Westfries Museum

Westfries Museum

By Wendy Hughes

On a recent holiday to north Holland we spent an enjoyable day in the beautiful city of Hoorn, and decided to take a trip around the Westfries museum, situated in the town’s Roode Square. It is housed in one of the finest listed buildings in the city, Staten College, easily recognizable by its ornate facade. This was the former seat of the Staten-College (States’ Council); the body that once governed seven towns in Noord-Holland, the ‘wedding-cake’ facade bears the coat of arms of Oranje-Nassau, the Dutch-German royal dynasty.

Westfries museum

Westfries museum

Despite the highly decorated exterior once inside, you will encounter a homely, intimate atmosphere as you meander around the twenty-seven different exhibition areas, each with its own unique quirky character filled to the brim with objects of Dutch Golden Age, so do allow yourself time to savour every item. However, be warned, this is not an easy museum to get around for even the fittest, as there are two or three steps up or down to every room. In fact I had to miss out on one complete floor as my legs would not carry me up another flight of stairs but I have made a mental note to return, and perhaps start from the top down. Whether you are in the seventeenth-century militia hall with its impressive portraits of the Hoorn militia, or the eighteenth-century room in Louis XVI style, with its rich collection of glass, you will soon note that every room shines with rich history of West-Friesland during the Golden Age.

coat of arms

coat of arms

The entrance fee to the museum is low in comparison to other museums, and is crammed to bursting point with gems from the VOC – Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or the United East Indian Company, but often referred by the British as the Dutch East India Company. Interestingly, the Museum won a Cultural Heritage/Europa Nostra Award in 2014, the museum receiving this prestigious European award for its project on the subject of Jan Pieterzoon Coen (1587-1629), former Governor General of the Dutch East India Company and ‘founder’ of Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). In 2011 a group of people initiated a movement to have the monument removed on the grounds that Coen, as a brutal colonial administrator, tried to establish a monopoly in the spice trade in the East Indies and therefore did not deserve a statue.

Westfries_Museum-VOC-parlour

Westfries_Museum-VOC-parlour

As the museum specialises in the Dutch ‘Golden Age’, it was well placed to join in the debate, but not on behalf of one side or the other. Its chosen role was as motivator and facilitator, helping people to make their own judgements by presenting historical facts and the full range of details in context to Coen’s activities. It published new accessible material on the subject and established a special website, together with a tour of the relevant objects in the museum, asking the visitor, as a member of a proposed jury, whether or not Coen was worthy of commemoration. Today the statue still stands boldly on the square and the museum is the only Dutch heritage institution among the winners, having won the award in the category of Education, Training and Awareness for its venture concerning Coen. The presentation of the award took place on May 5 2014 Vienna.

ornate front of building

ornate front of building

This stately building with its distinctive, richly decorated façade was built in 1632 for the Committed Councils of West Friesland and the Northern Quarter and was erected on the site of one of the first stone houses in Hoorn, the Cheers House. A late medieval vaulted cellar is one of the few remnants of this property, and the arms of the seven cities that were once represented are reflected on the stepped gable and in the meeting room, the current militia room.

Milita at Westfries

Milita at Westfries

The complete collection comprises of no less than 30,000 objects, and together they paint a picture of the cultural history of the region West-Friesland between 1500 and 1800 with its build-up, prime and aftermath of the Golden Age. The objects concerning the United East Indian Company form an important part of the collection. The fact that the V.O.C. maintained trade relations between East Asia and the Republic is well known, but what is less known is the fact that the United East Indian Company had an extensive trade network within Asia. In actual fact the company was the first multinational, with its own shares, and in1680 the employed approx. 22,000 men just in Asia alone. The directors and the high V.O.C. officials are portrayed often, but of the hundreds of thousands of seamen employed by the company we only know their names, not even their faces, but without them the long trips to Asia in the 17th and 18th century would have been impossible.

Glass in Westfries

Glass in Westfries

The museum is along a plotted route that takes you through its 27 rooms or spaces and the explanatory texts will provide background information, but there is also an audio tour, which is available at the museum desk.

Visiting the museum

Jan Pietersz Coen

Jan Pietersz Coen

Allow yourself at least two hours to enjoy this unique. There are plenty of paid parking in the immediate environment of the museum. I am a disabled blue badge holder and was lucky enough to find a disabled parking, down a side road, a short distance from the museum. In case you make use of public transport, please click here for information (link opens a new window). Unfortunately the museum is not accessible to wheelchair users, but in my own time and with the aid of a stick, I managed most it.

Open: Tuesdays through Fridays: 11:00 to 17:00 hours Saturdays and Sundays: 13:00 to 17:00 hours From April 1 to 1st open on Mondays

Closed: Christmas and New Year’s Day, and on the 3rd Monday in August (Lappendag – clothing market)

Admission: Adults: €6.50 65+: € 5.00 Young persons (up to 18): free of charge Museum card: free of charge

cabinet Westfrieds

cabinet Westfrieds

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.