring history to life. There is a RADAR accessible toilet next to the museum entrance. A tactile RNIB 'Maps For All' floor plan is situated on each floor to help with orientation. There are hands-on interactive and sensory experiences throughout the museum displays. There are various displays with sound commentary. You can download or listen to an audio described tour of the Bernard Mason Clock Gallery here. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Castle Rd, Colchester CO1 1UG
Transport: Colchester Town (National Rail) then 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 2, 62, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87 and X93 all stop outside.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00
Tel: 01206 282940