WHAT TO SEE

Cabinet of Curiosities of William Constable (1721-91)

Cabinets of Curiosities emerged in Europe during the 16th century and were generally known by the term Wunderkammer, meaning ‘cabinet of wonder’. In this instance the word ‘cabinet’ refers to a room rather than a piece of furniture, containing collections of natural history, geology, archaeology, ethnography, numismatics, works of art and antiquities. Exhibits often included specimens relating to mythical beasts that were believed to exist, such as mermaids, dragons and unicorns and experiments involving magic and alchemy.

Originally the preserve of monarchs and princes, by the 18th century these precursors of modern museums had also become popular amongst gentlemen and merchants, many of whom were Fellows of the Royal Society. New advances in scientific knowledge and new discoveries meant that there was a more rational approach to collecting and the latest scientific instruments were often acquired alongside rare and unusual objects from around the globe.

Despite advances in scientific thinking, even in 1769 William Constable still believed that it was possible to cross breed rabbits and chickens, as is revealed in his correspondence with the notable biologist and Catholic priest John Turbeville Needham (1713-81). Although William Constable’s collection at Burton Constable was by no means unique in the 18th century, it is now the most significant collection surviving in its original country-house setting.

Did you know?
Afternoon tea was created by the Duchess of Bedford in the late 18th century. She invited friends to join her for an afternoon meal of small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, sweets and, of course, tea. The practice was so popular that it was quickly adopted by other social hostesses 
 
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Historic Houses Association
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