Mysteries in the wills of the ancestors

I recently acquired copies of the wills of my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland (WCM), and his two sons Charles William Morland and Henry Courtenay Morland. (You can search for wills and buy them for £10 from the Government’s probate search website.) Henry, the younger son, is my great grandfather. It’s fascinating what puzzles and clues to the past you can find in a will, although I now feel that we have more questions than answers about these particular ancestors

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William Courtenay Morland with his wife, Margaretta, and their eldest son, Charles

Henry married twice, first to Lady Alice Nevill with whom he had a daughter, Violet. The family gossip has it that he was ‘beastly’ to Alice, and she took to drink and died tragically young, aged 40. His second marriage was to Bessie Laird, daughter of John Laird of Birkenhead, of shipbuilding fame. Henry and Bessie had two sons, William and John. He was also “beastly” to Bessie. I have written about Henry, and the complex character that he was in an earlier post.

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Henry Courtenay Morland

Violet never got on with her father, and they particularly fell out when she became an actress, and also converted to Catholicism. Family gossip also tells us that Henry cut Violet out of his will, so I was intrigued to see whether this was so. Sure enough, Violet is not mentioned in Henry’s will. But, there is an interesting twist to this tale, revealed in Henry’s father’s, WCM’s will. Perhaps WCM found out that Henry was planning to leave Violet out of his will, because he added a codicil to his will to make sure she was provided for.

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William Courtenay Morland with his grandson William

The codicil to WCM’s will is dated 1904, five years before he died, and just after the birth of  Henry’s sons by his second marriage. He states in it that when he originally made his will he had been under the impression that Henry would be leaving Violet a sum of money, but that he had since discovered that she would be inheriting less than he had thought. In his original will, WCM bequeathed to Henry all of “my land at Playden in the County of Sussex known as Boonshill for his own use and benefit absolutely”. Now, by this codicil, he revokes that bequest and instead he places that land, and also another farm at Playden, Cliffs Farm, in trust for Violet, stating that he is “desirous of making such further provision for the said Violet Alice Morland”.

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Violet with her half brother William

The Court Lodge estate passed from WCM to his eldest son, Charles William Morland. Charles and his wife Ada had no children, so it then passed from Charles to Henry’s eldest son William.

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Charles William Morland

Henry himself never owned the estate, although he did live here from when Charles died in 1926 until his own death in 1934. But although he never owned Court Lodge, and so couldn’t bequeath it to the next generation, he did have his own personal wealth to bequeath. As I mentioned above, he left none of it to Violet. He left some specific legacies to his wife and sons: £500 to Bessie, £1,000 to William and £220 to John. The legacy to John appears to come with the condition that he “dispose of it in accordance with my [Henry’s] wishes”, which is a bit odd, and rather controlling.

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Henry Courtenay Morland in later life. I am reminded of Col. Melchett from Blackadder

But the most puzzling thing by far in Henry’s will is how he deals with his “residuary estate”, or the remainder of his assets after all other legacies and expenses have been settled. He leaves it to his younger son John, presumably because William was well provided for having inherited the Court Lodge estate. But the will also specifies what should happen to the residuary estate should John die before Henry leaving no heirs of his own: it would in that case go to William. And if William were also to die before Henry leaving no heirs, it would then go to Bessie, his wife. And then, after Bessie’s death, it would go to someone named Helen Keelan, daughter of Colonel Keelan of the Manor House, Pembury.

Of course, John didn’t die before Henry, so the residuary estate will have gone to him. But what if both John and William had died before Henry leaving no heirs? The residue of Henry’s estate would then, ultimately, have gone to a woman named Helen Keelan. But who was she? No one in the family seems to know.

We are currently doing some research to try and find out more about Helen Keelan, and what her connection to Henry was.

Unexpected challenges

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, and I’m sorry to those of you that enjoy reading about our adventures at Court Lodge. One thing we’ve been working away on in the background for the past couple of years is our planning application to the council asking for permission to use Court Lodge as a venue for functions, weddings, business meetings, and so on. We think it would be ideal as a venue in so many ways, and we know lots of other people do too, as we’ve already had lots of enquiries. But we can’t do anything until we get permission to operate commercially.

The main reason for seeking this permission is so that we can raise sufficient funds to carry out the much-needed repairs to Court Lodge and to the garden. Court Lodge doesn’t generate enough money as an accommodation rental business to carry out repairs; it makes just enough to cover its on-going running costs. So we need to find an additional source of income to enable us to repair the building and prevent it from deteriorating further.

Unfortunately, there has been some quite intense opposition to our plans and we’ve had to confront the very real possibility that we might not get the permission that we need.

What will we do if we are unsuccessful? It has been a very sobering experience to explore what our options would be. My family have lived here for nearly 300 years, but if we are not permitted to generate the revenue necessary to repair and restore the building, we will have no alternative but to sell up, thereby ending my family’s connection with Court Lodge. We certainly wouldn’t choose to burden our children with a Grade II listed historic house that they could not afford to restore.

And if we are no longer managing Court Lodge, we would need alternative employment. So it was with that thought that last year I began applying for jobs lecturing in philosophy, which is what I used to do in New Zealand before we moved back here to take over the reins of Court Lodge. I was fortunate, and thrilled, to be offered a position at the London School of Economics, and I started teaching there in September 2015. It has been great to get back into philosophy, and I’ve really enjoyed the teaching and interaction with students. The commuting, not so much!

While I’ve been commuting up to London, Ian has been managing things at Court Lodge, and we have been joined by the wonderful George who has been doing anything and everything that needs to be done. She started by giving herself the job description “Court Lodge Minion”, which soon became “Court Lodge Mini-Ian”! We call her the Court Lodge Marvel!

And then, just before Christmas 2015, life threw us another curve-ball, as I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The treatment I have had from the NHS has been outstanding, and I am so grateful to all the staff. I have already had surgery, and have recovered well from that. I’m now awaiting further test results to see whether or not I will be having chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy.

Meanwhile we have been waiting and waiting for news about the planning permission. We’ve now heard that we will have a decision by the end of March, so at least then we will have some certainty, and know whether or not we have a future at Court Lodge.

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A lost building of Lamberhurst

A week ago I posted this picture on the Court Lodge Estate Facebook page, asking if anyone knew where in Lamberhurst it was. I found the photo in one of our photo albums that belonged to my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland. The photos in this album that are dated are from 1902-1905.

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A few helpful people commented, and it soon became clear that it was a Kentish Wealden Hall House called Walsinghams that was demolished a long time ago. It was located on Town Hill in Lamberhurst, on a site now occupied by a house that looks like it dates back to the 1960s.

I was then sent some more photos of Walsinghams by someone who once came to stay in one of our holiday cottages, and whose husband grew up in Lamberhurst. He remembers Walsinghams being demolished, and just the chimney stack left standing for a long time.

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It was a beautiful old Kentish house. I wonder about the families that lived in it. It must have been one of the more substantial houses in Lamberhurst, so was probably home to a wealthy family. I also wonder why it was demolished. At least we still have these photos.

Family photo albums at Court Lodge

We were recently contacted by William (Bill) Thompson who has been researching General Thomas Morland, and has produced a book of his letters and diaries. General Thomas Morland was born in Canada, but his family originated in Scotland. I hadn’t heard of him, but according to Bill, he mentions my great grandfather, Henry Courtenay Morland, in his diaries. He says that he came to stay with Henry and, tellingly, that Henry was “A worrying and funny old thing, and not very nice to his wife.” Bill was not sure how our Morlands are related to his Morlands, and I wasn’t able to enlighten him. However, as we have Henry’s diaries at Court Lodge at the moment, as well as his wife Bessie’s diaries, I invited him down to look at them, to see if he could find out anything further.

I’m not sure yet whether Bill’s visit produced any firm information about how our two branches of Morlands are related, but his visit did clear up something for me. He mentioned that General Thomas Morland’s daughters had visited Henry at Court Lodge. Their names were Phyllis and Margie. This reminded me of a photo album I had come across with all sorts of Morlands in it that I knew nothing about. I was sure that one of them was called Phyllis. I went searching!

Phyllis Morland

Phyllis Morland

This little girl is Phyllis Morland. The photo dates from about 1902 when Phyllis would have been 9, so I think that is about right. The puzzling thing is that there is no mention of Margie, and according to Bill the two sisters were always together. There is another girl referred to as A. Morland, who is older than Phyllis, and about the same age as Margie would have been. All very strange.

A and P Morland. The P is Phyllis, but I'm not sure who the A is.

A and P Morland. The P is Phyllis, but I’m not sure who the A is.

There is also a lovely photo of my great auntie Vi with Phyllis and someone who’s name I can’t read. I think it must be the same girl as the A. Morland above, but neither Bill nor I can work out who she is. Vi would have been about 18 in this photo, and Phyllis about 12.

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Looking at our family tree, Phyllis and her father can only be connected to us by going back several generations, as all of the members in our direct family tree are accounted for. I think that you would have to go back to the father of William Morland (1692-1774), who was the first Morland to take on Court Lodge, to find other branches of the Morland family that General Thomas Morland might have descended from. So what strikes me as odd is that these distantly related cousins were still obviously very connected, to the extent that the children came to stay. Sadly, that connection has not lasted into our generation, as my father had no idea about these distant cousins, and so, neither had I.

There were also pictures of other Morlands whose connection to us I have no idea about.

E. M. Morland and Gunn. No idea who either of them are.

E. M. Morland and Gunn. No idea who either of them are.

Dick and Jack Morland. We've no idea who they were.

Dick and Jack Morland. We’ve no idea who they were.

There are also photos of people that aren’t named, so they may be cousins, or friends. We’ve no idea. But they are all very evocative of the era, the first few years of the twentieth century.

Some children in bathing costumes circa 1904

Some children in bathing costumes circa 1904

The really lovely thing about these discoveries was that it gave me the opportunity to rummage through old photograph albums again. I find that every time I have a rummage through them I recognise more people and more places, as more of the overall picture of the history of the Morlands and Court Lodge falls into place. So here are some of the photographs I discovered, and how they fit into the bigger picture.

This is Ballard and Ashby. We know that Ballard was the Butler at Court Lodge at this time, and that he lived at 7 Manor Cottages in the village. My great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland, had built the seven Manor Cottages in the 1870s for his staff. He reputedly housed them in order of status, so Ballard the butler was at number 7, at the top of the hill and nearest to Court Lodge. The next house down was occupied by the chauffeur, and so on down in descending order of status.

Ballard the butler and Ashby, probably the housekeeper.

Ballard the butler and Ashby, probably the housekeeper.

Ballard and Ashby would have been Court Lodge’s answer to Downton Abbey’s Carson and Mrs Hughes!

Next, I was delighted by this photograph of a group of children. They are probably cousins and friends of the Morlands, but what I love about this photograph is all the hats, and the white clothes. So different from today’s children, and so reminiscent of the Railway Children, and all those other lovely children’s novels from the early twentieth century.

Children in hats!

Children in hats!

Then there are many photographs of family members just living their ordinary lives, rather than posing stiffly as so many in photographs from this era are. These photos paint a rare and honest portrait of family members talking, chatting, and generally just living their day-to-day lives. This photo is of William Courtenay Morland, my great great grandfather, his eldest son Charles, Charles’s wife Ada, and I’m not sure who the other woman is. I think the dog was called Bumper though, as there are several other photos of him!

A relaxed family scene, so unusual in photographs from this era.

A relaxed family scene, so unusual in photographs from this era.

And then there are some positively bizarre photographs, like this one of Ada, Charles’s wife, walking across the lawn carrying a cockatoo!

Ada Morland carrying... a cockatoo?

Ada Morland carrying… a cockatoo?

There are some lovely photos of old Lamberhurst at the turn of the last century, again, depicting a slice of real life over a hundred years ago.

Lamberhurst, circa 1902

Lamberhurst, circa 1902

Lamberhurst circa 1902

Lamberhurst circa 1902

And then there are some lovely photographs of some of the rooms in the house as they were then. Here are two pictures of the library.

The library in 1904

The library in 1904

The library in 1904

The library in 1904

There are also some interesting pictures of the garden, which may reveal more about its history. On the left in the picture below you can make out what looks like a tiered circular feature. There is a similar feature depicted in one of the hand-painted plates of the garden, which is in about the same spot. We recently discovered some remnants of what looks like Pulhamite inside one of the shrubberies that is located about where this feature would have been. This suggests to us that this was part of James Pulham and Son’s original design for the Court Lodge garden.

A view of the St Mary's Church from the Court Lodge Garden. On the left you can see a circular garden feature. We think this is made from Pulhamite.

A view of St Mary’s Church from the Court Lodge Garden. On the left you can see a circular garden feature. We think this was made from Pulhamite.

Here is what we think is the very same feature depicted in one of the plates.

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I’ve really enjoyed having a good look through all these old photographs, and continuing to piece the story of the Morlands and Court Lodge together. There are many more photo albums in the house waiting for me to find the time to have a good look through them, so I’m sure I’ll be posting more of them here in the future. Watch this space!

More evidence of Pulham in the garden

Since we found out about the involvement of James Pulham and Son (famous Victorian garden designers, particularly known for their rock gardens) in the Court Lodge garden, we have been unsure how much of the garden they were responsible for. Renowned Pulham historian Claude Hitching has hypothesised that they may have been responsible for most, or even all, of the layout of the garden. He said it was not uncommon for the Pulhams to do a job for a client, and the come back some years later and do further jobs, or even a complete garden redesign. And there are so many elements of our garden that are consistent with Pulham design, that this may well have been the case here.

We know that Pulham did the fernery in 1868, as this is recorded in a listing of Pulham’s clients. The only remaining part of the fernery is the conservatory, which still has the Pulham tiled floor.

The conservatory floor

The conservatory floor

The conservatory

The conservatory

Pulham also did the sunken rock garden and pond in the garden, which may have all been an elaborate water feature. Claude Hitching thinks these were probably done in the 1870s. Here are some photos of the pond and sunken garden as they are now, and as they were in the 1880s.

The rock work to the left of the steps revealed!

The fernery with one of our wonderful volunteers working on revealing the rockwork

The pond no longer holds water, and is overgrown and full of bulrushes

The pond no longer holds water, and is overgrown and full of bulrushes

The pond in its heyday

The pond in its heyday

The Pulham rock garden in 1884. We think that this is shortly after it was first designed and installed.

The Pulham rock garden in 1884. We think that this is shortly after it was first designed and installed.

We also have in the house a set of handpainted plates, painted in 1877, of the garden. There are 18 of them, and they depict every feature of the garden. It seems to us that the most likely reason for commissioning these plates would have been that the garden was a recent achievement, and something to be proud of and celebrated. If that’s right, then it suggests that the garden was designed in its entirety just prior to 1877, and very possibly by James Pulham and Son. Here are some of those plates:

The sunken garden

The sunken garden

The east face of the house

The east face of the house

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

A view over the pond to the Church

A view over the pond to the Church

A view across the pond to the summer house

A view across the pond to the summer house

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

Recently, Ian came across some chunks of aggregate in one of the shrubberies. It looks very much like Pulhamite – the artificial rock that Pulham developed when creating garden features.

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If this is Pulhamite, then there would have been a garden feature just where this (now overgrown) shrubbery is. Looking at the plates suggests the most likely candidate:

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This feature is positioned just where the shrubbery is, where Ian found the Pulhamite. The wall beyond it is the wall above the sunken garden, and in the distance you can see Goudhurst church on the hill, which is not visible from the same spot now because of all the overgrowth. This is more evidence that James Pulham and Son were responsible for our entire garden.

We just hope we are able to secure some funding, or find some other source of income, to enable us to restore the garden properly, especially now that we know it is so historically significant.

Bringing home my ancestors’ diaries

During the 20th Century my great uncle, William Morland, deposited many old documents that he had found in Court Lodge with the Kent archives. These documents included old estate maps, accounts, letters dating back as far as the 18th century, strange documents such as the hair powder licenses I wrote about a while ago, and lots and lots of diaries. My ancestors were evidently great diary keepers. There are 24 volumes of my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland’s diaries, and I have visited the archives in Maidstone several times to read some of them. There are also diaries by my great grandmother, Bessie Morland (née Laird), and Ada Morland who was the lady of the house during World War One. I have written about her diary from 1914, when the house was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers, here. There is also a lovely radio piece by BBC Radio Kent about the use of Court Lodge during World War One that you can listen to here.

I’ve been corresponding with the archives for some time about the possibility of bringing the diaries back to Court Lodge temporarily so that we can get them all fully transcribed. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who come here regularly and were eager to start delving into the history of Court Lodge through these diaries. The archives needed various documentation from me, to prove that I am descended from the depositor of the diaries, which I eventually managed to procure. Finally, one week ago, all the hoops had been duly jumped through, and Ian and I were able to collect the diaries and bring them home.

Boxes of diaries

Boxes of diaries

WCMs diaries from the 19th Century

WCMs diaries from the 19th Century

It seems that each year he bought the same Lett’s diary, and recorded his daily life in it on pretty much every day.

As well as reading the whole of WCM’s diaries, I’m particularly looking forward to reading the diaries of Bessie and Ada, to find out more about what women’s life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We have also finally got round to sorting through various old boxes of keys that we found in the house. Some of these are very old. Most, we think, no longer open anything in the house. But they are a historical record in their own right.

Boxes of old keys

Boxes of old keys

This key is labelled "Gaol Committee Room" and the key next to it is from the Bayham Estate

This key is labelled “Gaol Committee Room” and the key next to it is from the Bayham Estate

The key to the Gaol Committee Room must have been WCM’s as he writes frequently in his diary of travelling to Maidstone to attend the Gaol Committee meetings. He was a Justice of the Peace for the district. There are also several keys to the Bayham Estate. I’m not quite sure how they ended up here!

This set of keys was for the Silver Chest. Sadly, we no longer have a silver chest.

These keys are labelled "Silver Chest"

These keys are labelled “Silver Chest”

Along with the keys we also found this money bag from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo! Empty, alas!

This money bag is from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo

This money bag is from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo

One thing I love about being at Court Lodge is unearthing all this evidence of its history, and the people who lived here.

Getting on with the restoration of Court Lodge as best we can

There has been a lot going on at Court Lodge lately, and some good progress has been made on restoring parts of the house and garden. There is always so much to do though that it does seem to be a herculean task at times. Still, the only way we can make progress is by doing it in small, manageable (and affordable!) steps.

One job that was quite urgent was repairing and repointing the stonework on the southwest corner of the house. This seemed to be the area where the most damage has been done by the weather. The scaffolding went up a few weeks ago, and then the work began.

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

As with so many other jobs at Court Lodge, once the work got started, the problem was revealed to be much worse than we had initially thought, and consequently it has taken much longer, and will be much more expensive, to fix.

A wall of loose stones

A wall of loose stones

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

Still, the men from EB Sculpture, who have restored many heritage buildings, have been doing a fantastic job. The stonework on the southwest corner will soon be repaired, weatherproof, and set to last for another hundred years or more.

We have also been very lucky to have been able to hire some really handy handymen over the last few weeks. We were joined by Matthew Poole for a couple of weeks, who did lots of mowing and lots of odd jobs that Ian hasn’t been able to get round to. Sadly for us, Matthew was so good that he has landed himself a job, so won’t be able to do much more for us at Court Lodge. We really enjoyed having him around, and we wish him well for the future.

We also have Elwyn Scott who is an ace decorator. He decorated some bedrooms, and is now working on various window frames around the building.

We were also lucky enough to hire Bryan Ellis for a week of carpentry and various other jobs. His work is of such high quality that he is in very high demand, so we’re really pleased we could have him for a week. One of the jobs he did was to remove some old brick and slate tables from the Conservatory, which will make it a much more usable space. We were very pleased to see that the Pulham tiled floor beneath the tables was still in tact.

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

So things are moving on at Court Lodge. We are making progress and the house is responding well to the love and attention it is getting from us and our fantastic team.