The Life of Gladstone

I live in the Museum Quarter of Douglas. Rather appropriately for a place with a connection to the past, it’s replete with antique, second-hand, and charity shops. Items on display in the windows offer snapshots into other people’s lives. Often it’s quite melancholy; one local shop recently had four or five sets of golf clubs, all apparently well-maintained and in their bags. It was easy to imagine that behind each set there was a widow wiping away angry tears. “He spent more time on the bloody golf course than he did with me. Just get rid of them.”

Other objects hint at more fleeting heartache. It’s telling to take a stroll around the shops a week or two after Valentine’s Day and see how many cuddly toys holding plush hearts and declarations of love have been donated as unwanted items. The increase in numbers at that time of year is startling. Please feel free to use this as a money-saving tip if you’re confident of being in a relationship 50 weeks after Teddy Bear Day, and want to save a few quid. Trust me, most of those furry critters look barely used.

The above photo is one of the more unusual things that I’ve spotted. Unexpectedly, it’s a framed collection of scenes from the life and death of 19th century UK Prime Minister William Gladstone – the ideal thing if you’re worried that your home is looking too cheerful.

My favourite picture in the montage is bottom right and shows the freshly-widowed Mrs Gladstone being consoled by the Prince of Wales. Not like THAT, you filthy herberts.

What’s really intriguing about the Gladstone-O-Rama is wondering where it came from, and the journey it took to be in a charity shop in the Isle of Man. I know that the British Victorians have left the impression that they regarded death in the same way that modern Britain regards Strictly Come Dancing – a hugely popular topic that many like to talk about and follow with great interest. But was this item mass-produced to meet a public demand after Gladstone fell off the twig in 1898, or did somebody put it together specially, as a one-off? Did it decorate a pub called The Gladstone somewhere, and the licensee moved to the Isle of Man, bringing the picture as a souvenir of their beloved old boozer? Perhaps they too have expired, and nobody was particularly fussed about inheriting the heavy-framed Life of Gladstone?

Although I wouldn’t have thought it fitted many people’s current décor, this odd item eventually disappeared from the shop displaying it, suggesting that somebody liked it enough to pay 40 quid to bag a Gladstone. It may have a collectible value that has escaped my attention, in which case, good luck to them.

I hope whoever now has the Gladstone Scenes is enjoying their purchase, anyway. And if the dour Victorian appeal of the item does start to fade, the shops of the increasingly fashionable Museum Quarter will find it a home, again, and again, and again…

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