The Iron House - A Roving 18th c. Museum

CURIOSITIES. MUSEUMS. "Batchelor Dick", proprietor (active 1750-1755)

This is to give Notice, That there is now come, and to be seen at [Salt Hill], a very curious House, which has its Roof, Ends and Sides, Doors and Window-Shutters all covered with Plate-Iron; and hath in it a very good Room, with Sash Windows, a Clock, Jack, and very handsome Fire-Place, large enough to roast or boil Meat; the same contains a Pigeon-House, with divers sorts of beautiful Pigeons in it; there is also another Pigeon-Loft on the Top of the House, which turns with the Wind; there are several Sorts of Singing Birds in Cages, also one Cage that contains a Hawk, an Owl, and a Pigeon, all united together; great variety of very beautiful Bantling Fowls; there is also a very curious Turky Gun, which grinds its Fire, a Brace if double Barrell'd Pistols, and several other Sorts of curious Arms; there is a very large and handsome Bed, also four very good Cellars. N.B. In the same House is also to be seen Sir Isaac Newton's Optical, &c. Shewing a Description of the Battle of Culloden, and a beautiful View of his Grace the Duke of Marlborough's House at Blenheim, and also the Rt. Hon. The Lord Cobham's House, Gardens, and Park, and also Views of Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Venice, with many other Prospets too tedious here to mention. The said House is surrounded with very curious Palisades, with a Granadier standing Sentry at the Door; all which is to be seen from Sun 'till Sun set, and not after. *** All Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, who have seen this House, &c. do allow it to be one of the greatest Curiosities they ever saw.

N.p., n.d., ca. 1750- 1755


Folio: single sheet. 21 x 19.5 cm. A nice copy, the only one traced, very well preserved. The blank space left for the location at which this itinerant museum was to be found on this occasion has been filled in "Salt Hill."

Not in ESTC. While undated, the broadside features the arms of Charles II (d. 1760), giving us a terminus ante quem. Altick (Shows of London) notes that the exhibition traveled England between 1750 and 1755.

Dating from the era of Don Saltero's coffee house, the Chelsea Bun House, and other private (but publicly accessible) cabinets of curiosity, the Iron House adds an unusual dimension: mobility. At the time of this advertisement, the House was set up at Salt Hill, about 24 miles west of London. A similar advert for the house (also undated), held at Oxford, notes that at the time the itinerant museum "has been above an hundred and eighty miles".

"The Iron House was trundled from place to place in the Greater London area in 1750-1755… The proprietor and occupant was one "Batchelor Dick" who kept interest in his mobile exhibition alive by such remarks as 'God knows where it will go next, for the Batchelor can't tell.'"(Altick, Shows of London, p. 21.)

"By the middle of the century the cabinets of the virtuosi had been, if not exactly duplicated, then at least roughly imitated for the delectation of a larger public. For every nobleman and savant who was given a tour of Sloane's celebrated collection there were thousands of middle-class citizens, including gentlemen of the rank of Richard Steele and professional men like Smollett, who examined the curios over a cup of coffee. No doubt there were many from the trading and artisan class as well. The filter-down process that was to characterize so may aspects of the London museum and exhibition trade in the next century was well under way."(Ibid)