The Henley Study
This room is a time capsule evoking the atmosphere of a typical late Victorian study representing the life and works of a most extraordinary man, William Cumming Henley (1860-1919). Henley, an ironmonger, embodied the Victorian thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. His restless curiosity drove him to a remarkable list of accomplishments: he was a talented artist and draughtsman, a keen amateur naturalist and microscopist, an avid reader and collector of books and paintings. All this was in his spare time.
Throughout his life Henley accumulated a substantial collection of items that had captured his intellectual interest. On his death the collection was bequeathed to the Borough (now Town) Council and the Henley Museum was established in Anzac Street, just round the corner. This museum had to close in 1976 and the collection then went into store, to be released on loan to Dartmouth Museum in 2005, when the Henley Study was built to display it.
A representation of William Henley’s Study
In the cabinets around the study is an eclectic collection of birds’ eggs, shells, insects, fossils, minerals and other notable objects. Among these is a somewhat frightening shark’s jaw of a size easily able to take a human head. It is possible to see the ‘conveyor belt’ mechanism of the teeth with replacements lying flat in the jaw ready to spring up if outer ones are lost.
Also of note is an example of the fabled nut known as the Coco de Mer or the Maldive Coconut. This first came to notice when husks were washed up on the beaches of the Maldive Islands. Early supposition about its origin was that it came from a mythical tree in the depths of the ocean but we now know that this largest nut in the plant kingdom, weighing up to 30kg, is from a small endangered community in the Seychelles Islands. The bi-lobed form often generates prurient comment.
Hands on discovery
Henley was a keen microscopist, finding the microscopic world both stimulating and soothing. He made his own microscope but was able to save enough for a professional instrument, costing today’s equivalent of £2500. Both these are on view in a cabinet.
On the centre table of the room are microscopes and a collection of slides for anyone of any age to use. These include insects but not a flea. It is related that Henley, one day, wanted to view and draw a flea, so he asked a boy who came into his shop if he could procure one for the then princely sum of 3 pence for a good specimen. The news got out and soon there was a queue at his door of small boys from the poorer parts of the town, each with his flea and demanding 3d. Those who would like to use the microscopes and slides but wish for advice are welcome to ask a staff member.
The Henley Study houses further collections contained in ‘The Drawers’
Different microscopes are good for different things