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Monday, 14 November 2016

Hipster Museum: Handel & Hendrix in London

Museum offices are often fantasied about as dusty treasure troves with tomes of accession registers and objects adorning the desk, however we all know in reality they are like any other office environment but with less room hidden away in cupboards and basements museum offices aren’t as exciting as they may seem. But for the staff at Handel House Museum their office was once the space that Jimi Hendrix slept, played records and hosted. Now although unlikely to have contained any of his remnants that’s a pretty cool museum office.

Thanks to a heritage Lottery Fund Project, the Handel House trust received a grant to recreate Hendrix flat and improve visitor’s facilities as part of a three-year redevelopment – but where did the museum offices go?

The reinstatement of Hendrix’s flat has been a successful one and has bought a new vigour to the house museum and gives visitors an opportunity to further understand the lives of the two prominent musicians through the place that once called home. For 36 years Handel composed and lived in the Georgian house, opening in 2001 the Handel House museum aims to promote the knowledge and enjoyment of Handel through their creation of his home and his music and recently added to their mission the promotion of the continued diversity of the neighbouring house 23 Brock street through its association with Jimi Hendrix. Both houses are the only homes of both musicians that still exist!

Entering the property is an exciting escape from the busy side streets of Oxford street behind a brightly painted red door, up a crooked and squeaky staircase we explored the life of Handel – although interesting we were really there to see the Hendrix addition so a first glimpse into the costume room was an exciting and silly experience. Invited to try on costumes from both musicians, take selfies and pose as Handel and Hendrix alongside each other. A bit of fun but it was really interesting to see how some costumes could have been either personalities.

Making a final climb to Hendrix flat at the top of Handel’s house and across we were greeted into a room full of information, AV and graphics filled the room with facts about Hendrix life and time in London, noting its proximity to the bustling streets Hendrix has given his then girlfriend Kathy etchingham a wad of cash to go out and decorate the place with fabrics from Liberty and John Lewis. Fortunately, one of Hendrix guitars was also featured in the exhibition space as part of the introduction to his life.

The real thrill however came from the recreation of his bedroom, right down to the two telephones and cigarette trays, surprisingly tidy apparently from his time spent in the army many consultations were conducted with his then girlfriend Kathy to get the place just right - even a few last minute tweaks over skype! The room has a private and nostalgic feel even in its recreation. My favourite part however was the remaining treads of staircase let just outside the room that used to lead to the pink bathroom – a visual and practical remidnder of the space as a home and on longer as a museum office. 

Hendrix addition to Handel house has made it an accessible house museum and a great way to celebrate the diversity and richness of London’s musical history. 

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