Coughton Court, a patchwork property

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Re-Visiting Dunham Massey

A little while ago, when we were at our most northern Re-enactment event, me, mum and Kerry decided to pop over to Dunham Massey. I had already been but mum and Kerry wanted to visit while it was still displayed as Stamford Military Hospital.

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If you have been following my blog for a little while you will know what I thought of my last visit. If you haven’t then here are the links to the two post about it:

Post One & Post Two.

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I had a lot of opinions about the visit, as is deserving of such a huge and ambitious project. I had heard a lot of great things about the WWI theme and unfortunately was a little disappointed in my visit. I didn’t feel I saw the best that was on offer, missing the very emotional vignettes performed by the actors, and finding the exhibition petered out part way round the house. It was a very good example of how important managing expectations can be, give something a lot to live up to and it will be hard pushed to achieve.

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However the Stamford Military Hospital theme is now in its second year, tweaks have been made, I knew what to expect and I really enjoyed my visit second time around.

The main change I though was a great improvement was the way they now end the WWI theme. Before it was confusing where the WWI story ended and the ‘Treasures’ exhibition began.

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The beautiful bed is in a room just off the Gallery, which starts the treasures exhibition, however there is still on room left talking about what happened to the patients and staff of the hospital. This is still the case, but now the live of the people on your entry ticket are concluded in the Gallery, giving it a more final feel.

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At the end of the gallery there are stack of crates, bags and photo frames. Here you are told what happened to all the people on your entry ticket, and it is a really nicely displayed pieces of interpretation. I likes this touch a lot, it was in-keeping with the theme and provided enough information that you felt satisfied.

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They have also removed the nods to the war from the bedrooms further along the visitor route. It’s only a small thing but helps visitors know where they are, and I like things neat and tidy so having a more definitive end appeals to me.

I understood the stories a lot more second time around. I tend to visit a property, then read the guide-book at home (usually as I’m writing the blog post). This means I often understand the property more after I have left than while I am there. Writing the first posts about Dunham meant I got more of a feel for the people talked about in the property, so I had more of a vested interest going around the second time.

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Phase two of the project also included new scenes that the actors would be acting out during the second year. We caught two scenes downstairs, in the ward and the Great Hall. They were quite entertaining but sad at the same time, featuring a well-to-do visitor who lacked understanding about the harsh realities of the war, as so many not directly involved would have done.

Just as we were about to leave the Great Gallery, upstairs, a soldier walked past us, drawing me back in. I got to see a scene between nurse Lady Jane Grey and her brother Rodger, the soldier. It made more sense to me than it would have done, had I not know the history and situations of the two people, but it still drew everyone in. It was a lovely scene and I was really pleased to have seen something a bit more emotive and personal.

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I was also aware of what to expect, so not disappointed when we left WWI and entered the ‘Treasures’ exhibition. This exhibition was set up to appease visitors who might be put out that a lot of the collection has been moved to re-instate the hospital, and I think it’s a wonderful idea.

There are some very lovely pieces on display in this exhibition, and even thought these rooms don’t feel like you’re in a Trust property, they are really interesting.

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The one thing I really did not like however was the new sculpture in the garden, commissioned to remember the patients treated at Stamford Military Hospital. They have chosen to do this with . . . concrete cubes. Visible from the Great Gallery the blocks all have numbers on, representing each of the nearly 300 men treated here. I’m not a huge fan of modern art and while I think it is lovely they have created a permanent memorial couldn’t they have chosen something a bit prettier? Or even just more in keeping with the surroundings?

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Another new feature are more characters, but ones that visitors can interact with. The actors portraying actual people in the house move like ghosts, only talking to one another. However in the kitchens we met two maids, knitting for the war effort, who were quite happy to talk to us, in character. The more characters in a property the better in my opinion.

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Dunham have decided to stick to their original plan and only keep the ‘Sanctuary’ WWI theme for two years, meaning you only have until November this year to see it. Personally I think this is madness, they have successfully enhanced the theme for its second year and I feel they are missing an opportunity by not building on it further, especially as it took so much time and money to achieve. Stamford Military Hospital wasn’t actually established until 1917 and it seems crazy not to have the theme still running for its own centenary, but I suppose there must be reasons for it and those decisions are way above my pay grade.

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I recommend anyone with an interest in Military History or the First World War to make a real effort to see Stamford Military Hospital before it disappears. It is a fascinating, in-depth and unique look into the past, not to be missed.

Naughtiness in Nottingham

A few weeks ago I had a good friend to stay so we decided to have a heritage day out in Nottingham. I haven’t been to Nottingham since I was 18, it was a birthday treat which I really enjoyed it so I thought it was high time to spend another day there.

To start the day, after I had found the car park, we went to Nottingham Castle. To my surprise and delight there was a medieval re-enactment taking place! Robin Hood even put in an appearance. Walking around the Living History encampment felt like home. There was also an archery tournament, but with a twist. The teams of archers were aiming for a moving target stuck on top of a knight’s helm. It was very entertaining to watch, and the Robin Hood and his Merry Men crashed the party!

Robin Hood! I knew he was real

Robin Hood! I knew he was real

After the show we went for a wander around the castle, which is now a museum. I loved the idea behind their first exhibition, that every object tells a story. This is so true and I often find myself thinking about how the object I am working with got to that point. I love the story of Bess going on a shopping spree in London to buy furniture, and picking out these items for her new home. I would love to know just what she though about each one, what attracted her to them and why she placed there where she did.

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The second exhibition we saw at the Castle was a temporary exhibition about the First World War. I found this fascinating as I have an interest in the subject anyway. I never knew that the metal helmets we are so used to seeing weren’t introduced until nearly half way through the war. I cannot believe they sent soldiers into war without head protection, it seems crazy. There was a case featuring some ‘Trench Art’ made from shelling casing and other materials that would have been found in the trenches. I had seen some of this before and the creativity they showcase is amazing, especially given that what the soldiers were going through was unimaginably horrific.

Trench Art

Trench Art

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After the castle we stopped for a bite to eat, and then went to jail!

Ellen's Mug Shot

Just kidding, we went to visit the Galleries of Justice at the old court-house. I have visited before and really enjoyed myself so was excited to go again.

When you arrive at the Galleries and buy a ticket you are given a criminal number to take with you on your tour. The first half of the tour is led by characters, and the second half is self led. We were first taken by a judge into the court, for our fates to be determined. The court room was beautiful, all carved wooden benches and a very impressive judges chair so you couldn’t forget who was in charge.

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The court-house was very well designed in that if found guilty, as we unfortunately were, you could be led straight from the court room down into the jail. There we were told to look at our criminal numbers and find out our crimes, and more importantly our punishments. Mine said I was to be tied to a cart and flogged. This part of the tour went down really well with the group, and had us all chatting and giggling with one another about our crimes.

Wall of Infamy

Wall of Infamy

After this we met with the executioner. He was quite sinister and talked us through his job, life (and death) in the jail, and even let us sample some of the cells. From here we were let loose to explore the jail and learn about the reforms made to the system. We finally made it outside to the yard to be greeted by a hangman who had made a science out of execution. He was a real gent and clearly very passionate about his job, each to their own I suppose.

The Hang Man

The Hang Man

Next, narrowly escaping the noose we were sent for transportation, and then on to learn about prison breaks and finally the modern prison system. At the end of the tour was a temporary exhibition about crime and punishment during the First World War, and all the extra duties police men had to keep the country safe from spies. There was also an exhibition about a man who had drowned his three wives in a bath tub, who we had heard about in the court room. The galleries even had the murderous bathtub on display.

Hez in the stocks

Hez in the stocks

Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement

We really enjoyed our day out in Nottingham and I can’t wait to go back and discover more, as there seems to be so much to do there. I love having exciting new places to discover so close to home!

Major Lord John Spencer Cavendish

Lord John's Armour displayed in the Entrance Hall

I have been really interested in all of the events commemorating the centenary of the First World War and was hoping I could contribute in some small way.

Hardwick has its own connection to the war in one of the members of the Cavendish family, affectionately known as ‘Lord John’.

We have Lord John’s suit of armour on display in the back of the Entrance Hall, and I had never really though about its history or the man who had owned it. With it being a suit of armour I didn’t even consider that it could have such a connection to the First World War. The two images, ‘knight in shining armour’ and ‘tommy in the trenches’, seem like they should be hundreds of years apart and not within the span of one man’s career.

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Lord John was born on the 25th March 1875 to Emma Elizabeth Lascelles and Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Edward Cavendish, has was the youngest of their three sons.

As the youngest son John would not inherit the family property, or be expected to follow his father into politics, so he made the military his career. He joined the First Regiment of Life Guards, a Cavalry Regiment, on the 3rd February 1897.

He was part of the First Regiment of Life Guards and served with distinction in the South African Was, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order in April 1901. When the Great War broke out in 1914 Lord John joined the British Expeditionary Forces and was deployed to France on the 16th August 1914.

Less than three months later on the 20th October 1914 Major Lord John Spencer Cavendish was killed in action.

An account of John’s death by an unknown soldier, dated 24th October 1914, who served alongside him recalls that John was killed instantly by German Maxim Machine Gun fire whilst leading a regiment trying to hold the line in the village. The account talks about how well liked John was, saying that he was so nice to work with, and how much his regiments would feel his loss.

After his death Lord John’s family received a huge number of letters of condolence, showing how well thought of he, and his family, were thought of. Lord John had a successful military career earning the respect of those he served with and recognition for his good service.

I started my search for information within Hardwick’s own information, then looking on Google (where else!) where I found a website that catalogs graves: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=55956202

The Find A Grave website was really useful for getting the basic information and then using Ancestry.com, a brilliant site for this sort of research, I was able to flesh out the story a little more. I typed in the little bits of information I had found already and Ancestry recommended sources it thought matched, so helpful. I ended up finding several scanned images of primary sources which were absolutely fascinating!

Finally I contacted Chatsworth Archives to see if they could help me with any information about the actual circumstances of Lord John’s death. All I had up to this point was dates when things happened, but no details which was frustrating. I had though they would be too busy to help but they were really helpful and had a number of sources, including the account of Lord John’s I mentioned above.

I have really enjoyed doing this project and even though the story had a tragic end it was nice to know Lord John was so well though of, I have become rather fond of him! On monday I shall be remembering Major Lord John Spencer Cavendish and the men like him who served in the Great War for what they believed was right.

If you want to find some more information about the events taking place over the next four years or about the men who gave their live in the Great War I have included some links I found interesting and useful below.

First World War Centenary Information: www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/first-world-war-centenary

Lives of the First World War: www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org

Every Man Remembered: www.everymanremembered.org

Imperial War Museums: www.iwm.org.uk/corporate/projects-partnerships/first-world-war-centenary-partnership