98. Mr Straw’s House – 5/10/2016

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Mr Straw’s House is one of the National Trust’s genuine oddities. It is a simple red-brick townhouse on the outskirts of Worksop – the only semi-detached house in the street – and would never have even registered on the Trust’s radar were it not for the fact that it is a time capsule, frozen in Edwardian times, and a memorial to the Straw family.

The name Mr Straw’s House is a little misleading as it is not entirely clear which Mr Straw it refers to – father, son or other son. In fact, our guide suggested that it should be called Mr Straws’ House, with the apostrophe moved to denote a number of Straws. Mr William Straw was a successful Worksop grocer and he bought No. 7 Blyth Grove in 1920 when the flat over the shop became too small for him, his wife, Florence, and his two grown sons, William and Walter, who were recently returned from the Great War. William later headed off to London where he worked as a teacher at City of London College, while Walter went into the business with his father. William senior died in 1932 and Florence was so grief-stricken that she left his things exactly where they had been at the time of his death – there is even a 1932 calendar on the wall by the Dining Room fireplace.

Florence herself passed on seven years later, at which time William junior came back to be with his brother and they lived together as two single gentlemen for another 40 years, with the house becoming something of a shrine to their parents. They had their own bedrooms and clearly used the shared downstairs rooms, but their parents’ belongings remained all around them, frozen in place as if their owners might return at any minute and pick up life exactly where they left it.

After Walter died, William remained alone at No. 7, with a tenant occupying No. 5 next door, which had also been owned by the Straws for some time. When William passed away in 1990 at the age of 92, he left the contents of his house and a sizeable legacy to the National Trust. The houses themselves were willed to the long-time tenant of No.5 but when the National Trust realised how preserved the Straws’ house was, they managed to buy both and open them up to the public, with No. 5 used for visitor facilities and exhibition space.

Entry is by pre-booked timed ticket only and groups of only four are allowed on each floor at any time. The lack of space also means that visitors have to leave all bags locked away at reception so they don’t knock against anything or rub against the fragile wallpaper. There are also strict instructions not to walk anywhere except on the designated visitor carpet.

We were actually lucky enough to visit during the one week when the blinds are left open and the rooms are lit well enough to see their contents. It was still not the brightest of houses, though, so I dread to think how gloomy it is at normal times. This insistence on protecting things from the light and preserving them exactly as they were when they were received by the National Trust continues to bug me a little. I am sure William didn’t live in the dark for most of his life so there has already been deterioration in many of his parents’ belongings. He did his bit to preserve them, e.g. by laying his mother’s clothes between layers of newspapers and hanging a protective cloth over his bookshelves, but I am sure he drew the line at stumbling around in the dark.

All in all, I can appreciate that the property is unique and an interesting museum of Edwardian life and decor, but I have to say that I found the whole place a little depressing. The Trust is doing its level best to respect William’s legacy and keep everything unaltered but, at times, it felt a little like one of those awful shows on TV where cameras take you around the house of a hoarder who cannot bring themselves to throw anything away and consequently live in very uncomfortable surroundings. Instead of appreciating the preserved contents of the house, I just spent much of my time imagining what a miserable existence it must have been for Walter and William and wishing that I could have spruced the place up a bit for them and perhaps given them a few creature comforts, even if it was just heating or a telephone.

It’s certainly an interesting experience and a unique curiosity in the National Trust portfolio (of which there are a few!), so I am glad I saw it and learned a little about this unusual family. Driving into Worksop, a sign welcomed us to the ‘Gateway to the Dukeries’ so we also learnt something new about this part of the world, which was home to no fewer than four ducal seats. One of these was Clumber Park, my very next visit, so watch this space…

Highlights: No individual highlights, it’s just an oddity

Refreshments: Pot of tea

Purchase(s): Guidebook

Companion(s): Mum

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