Monthly Archives: August 2013

More treasures uncovered at Court Lodge

I spent another afternoon rummaging through all the suitcases and boxes full of old papers in the safe, looking for WCM’s elusive 1868 diary. I did not find it. There are lots of letters and papers that will need to be gone through though. The task of sorting through them and seeing what is there is enormous. As there is so much material, I really want to stay focused, as otherwise it will be hard to remember all that is there, or see the significance of what is there. So I resisted as much as I could the temptation to read through old letters and diaries, choosing instead to try and keep a mental note of what sort of papers are there, rather than what they say. I tried to stay focused on the garden, and finding that 1868 diary, as that is going to help us apply for grants to restore the garden.

There is one suitcase full of my great Uncle William’s diaries, stretching from the 1940s to the 1980s. Reading and taking in all that information is going to be a gargantuan task in itself. It will be fun though, as William had a great sense of humour, which comes out in his writing. His diaries are much more engaging and witty than those of his grandfather, WCM, that I have been reading in the archives.

There is another suitcase full of much older papers and letters, some of which relate to WCM’s father, Col. Charles Morland. He died in 1828 in Paris, and one of these papers was a handwritten receipt for 600 francs for the coffin of the late Col. Charles Morland, dated 1828 in Paris. He was Aide de Camp to King George IV, which I gather was quite an important job. I imagine 600 francs was a lot of money for a coffin in 1828.

We also found a plan of the house dated 1849, which is before the Victorian alterations to the house that WCM wrote of in his diaries, in which he built the addition to the front of the house containing the conservatory.

There was another box of little gems that must have belonged to my Great Uncle William’s half-sister Violet. She was older than William and my grandfather John. She was the daughter of Henry Courtenay Morland and his first wife, Alice Maud Nevill. William and John were Henry’s sons by his second wife, Bessie Laird.

I remember Auntie Vi as a very old lady when I was a child. We used to go and visit her when we went on trips to London, as she lived in Chelsea. As a young woman, Auntie Vi dabbled in acting, an activity that was thoroughly disapproved of by her father! Among these papers were some letters to Vi. There were letters from William and John when they were young boys, which went something like this:

“Dear Ve-Ve, We have been having a lovely time with Aunt Ada. Did you know that I can now skate on one foot? Much love, John”

John was my grandfather, younger brother of Great Uncle William.

Another letter I found absolutely priceless. It was from Rosamond Hussey of Scotney Castle, dated Feb 29 but it doesn’t say which year. Since it was a leap year, though, it may be easy to narrow it down. Vi was born in 1886 and got married in 1914, so this must have been before 1914 – perhaps 1908, when she would have been 22. It is so lovely I will reproduce it in full:

“My dear Vi,

Best congratulations on your début last night. We are up in London for two days and were overjoyed to find it possible to get two tickets for your first night. You were charming and we are delighted to have seen you. I wished you had appeared a little more prominently in your very pretty frock in the Race Scene.

I hope the play will run long and merrily. But could you hint to the hero that his brown suit and yellow boots do not go well with the crimson walls of the drawing room in the last act, and he would be much more harmonious in something darker!

Best wishes for continued success.

Yours affectionately,

Rosamond Hussey”

What a wonderful piece of Edwardian history! I wish I knew what the play was!

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An interesting find

The other day, when Ian and I had been rummaging in the safe looking for that elusive 1868 diary of WCM’s, we came across some things that had belonged to Monica, my great aunt, wife of my great uncle William Morland. The first interesting thing was that it turned out that she and her family had lived at Blackhurst, which was mentioned in the 1867 diary of WCM that I had read at the archive. He mentioned riding to Blackhurst to see the garden. Monica, whose maiden name was Bolton, had lived there as a child. She was born in about 1906 I think. Perhaps WCM had known Monica’s father or grandfather.

The next interesting thing that we found was what seemed to be a very early AA badge, with some correspondence about it between Monica’s mother and the AA. It seemed that the AA wanted it back because the badges were only ever hired out. But Monica’s mother managed to persuade them to let her keep it for sentimental reasons as her husband had been a member since the beginnings of the AA’s existence.

Ian got straight on to the AA to see if he could speak to anyone who worked in their archives. We also had a quick look on the internet to see if there was anything similar out there, but there was nothing like it, nor anything as early. This badge dated back to 1906 and was nickel plated brass. The earliest AA badges we found were brass but not nickel plated, and it turns out that members had to pay extra for the nickel plating.

The AA was formed in 1905 and the first badges were given out in 1906. A bit more research revealed that the badges were first issued so that the AA motorcycle patrolmen could signal to AA members when there was a police speed trap in the vicinity!

Very quickly we heard back from the AA’s archivist. We had noticed that the badge had the number 40 engraved on it, and the archivist confirmed that this was because T. Bolton, Monica’s father, was the fortieth member of the AA – one of the first 100 founding members. The archivist confirmed that this badge was incredibly rare and, in his words, “priceless”.

There is a lovely connection between us and this AA badge. In 2004 when we were over in the UK as I was on sabbatical, I went with my mother and daughter to visit Auntie Monica, who was then 98. A few years before that, she had published her, and Uncle William’s, combined diaries from the time that they drove across Africa, from Kenya to Lagos, in 1931, in an Austin 10. The Austin 10 in question was called Herbert, and the published book was called ‘Travelling with Herbert’. The book had been riddled with typos and very badly produced, and Monica had asked me if I would bring out a second edition for her. I said I would. Monica died just six weeks later while my family and I were returning to New Zealand, but I kept my promise and produced a new and improved version of the book. In one of the photographs of Herbert at the end of the book, when he has returned to Court Lodge, and is parked happily in the Coach House (incidentally, this is the house that my family and I currently reside in), you can clearly see this very AA badge attached to his front bumper.

We’ll try and find out how much the badge is worth as, after all, if its value is huge it may just fix the leaking roof and restore the rotting windows in the house. But we’d much rather keep it. Perhaps we could find an old Austin 10 – a descendant of Herbert’s – and the car and the badge could keep this story alive.

During all this excitement we also had a meeting with a conservation architect to talk through our ideas about what to do about Court Lodge. We walked him through some parts of the house, and round the garden, and explained to him our plans. We got on well, which is a good start. He’s worked on a number of historic houses in the region. He’s well qualified, and he understood what we wanted to do. The restoration process is going to be long, complicated and expensive, but if we’re going to do it, it would be good to do it with an experienced person to guide us along the path.

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More research at the archives

Last week I visited the archives at Maidstone again to see if I could find out anything more about our garden and its Pulham origins. My plan was to read the diaries of William Courtenay Morland (1818-1909), my great-great-Grandfather, from around the time that we know that he was a client of James Pulham and Son (1868). I knew that my Great Uncle William had given a large number of diaries to the Kent archives before he moved away from Court Lodge in the late 1970s. Looking on the archive database online, I was devastated to see that, of all of WCM’s diaries that are there in the archive, the one that is missing is the one for 1868! His diaries for 1856-1867, 1869-1879, and 1909 are all there, but not that one crucial diary for 1868. Disappointed but not discouraged I carried on, thinking that the best place to start was probably the diary for 1867, the year before WCM became a client of Pulham’s.

Reading these diaries was so interesting! I quickly got used to his handwriting, and the style of each entry was much the same. They were short entries, listing the people he wrote to on each day, and what he wrote to them about, the walks or rides he took, the meetings he had, and often, time he spent with his sons walking, shooting, fishing, or on one occasion, working in the Carpenter’s shop! Finally, each entry ends with a description of the weather. On Sundays he went to church once in the morning and once in the afternoon. For example it would be “Church at Lamberhurst in the morning, at Kiln Down in the afternoon” (note, Kiln Down is now known as Kilndown) A typical entry went something like this:

“Wrote to Arnold to send in seed, G. Hammond to send manure, and Ward as to shooting. Wrote Pomfret as to Parsonage land. Walked with MEM to Little Coldharbour. Worked on accounts. Wind SW to NW gale in morning, heavy rain in afternoon.”

Most days he walked, and Little Coldharbour Farm is about 2 miles away, so he walked significant distances. Also, MEM is his wife, Margaretta Eliza Morland, so she often walked these distances too. He also rode to Maidstone often to attend Gaol committee meetings, and frequently went to London to meet “sundry business persons”. He certainly went to London more often than I’ve managed it since arriving here 8 months ago! Another very touching thing I noticed was that whenever MEM was away from Court Lodge, he wrote to her every day. He also talks fondly of his sons, Charley and Henry. Henry is my great-Grandfather. Charles was the older brother, but he didn’t have any children so Court Lodge passed to his younger brother Henry when he died, and then to his eldest son, my Great Uncle William, who also had no children, so then it passed to my father, Nicholas.

I was looking specifically for anything to do with the garden, and I found some significant mentions of both the garden and the house. First of all, he seems engaged throughout the year on alterations to the house, including spending a good deal of time on drawing up and reviewing plans, and also on installing a “heating apparatus”. I think this means our central heating system dates back to 1867! He also visits somewhere to look at its “dried earth sewage system”, and orders sewage pipes from a pottery in Marden. He is also dissatisfied with the gardener, and how the garden is being managed.

On Monday 12th August he wrote to Pulham about the conservatory. This is significant. We know from the Pulham client list that WCM of Court Lodge, Lamberhurst was a client of Pulham’s for the fernery and, we think, the pond. But Ian and I had also suspected that he may have been responsible for the conservatory too. We have some old photographs of Henry Courtenay Morland and his first wife Alice in the conservatory (dated 1884), and it has many features that are typical of Pulham, specifically, the italianate tiled floor, and the potholders built into the wall, which makes the plants seem to grow out of the wall all the way up to the roof. This mention of Pulham in connection with the conservatory in WCM’s diary establishes a definite link.

Then, all the way through October he was very exercised with writing to people about the conservatory roof. The conservatory was built within a Victorian addition to Court Lodge, so my guess is that these significant changes to Court Lodge took place around this time, and are what WCM is referring to when he talks of the plans for alterations to the house in the 1867 diary.

He also talks quite a bit about the garden. On June 15th he writes, “Saw several people on business, including Brown [underlined twice] to tell him garden is not managed satisfactorily.” In October he rode to Blackhurst to see a garden. There is a large house near Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells called Blackhurst Park. It may have had a Pulham garden, and that may have been what WCM went to look at. Dunorlan Park certainly does have a Pulham rockery, and so do many others in Kent, so he would have been able to see examples of them locally. A quick look at reveals that Blackhurst Park had a pool, a rockery  and a terrace. Court Lodge also has these things, so perhaps WCM went there to gather ideas for his own garden.

He also wrote to various people throughout the year about gardeners. In October, “wrote Joyce that the gardener is too young”. In November, “wrote Stedolph that I do not want gardener”, “Barney as to gardener”, and “Fortescue as to gardener”. Another tantalising allusion is several references to the “folly lake”. He twice wrote to “Marryatt and Lake as to Folly Lake”. It may be that our pond, as we affectionately call it, that no longer holds water, was completely man made, and was created at this time – a Folly Lake.

Finally, in late November he again wrote to Pulham, but infuriatingly I just could not make out his handwriting to see what he wrote to him about!

It was also unbelievably infuriating that the diary for 1868 was not there in the archives. It must be somewhere, as he certainly must have written one for that year. Given how much I learned from the 1867 diary, there must be priceless information about the garden in the 1868 diary. I feel like turning the house upside down until I find it!

This was such an interesting experience. I felt that I really began to get to know WCM from reading about his daily activities. He was, I think, a good Victorian. He was concerned about the Estate, and worked hard on it, managing it to the best of his ability. He was an innovator; he installed central heating, and a sewage system. He ordered a steam plough and an “electrical machine” – I think this must have been the generator that occupied the building that is now our workshop and office. He also took the responsibilities that came with his place in society seriously. And he cared deeply about his wife and sons.

When I got back home I went into the main flat where Mum and Dad live, to find a portrait of WCM, so that I could put a face to this man that I was beginning to know. I’ve seen photos of him as an old man, but wanted to know what he looked like when he was younger. Mum pointed me towards what is one of the loveliest portraits in the house. It depicts WCM, Margaretta, and their eldest son Charley when he was about 5. I took a photo of it, which appears below. This portrait is from 1854 when WCM was 36 years old. In 1867 when he was writing the diary that I read, he was 49.

This experience has made me think about the value of writing a diary. I’ve learned so much from just these cursory descriptions of daily life. And now I feel inspired to write a diary of my own. Maybe one day my descendants will want to discover what life was like managing Court Lodge in the early 21st Century.


The pond – or is it the folly lake?


WCM with his wife Margaretta and his eldest son Charles