A Visitors’ Guide
By Chris Oakley
©2008 National Park Service
Welcome, and thank you for visiting the Oliver Cromwell House. Whether you’re coming here for the first time, or you’re a frequent patron of this museum making a return trip, we hope you’ll enjoy your tour of this restored 17th century townhouse that once belonged to exiled British nobleman-turned-American colonial leader Oliver Cromwell. From his birth in 1599 to the beginning of his involvement in Parliament’s ill-fated rebellion against King Charles the 1st in 1642 to his escape from Britain after the rebellion collapsed in 1643, from his arrival in what is today the United States in 1644 to his election as a Virginia legislator in 1650 to his death in 1694 at the age of 95, his life is chronicled in abundant detail here at the the Cromwell House.
This brochure is intended not only to help you better navigate around the museum’s facilities but also to encapsulate some of the major moments of Cromwell’s life. Park Service rangers, along with trained interpreters portraying Cromwell and his best-known friends and foes, are on hand to answer any questions you may have during your visit; you can also get information about Cromwell and the museum 24 hours a day online at www.nps.gov/cromwellhouse/main.htm.
The Cromwell House, as mentioned at the beginning of this brochure, is a restoration of the 17th century home that Oliver Cromwell owned during his years in America and remained in the possession of the Cromwell family until the late 1870s. After the last male descendants of that line left Virginia around 1880, the house fell into disrepair for years until a group of prominent Virginia citizens banded together in the early 1910s to have it renovated as a monument to Oliver Cromwell’s role in American history.
The museum is open seven days a week except on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. Normal visiting hours from May to September are 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM Monday through Saturday and 10AM to 6 PM on Sunday; from October to April the Cromwell House is open 10AM to 7PM Monday through Saturday and 11AM to 5PM on Sunday. On the 4th of July and Cromwell’s birthday, the museum is open 9AM to 8PM.
In accordance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, all museum facilities are wheelchair-accessible. Volunteer guides are on hand to assist patrons who are not wheelchair-bound but still have problems with physical mobility; motorized scooters can be rented from the main admissions desk. For the visually impaired, the Cromwell House provides Braille versions of this brochure and other museum publications along with Descriptive Audio MP3 files detailing the exhibits here. American Sign Language interpreters are available to aid hearing-impaired patrons; closed-caption versions of all museum video presentations are available on request.
For foreign tourists translations of most museum publications are available in the lobby; these translations come in 27 languages including French, Spanish, Portugese, German, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, and Creole. Bilingual materials are provided on request for ESL students visiting the museum who want to improve their English fluency.
Patrons with children under 3 can rent strollers from the main admissions desk.
The Oliver Cromwell House hosts dozens of permanent exhibits on Cromwell’s life and the historical era in which he lived; there is also an annex building directly behind the original house which hosts traveling exhibitions related to the subject matter of the museum. To the left of the Cromwell House and its adjoining annex is a cemetery containing the graves of Cromwell, his immediate family, and the first two generations of their descendants. Until the end of the American Civil War this cemetery, like the Cromwell House itself, was in the Cromwell family’s possession; since 1920 it has been maintained by the National Park Service in co-operation with the Virginia State Historical Society.
The Cromwell House is three stories tall. On the first floor, just past the main admissions desk, you’ll see re-creations of the study where he wrote many of his most famous speeches for the Virginia legislature; the dining room where he frequently held court with his political allies; the kitchen and sewing room that for many years belonged to his wife Elizabeth; and the small armory when he kept guns and swords close at hand to protect his family and home if need be. To the left of the study is the drawing room, where the Cromwells held intimate parties for friends when the opportunity arose.
The second floor houses the Cromwells’ bedrooms; Cromwell’s personal library, whose books are preserved in glass cases equipped with temperature control systems to keep them from being damaged by excessive heat or cold; the map room to which Cromwell occasionally retired when he needed to think and there was too much noise to permit such thinking in the study; a portrait gallery housing likenesses of Cromwell, his family, and his ancestors; Cromwell’s wardrobe, where today visitors can see replicas of the type of clothes usually worn by the upper classes in England and America in the 17th century; and a guest room in which Cromwell put up friends or relatives who came for short visits.
The attic is devoted mainly to a timeline of Cromwell’s life and political career; it also houses artifacts such as the chair in which he sat as a Virginia legislator, the gold coins he used to pay for his passage to the New World when he fled England after the end of Parliament’s rebellion against King Charles, and a reproduction of the horse-drawn carriage which took Cromwell to the cemetery on the day of his funeral.
The annex building, in addition to hosting temporary special exhibits, houses the museum library; a multimedia center; the museum gift shop and restaurant; a 150-seat theater where plays about Oliver Cromwell and the 1642-43 Rebellion are held three times daily; a wall map showing the sites of the major battles of the 1642-43 Rebellion; the Cromwell House membership services center; a coat room; lockers where patrons can store their personal effects for the duration of their visit; an orientation center for first-time patrons; and the Cromwell House staff offices.
The Cromwell House has long-standing "sister museum" partnerships with the 1642-43 Rebellion Museum in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England, and the Cromwell Family Historical Center in Wheeling, West Virginia. Lecturers from these two facilities occasionally make guest speaking appearances here, and all three institutions collaborate with each other on archeological expeditions to look for artifacts from the lives of Oliver Cromwell and his descendants.
The museum also works with the Smithsonian Institution to preserve relics from the major historical events in which the Cromwell family took part. Some of the best-known examples of this preservation work can be found at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where display cases hold the quill pen and inkwell Cromwell’s grandson Matthew used when he signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776; at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Memorial, which among its other memorabilia has the sword carried by Confederate army major Oliver Cromwell VI of the 18th Virginia Cavalry when he and his men accompanied General George Pickett’s ill-fated charge up Cemetery Ridge; and on the campus of the University of California at Berkley, where the campus library houses the personal journals of Oliver Cromwell’s last male descendant, John Cromwell III, who left Virginia for San Francisco during the winter of 1879-80.
Through its school outreach projects the Cromwell House seeks to educate students in grades 6 through 12 about the Cromwell family’s history and how it interacted with the broader history of Britain and America; college students majoring in history can gain extra credit by participating in one of the museum’s numerous field study programs. (Note for teachers: Cromwell House interpreters can be made available on request to visit your classroom.)
CROMWELL’S LIFE HISTORY
Born in 1599, Oliver Cromwell married the former Elizabeth Bouchier in 1620 and was first elected to Parliament in 1628. In 1642 he and several of his fellow Parliamentarians joined forces to start an uprising against King Charles I; however, leadership disputes combined with a series of tactical errors in their first battles doomed their revolt from the beginning, and after barely a year the Parliamentary Rebellion collapsed, forcing Cromwell and his wife to leave Britain forever. Reaching the New World in the spring of 1644, the Cromwells took up residence in this house in August of that same year; the land had been secured for them by a family friend who also had a hand in the construction of the house. By virtue of his way with rhetoric and his indomitable will, Oliver Cromwell soon became a prominent figure in the civic affairs of what is today the Virginia state capital Norfolk, and in 1650 Norfolk’s citizens elected him to represent them in the Virginia general assembly.
He would retain that post for more than thirty years, making the assembly halls tremble with the sound of his voice. What may have been the most famous demonstration of his oratorical ability came in 1663 when he berated a fellow assemblyman who’d verbally attacked him during an assembly meeting. In a tirade overflowing with fury even by his own legendary standards, Cromwell savaged his political foe, closing his denunciation of the man with these memorable words: "You have sat here too long for any good you are doing-- depart, I say, and let us have done with you! In the name of God, go!"
In 1670 Cromwell’s son Richard joined him in the Virginia assembly, and the two of them made a formidable team until Oliver Cromwell was forced to retire from his position in 1683 due to serious health problems. The former English nobleman and would-be rebel leader-turned-Virginia lawmaker would devote most of his final years to writing books which detailed his theories on how Britain should govern her American colonies; he died of pneumonia in 1694 at the age of 95. Richard Cromwell inherited his father’s home and continued serving in the Virginia general assembly until 1703; he was laid to rest beside his father in 1715.
Cromwell’s grandson Matthew took up his mantle as Norfolk’s representative in the Virginia general assembly; as the American colonies’ relations with Great Britain gradually deteriorated in the aftermath of the French & Indian War, Matthew Cromwell became a major figure in the American independence movement. When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in July of 1776, he was one of the first men to sign the Declaration of Independence when it was ratified. After the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Matthew Cromwell became a member of the Virginia delegation to the US House of Representatives; by the time of his death in 1822, he’d also served as governor of Virginia and a justice in the US Supreme Court.
Matthew’s son Oliver Cromwell II fought with distinction as a US Army cavalryman in the War of 1812 and later led a survey expedition into what is today Minnesota. Oliver II’s own first son, Oliver III, died of smallpox at the age of eleven; Oliver III’s brother John would grow up to serve two terms as lieutenant governor of Virginia and sire Oliver Cromwell IV, a noted Chicago newspaper editor; and Oliver III’s sister Rose would make her own imprint on history as the mother of Oliver VI. (Oliver Cromwell V was tragically stillborn.)
Like many other families in America, the Cromwells were divided by the Civil War. John Cromwell II, who left Virginia in his early 20s, served as a sergeant with a Massachusetts infantry regiment and was posthumously decorated for heroism at the siege of Vicksburg; his brother Oliver Cromwell VI, a cavalry major in the Confederate Army, was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg and later captured by Union troops near the end of the war.
Oliver VI’s first child, John Cromwell III, was the last major male descendant of the Cromwell line; with his family’s fortune almost gone in the aftermath of the Civil War, he pulled up stakes during the winter of 1879-1880 and resettled in San Francisco, where he founded a mercantile company that specialized in exports from the Far East. He died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; since that time, it has been the female progeny who have carried on the Cromwell name and genes.
With the last male Cromwell gone, the Cromwell House began going to rack and ruin. It might have been destroyed altogether had it not been for the intervention of a group of distinguished Virginia businessmen and civic leaders who came together in 1911 to mount a comprehensive restoration effort; they began operating the forerunner of the museum we know today in 1915 and continued to run it until 1920, when the National Park Service assumed full responsibility for the Cromwell House and joint responsibility with the Virginia State Historical Society for the old Cromwell family graveyard.
In 1944, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in the New World, the University of Virginia theater department staged a re-enactment of the event; this was the genesis for the use of costumed interpreters today at the Cromwell House and other National Park Service historical sites. By the mid-1960s audiovisual presentations started appearing as part of the Cromwell House exhibits, and the museum installed its first interactive computer kiosks in 1991.
The annex building behind the museum was opened in 1994 on the 300th anniversary of Oliver Cromwell’s death. To mark the 400th anniversary of his birth in 1999, the museum staff placed a time capsule inside one of the walls near the annex entrance; the capsule is scheduled to be opened in 2049 on the 450th anniversary of Cromwell’s birth.
A variety of paid and volunteer job positions are available to those interested in working at the Cromwell House; for further information visit nps.gov/cromwellhouse/careers.
College students looking for job opportunities can apply for an internship through the Cromwell House’s academic affairs department; for more details on our internships program, go to nps.gov/cromwellhouse/interns or call the Cromwell House 1-800 information number on the back of this brochure and press 6 on your keypad to reach the academic affairs main office.
The Cromwell House is an equal opportunity employer and complies with all federal anti-discrimination laws.
WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT
Visitors are forbidden from bringing these items to the Cromwell House:
--Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes;
--Handguns or other firearms;
--Knives or other sharp objects that can be used as weapons;
--Animals other than guide dogs;
--Marijuana, cocaine, or other illegal drugs;
--Any printed or recorded material which promotes prejudice against an ethnic or religious group.
Visitors using prescription medications to treat physical or mental illness should contact the Cromwell House medical office prior to their visit.
All security personnel are trained in CPR and first aid techniques.
Any patron who harasses or is physically violent to other patrons or museum staff will be immediately thrown off the premises and may be subject to criminal prosecution. Such incidents may also be considered cause for said patron to be permanently banned from the museum grounds.
Cell phones should either be turned off or put in ‘vibrate’ mode while patrons are on museum grounds.
Children under six and senior citizens over sixty-five are admitted free of charge; students and armed service members can get a 50% discount on their admission fee by presenting a valid photo ID at the main admissions desk.
ADMISSIONS AND MEMBERSHIP FEES
Admission prices for the Cromwell House and related facilities are as follows:
$16.00 for adults
$13.50 for young adults 15-20
$10.75 for Cromwell House members
$8.00 for children 6-15 and college students or armed service personnel with valid photo ID
Free for seniors and children under six
Fees for becoming a Cromwell House member are:
$40 for 1 year
$85 for 3 years
$130 for 5 years
$250 for 10 years
$500 for lifetime membership
Existing memberships may be renewed for these same fees.
Thanks for reading this brochure-- and enjoy your visit to the Cromwell House!