As many of you who follow us know, we’re now members of the Royal Oak Foundation here in the USA. The Royal Oak Foundation is a US based charity that works in partnership with the England’s National Trust – the organization that maintains and preserves many stately homes and other places of historical interest in England. US Members who join the Royal Oak gain access to all National Trust properties for free among other benefits.
One of those other benefits is that they sponsor a series of lectures throughout the year on subjects that would interest most Anglophiles. They’re currently in the middle of their current season and one of the guest lecturers they’ve brought over from the UK is British Historian Dr Lucy Worsley, the chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces (they manage the castles and palaces the Queen doesn’t live in). We had the pleasure of attending one of these lectures last night in Chicago at the Newberry Library.
Dr Worsley is also a well known TV personality in the UK and is regularly on the BBC with interesting shows about British History – as fans of all things British – we love her shows to bits. Her most recent show is called the First Georgians and concerns George I and George II and the effect they had on Britain. Here’s a clip from the most recent show:
Before that, however, last year she hosted a show called A Very British Murder where she explores Britain’s curious relationship with murder throughout history. That was the subject of her lecture in Chicago and as fans of her shows, we were really excited to see her in person.
We arrived just before the lecture was due to begin (thanks Chicago traffic) and were greeted by the lovely Royal Oak staff. They had copies of Lucy’s book on sale and we dutifully bought a copy (can’t wait to read it!). The auditorium in the Newberry Library was the perfect venue for an event like this. The room is surrounded in dark wood paneling. There were chairs set out for the audience (I’d say there was 70 or so people there – all passionate Anglophiles). At the front was a modest lectern and a gigantic screen where Lucy’s presentation slides would be presented.
Before the lecture got started, there were free drinks on offer (bonus!) along with finger foods – which were welcome after two hours in the car (it doesn’t usually take that long so thanks again Chicago traffic!). People milled about and socialized. Dr Worsley herself also mingled with the guests which was lovely. I was too starstruck to meet her at this stage (I’m generally painfully shy and when you add in someone I respect so much, I’m hopeless).
The lecture duly started on time and the Royal Oak staff introduced the organization and the work they do. It really is wonderful a wonderful organization – if you’re not a member, it’s your Anglophile duty to join (see this page for details on how to get an Anglotopia sponsored 20% discount). Next Lucy was introduced and she talked a bit about her day job at Historic Royal Palaces, which was really interesting in itself.
And then she got stuck into her proper presentation. The lecture wasn’t so much about Britain’s worst murders – though there were plenty discussed – it was more about how culturally Britain began to be obsessed with murder stories that were built up by a sensationalist press to the point where nowadays, 1 in 3 books sold is a detective story of some kind.
She took us on a journey through the Regency Era, when the first very public murders began to get publicized, to the Victorian era where crime fighting became a focus and then into the ‘golden age’ of murder – the days of Agatha Christie novels where murder became somewhat sanitized in the aftermath of World War I.
Dr Lucy Worsley is a very animated presenter and she comes off much as she does on her TV shows so she’s a delight to watch give a lecture. She even broke into song at one point – sharing a rather ghoulish song that was written about the infamous Red Barn murder. The Red Barn murder was a rather horrifying murder for Victorian sensibilities where a man lured his girlfriend into a barn in the countryside and instead of secretly marrying her as was the plan, he murdered her. He was swiftly caught, tried and executed. But the hungry press in Britain turned into a huge thing to the point where you could buy actual souvenirs about the murder – including a model of said Red Barn! All rather bizarre. What’s more bizarre is that the village where the murder took place is today a popular tourist attraction and the artifacts related to the murder are the most visited items in the local museum.
It was all very interesting.
The lecture only lasted about an hour but it went by so quickly. I was a little sad when it was over! The audience asked some very good questions and Lucy provided brilliant answers.
Afterwards, she made her self available to sign books and greet those who came to the lecture. I was prepared to go without getting my book inscribed, but Mrs. Anglotopia prodded me into actually meeting her and I’m very glad she did. I was really chuffed she knew about our website and she was rather impressed with my Anglotopia phone case. She duly posed for pictures with Mrs Anglotopia and I (see above) and was all around lovely.
The Royal Oak tried to arrange for us to interview her in person for Anglotopia but sadly the schedules did not align but she had offered to answer some questions over email. So look out for an interview soon.
There’s still one lectures left this season – check out the Royal Oak Foundation website for more information and there will be another series of lectures this fall. Anglotopia readers can get 20% off when they join. We joined before our trip last year and it paid for itself after one visit to a National Trust Property and your donation goes to an excellent cause.