“ Address: Orchard Side / Market Place / Olney / MK46 4AJ / Tel: +44(0)1234 711516 „
Living in Milton Keynes for almost 30 years, I've got to know the area fairly well, and Olney being only a few minutes drive away is somewhere we've been quite frequently. Strangely however, it wasn't until a couple of years back that I investigated the Cowper and Newton Museum here.
It's tucked away at the edge of the Olney Market Square, and to be honest although I knew it was there somewhere, until I actually looked for it, I didn't really spot it as it doesn't stand out from the rest of the street particularly.
The museum is housed in what was William Cowper's home in the 18th Century. (William Cowper in case you're not sure was a poet). Both the house and gardens can be visited, but be aware, if you're disabled then there are large parts of the house which will be completely inaccessible to you. I managed ok with just a walking stick, but I did have to rest quite a lot in between as there are a fair few stairs and steps to negotiate as you're moving around the house.
The house is actually called 'Orchardside' and is filled with all sorts of items that relate to Cowper and Newton (Newton being Rev. John Newton who wrote 'Amazing Grace' in case you're not sure who I mean) as well as some which are about Olney's early history. The various different rooms house different collections of things from manuscripts and books as well as other more personal items like the table where some of Cowper's most famous poems were written, lace made in the area, and loads more. Some rooms like the kitchen sort of show you what the place was like back in the days when Cowper lived here, and others are laid out more museum style to show off the collections. Most of the collections are static and are always here, but they do have some which change round which I find quite nice as having been here more than once it gives me something new to look at each time.
The gardens attached to the house are very lovely, and were restored in the 1990's to try and recreate some of the atmosphere they had when Cowper used them. They're not really formal gardens, more what you might call cottage gardens, and you've got different areas dedicated to different things - one of the bits I loved was an area that's been restored as a medicinal garden, and you can recognise some of the plants, though I did feel it would have been nice to have some more information about what each plant would have been used for.
The summer house where Cowper wrote lots of his poems is in the gardens too, and it's kind of cool to see it and imagine him sitting there looking out at the peaceful gardens and writing.
Sadly unlike many museums, this isn't free to enter. It's run as a charitable trust, so the funds from visitors go toward the upkeep of the place. It's not expensive however, and we've taken guests staying with us to see it a few times now. Adults £4, kids under 5 are free, and from 5-16 yr olds cost just £1. I would say this is more suitable for adults or older kids though as there is less here than in some museums to entertain the very young. It's not open all year round, only between March and December, and they vary their opening hours sometimes so it's worth checking the website or phoning before you go. They also do guided tours, garden only entry and family tickets as well as yearly subscriptions too.