Cambridge-based writer, thinker, psychologist and wandering minstrel
Published April 8th 2013
Hero or villain? And were carrots always orange?
I am about to make my own very small contribution to a vast literary archive. I know this because one of the many facts to be learned at Cromwell's House is that Cromwell is the most-written about English ruler of all time. A visit will teach you much more about this controversial figure who has been described as both a hero and a villainous traitor, and who was voted as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time in a BBC poll. Perhaps more importantly, you will also learn why King Charles wore two shirts on the day of his execution, and what colour carrots used to be (hint: not orange).
From the outside the house has an appropriately 'ye olde' feel to it with an upper section of wattle and daub and tall Tudor chimneys, but it doesn't have the characteristic upper-story overhang and the uneven, wonky look of the most appealing Tudor houses. And this first impression gives a good indication of what this place is all about – while the house itself is clearly interesting, there are better places to go to see beautiful old buildings. The emphasis here is on the history of the English Civil War and the life of Cromwell, and you should expect an experience closer to visiting a museum than a historical site.
The tour begins with a film about Cromwell which is not too tacky and appropriately short (about 7 minutes). Your audio guide will then tell you to duck under the low wood-panel door to enter the kitchen, where a feast of marrow pasties, sack posset and grilled eel is laid out before you. Be sure to pick up a free recipe sheet and delight your friends and family by making these dishes at home...
From the kitchen you will be guided through four more rooms, each containing text boards with descriptions and facts along-side dioramas of life in the 1600s. You will see animatronic versions of Cromwell and his family, replica period furniture, and fake fires emitting a gentle electrical glow. The museum-style approach means that Cromwell's House is likely to be enjoyed by history buffs, and you can learn a lot about the civil war and Cromwell himself.
The creators have also made a clear effort to make a visit entertaining for children. There are some illustrated questions on boards along the wall that can be lifted up to find the answer, and there is also a Wordsearch game which children can ask to take part in.
But it's the second room that is likely to be any child's favourite (and, in fact, it was our favourite too) as it contains a huge wooden chest full of historical costumes, and shelves with replica hats and helmets. The helmets are proper replicas – they are solid metal and very heavy, so be cautious about placing them on your child's head! It also has a basket full of children's games from the 1600s, such as Catch Coit and Paddle Whack, though sadly this seemed to have some broken and missing pieces on our visit.
While it is not a must-see attraction, Cromwell's House strikes a reasonable balance between historical fact and historical fun, and for the price it is a perfectly good way to spend an hour if you're in the area. It may even inspire you to learn more about this controversial Briton in order to decide once and for all whether he was a hero or villain. If so, you'll have a lot of reading to do.