How do two weeks jam packed with historic houses and museums sound? If you can enthusiastically answer yes, then you should consider attending one of the Victorian Society in America’s summer programs. The deadline for summer 2019 has passed, but I highly encourage anyone passionate about historical architecture to consider applying in the future.

What is the Victorian Society in America?

I realize that in my last post about my recent Victorian Society trip that I neglected to explain the organization’s background. Founded in 1966 as a sister organization to the Victorian Society in the U.K., the Victorian Society in America was formed over outrage of the 1964 demolition of NYC’s Pennsylvania Station. Since then, the VSA has been committed to preserving nineteenth-century architecture and creating educational programming revolving around this time period. The organization publishes both a newsletter and a scholarly magazine and organizes annual study tours/symposia. The Society has chapters all over the country that host lectures, architectural tours, and other events. Basically, it’s awesome!

The Summer Schools

There are three summer study programs: a week in Newport, two weeks in England, and a week in Chicago. Each entails historic house tours (public and private!), museum visits, and lectures. It’s essentially nerd camp. In fact, one of my classmates dubbed the experience a “nerdcation,” which hits the nail right on the head. We all agreed, if we were traveling independently, “this is what I’d be doing anyway!” However, the program is by no means carried out at a leisurely place. Each day is PACKED in an attempt to see as much as possible.

The London Summer School

I attended the Newport program back in 2012, and more recently, in 2018, I had the privilege of participating in the London program, which centers on the British Arts and Crafts Movement. The days were filled with lectures on William Morris, Victorian art, and architecture, sandwiched between examinations of domestic and civic buildings and churches (so. many. churches.). We also went to the Victoria & Albert Museum (not nearly enough time there!) and the Tate. For the middle portion of the course we headed north, making stops in Bedford, Northampton, and Litchfield, on route to Liverpool and Manchester.

The Pros

Um, London!
Drool-worthy architecture
A fantastic learning opportunity
Meeting like-minded people passionate about the Victorian era
National Trust cafes also deserve an honorable mention…

The Cons

So many places, so little time!

Because the itinerary is so full, it was honestly frustrating when our time was limited at some of the sights. For example, after a guided tour and discussion in a part of the Victoria & Albert Museum, we only had about an hour to explore on our own. One could easily spend DAYS at this place. I wish I had arranged for more time on my own either before or after the program. I did arrive a day early to try and get over the jet lag before the program began, but I should have added an extra day or two for the V&A and other museums. At least, in my jet lagged state I made it to the Wellcome Collection, which I would not have missed for anything, but considering how much there is to see in London, the extra lodging expense would have been worth it. Oh well…on the bright side, I have plenty of excuses to return!

Some highlights

Besides the V&A, I also really enjoyed our trips to:
-Standen, a historic house in West Sussex
-Leighton House in London
-the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford
-the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight
-The John Rylands Library in Manchester (one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic Revival architecture I’ve ever seen!)
-Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton
-our brief stop in Chipping Camden
The John Rylands Library in Manchester, UK
The John Rylands Library in Manchester
Chipping Camden
Chipping Camden
Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight
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The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight

For many Arts and Crafts enthusiasts, a major highlight was visiting Kelmscott Manor, William Morris’s home. This honestly didn’t excite me that much. For me, the most enjoyable part was playing croquet with one of my classmates. To each their own, right?

Kelmscott Manor Victorian Society London Summer School
Croquet at Kelmscott

Not to downplay the scholarly nature of the program, but a few of us really enjoyed trying on all the outfits we could find (why don’t American museums have these fun things?!).

Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford UK, Victorian Society London Summer School
Playing dress up at the Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford
Victoria & Albert Museum
Twirling in crinoline at the V&A
Higgins Art Gallery, Bedford
Tea time at the Higgins Art Gallery…I was embarrassingly underdressed, but the hosts didn’t seem to mind… ha ha

The VSA Summer Schools have something for everyone…within the Victorian umbrella anyway. Cost of the program includes lodging, historic house/museum entree fees, and some dinners (depending on the program). To apply you need one letter of recommendation and an application essay, along with your resume/CV and application form. The program also offers scholarships, which has a separate application form and other requirements (and I am forever grateful to have received them for both the Newport and London programs).

So, there you have it – an introduction to the VSA Summer Schools and a summary of my experience with the London program. I had my fill of architecture (…and cake. Thank you, National Trust) and left with wonderful memories and dear friends.