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The Higgins, Bedford

New Displays Breathe Life Back Into The Higgins, Bedford


Over the last few days, new exhibits are being prepared at The Higgins, Bedford, with many familiar objects being returned to the house.


The new displays introduce Eighteenth, and early Nineteenth, century furniture and decorative arts in the setting he originally intended.


Cllr Doug McMurdo, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture at Bedford Borough Council, said: “It’s exciting times as we eagerly await The Higgins, Bedford’s opening. We believe the site will create both national and international interest.”


The house was built in 1846 by Cecil Higgins’ Grandfather, local brewer, Charles Higgins and remained within the family for several decades. Cecil Higgins became sole heir of the Higgins estate and used his inheritance to build a collection of decorative arts which, in his own words, he could leave ‘for the benefit, interest and education of the inhabitants of, and visitors to Bedford’. He left the house to the Borough of Bedford, to display his collection. 


The collections are used to reflect the historic uses of different rooms.


The dining room, which will display star items from Cecil’s collection of 18th Century tableware, will explore dining rituals and compare Georgian and Victorian etiquette.  The Morning Room, which would have been used by the female members of the Higgins family for taking tea with close friends, practising crafts and writing letters, will include an elaborate array of tea pots and porcelain figures. The Drawing Room will house key pieces of furniture including an intricate marquetry cabinet. Although the original furniture from the house didn’t survive, an inventory of its contents suggests that, like householders today, the Higgins’s furnished their house with a mixture of modern and antique, an idea which is reflected in the displays.


Upstairs, the bedroom, which is referred to on the inventory as the ‘pink room’ and the dressing room will explore the lives of women like those of the Higgins’ family, and offer visitors the chance to dress up. More pieces from the Higgins’s furniture collection will be displayed alongside costume and jewellery.


During the redevelopment, the house has been redecorated throughout - although no trace of the original decoration in the house was found when the walls were stripped back, the art gallery and museum team have chosen fabric, wallpaper and paint colours to suggest the age and status of the house.


Last week, some of the larger items have been installed in to the house, including a 2m mirror in the dressing room, bookcases and cabinets in the drawing room, and an unusual chair bed in the bedroom. In the morning room a specialist mountmaker has been working with the display cases that will feature teapots and figurines. His team have been busy making over 120 bespoke mounts for each object, ready for them to go on display. While there is still a lot more to do, the spaces in the house are slowly being brought back to life.

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