COLUMN: Remembering the ‘house of wonders’ creator

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March 31 was the birthday of a man named Randolph Robert Osborne Douglas.

He was born in 1895, in Greenhill, Sheffield (then considered in Derbyshire) and later lived at Carrington Road, near Hunters Bar, Sheffield.

But at Easter, 1926, he fulfilled a dream and opened his Douglas Museum, a ‘House of Wonders’, in the village of Castleton.

Randolph had aims to follow in the footsteps of his hero, escapologist Harry Houdini. He met his famous role model several times at Sheffield’s Empire Theatre. Houdini was very impressed with the young man’s ability and even visited Randolph’s home for tea and cakes. That would have certainly set the curtains twitching as the world famous man turned up to visit his excited fan.

Randolph had a stage persona – ‘Randini’ - and invented many tricks and illusions. He even gave Houdini a new trick, demonstrating for him an upside down straitjacket escape, which became one of Houdini’s iconic performances.

But ill health prevented Randolph pursuing this chosen career and instead he became an expert silversmith and model maker.

Randolph moved to Castleton with his new wife Hetty, and together they ran the little Douglas museum within their cottage, charging sixpence and showing people the fascinating items within by torchlight. The museum was a perfect place to show his work, and his collection of curiosities. Flourspar, grass skirts, Chinese puzzles, prayer wheels, fossils – all manner of objects were squeezed into the cottage, plus Randolph’s collection of keys, and also padlocks – many given to him by Houdini.

Randolph died in 1956, but Hetty ran the museum until her own death in 1978. Then, the treasures were given new homes. Some went to the Magic Circle and the bulk of the collection is now housed at Buxton Museum.

Castleton Visitor Centre has a display about this amazing man and also a book about his life.

Randolph is buried, with Hetty, in Castleton churchyard, a stone’s throw from the cottage that gave both them and its visitors over the years, chance to enjoy the many wonders he collected and made.