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Age of Victoria - A weekend symposium in Taunton

A celebration of Victorian culture and history in the bicentenary of Queen Victoria's birth.

Fourteen 40-minute talks, question and answer sessions and a panel discussion.

Esteemed historians speak on Victorian art, technology, literature, politics and society.

Based at the ever-welcoming Castle Hotel in Taunton.

08 - 10 Feb 2019 £760 Book this tour

  • Queen Victoria at the time of her accession, wood engraving, c.1880.
    Queen Victoria at the time of her accession, wood engraving, c.1880.
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The latest in our renowned series of symposia celebrates Queen Victoria’s bicentenary in 2019 – an anniversary that is also shared by Prince Albert, George Eliot and John Ruskin. Indeed the latter’s birthday falls on February 8 and will be duly honoured on that day. Bringing together leading historians of the 19th century, the weekend will explore themes and subjects through the prism of several eminent Victorians. The respected scholars will each give two talks over the weekend, that are designed both to entertain and inform. The venue is the perennially charming Castle Hotel in Taunton, with a well equipped meeting room and an excellent restaurant.

Friday 8th February

Afternoon session 3.00pm–6.00pm.

Paul Atterbury A Victorian Vision – the Painters’ View of Society and Social Change in 19th-century Britain.

Professor Kathryn Hughes George Eliot’s Hand: or why you can always tell a lady by the size of her gloves.

Refreshment break.

Christopher Newall John Ruskin 200 Years On.

Drinks reception and dinner.

Saturday 9th February

Morning session, 9.30am–1.00pm.

Dr Steven Brindle Sir William Armstrong at Newcastle and Cragside.

Paul Atterbury The Great Exhibition of 1851 – Myth or Masterpiece.

Refreshment break.

Dr Roland Quinault Gladstone and Disraeli, a reappraisal of their relationship.


Afternoon session, 2.45pm–6.30pm.

Dr Ruth Richardson Charles Dickens and the Workhouse.

Dr Steven Brindle Brunel and the Great Western Railway.

Refreshment break.

Professor Kathryn Hughes Charles Darwin’s Beard: or the secrets of Victorian facial hair.

Rosemary Hill ‘Part and Parcel of the Intellect of the Age’: Pugin and the Palace of Westminster.


Sunday 10th February

Morning session, 9.30am–1.00pm.

Dr Roland Quinault Victorian Prime Ministers and Ireland.

Dr Ruth Richardson Victoria, Albert and Tennyson.

Refreshment break.

Christopher Newall Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Renaissance.

Rosemary Hill ‘One hardly knows whether to laugh or shudder’: Lytton Strachey and the Victorians.

Finish 1.00pm.

Image of Paul Atterbury

Paul Atterbury

Lecturer, writer, curator and broadcaster specialising in the art, architecture and design of the 19th and 20th centuries. Has published many books on pottery, porcelain, silver and antiques, also on canals and railways, and two books on the Thames. He has worked as an external curator of the V&A on a number of exhibitions including Pugin & The Victorian Vision and was Historical Advisor to Royal Doulton in Stoke-on-Trent. He is a long standing expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.

Image of Steven Brindle

Dr Steven Brindle

Read History at Oxford and worked for English Heritage for 27 years. He was also involved in the post-fire restoration of Windsor Castle, 1993–7. Publications include Brunel, the Man who built the World. His history of Windsor Castle for the Royal Collection is due to be published next year.

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Professor Kathryn Hughes

Professor Kathryn Hughes is a historian and critic specialising in the 19th century. Educated at Oxford, she holds a PhD in Victorian Studies and is currently Professor of Life Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is author of prize-winning biographies of Mrs Beeton and George Eliot, both of which were filmed by the BBC. Her most recent book, Victorians Undone, explores five famous Victorians through their striking body parts. She is a critic and columnist for the Guardian and a regular broadcaster for BBC radio and television.

Image of Christopher Newall

Christopher Newall

Art historian, lecturer and writer. As well as being a specialist in 19th-century British art, he has a deep interest in Sicily, its architecture and political and social history. A graduate of the Courtauld Institute, he has organised various exhibitions including Pre-Raphaelite Vision: Truth to Nature (Tate Britain 2004) and John Ruskin: Artist & Observer at the National Gallery of Canada and Scottish National Portrait Gallery (2014). His interest in John Ruskin led to our tour Ruskin’s Venice.

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Dr Roland Quinault

Dr Roland Quinault was educated at Oxford where he was a scholar at Magdalen and a research fellow at Merton. He was subsequently Honorary Secretary of the Royal Historical Society and is currently a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. His main area of research is British political leadership in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Prices, per person

Two sharing: standard double or twin £760; garden room £840.

Single occupancy: single room (single bed) £760.

Depending upon availability, we may be able to offer double rooms for sole use at around 10 weeks prior to the weekend at £810 – please let us know on your booking form if you would be interested in upgrading should the opportunity arise.


Hotel accommodation for 2 nights; breakfasts and 2 dinners with wine; admission to the talks; drinks reception; refreshments during breaks; gratuities for hotel staff.


The Castle Hotel, Taunton: The Castle Hotel is renowned for its excellent service, for comforts traditional and modern and for its superb catering. It has been owned and run by the Chapman family for over 60 years.

The hotel’s 44 bedrooms are individually and charmingly decorated and well equipped. The largest – the Garden Rooms – are in the remains of the 12th-century castle overlooking the garden, and are the equivalent of Junior Suites, with a sitting area and separate dressing room. Doubles and twins are mainly of a good size and vary in outlook. Single rooms, while comfortable, are small and generally less well appointed with single beds – for this reason we do not charge a single supplement for them. The majority of rooms have a bath with a shower fitment.

The hotel has a lift, though some bedrooms do then involve some step access. There are no bedrooms on the ground floor. The Music Room is on a mezzanine level, which can only be reached via a flight of stairs from the lobby – there is provision for wheelchair users (if you think you will need this, please let us know in advance).

Group size

Maximum 76 resident participants.

Talks only

If you wish to participate in the talks only, without accommodation, tickets are priced at £30 for session 1; £40 each for sessions 2, 3 and 4, or £150 for all four sessions combined. Refreshments during breaks are included, but not lunches or dinners.

Map for Taunton.