There are lots of strands of research going on at Court Lodge at the moment which is all very exciting. First of all there is the archive research that I have been carrying out, both in the documents and photos that are in the house, and at the Maidstone archives. The talks that we held at the end of last year were a distillation of all the research that I had done in the year since we arrived here. I’m currently writing them up into illustrated documents.
We also have Mike O’Brien from the Kent Gardens Trust researching the historical significance of the garden at the moment. We got in touch with the Kent Gardens Trust because although we had already begun to discover things about the history and historical significance of the garden, we thought it would be good to bring in some people with more experience of this sort of reseach to help us. We eventually want to apply for grants to restore the garden, so if we had a professional report written about our garden we thought it would really help support our case. Mike has already found out quite a lot about the garden, and spent quite a lot of time here in the garden and looking through our old photographs and documents. We’re very excited about his report, which should be ready in a couple of months.
We also have two wonderful volunteers who are going to help research the history of Court Lodge, and also help me archive all of the letters, photos and documents that we have in boxes and suitcases in the house. Julia Cruse and Geoffrey Forster both have good local knowledge and lots of research experience. They are also both passionate about uncovering the history of Court Lodge with me. Both of them have spent time working at Scotney Castle, and of course the history of both estates are very intertwined, so they already have a good base of knowledge about Court Lodge. I had a meeting with them today to talk about how this research is going to progress. We plan to focus to start with on putting together the history of Court Lodge as far back as we can trace it. Then we’ll focus on the history of Court Lodge since the Morland family acquired it. I’m particularly interested to know the circumstances in which my ancestors bought Court Lodge, and how they made their money. Finally we will fill in the details of the history with all of the documents, letters and photographs, archiving and cataloguing them as we go. Quite a job! It will just be one of those ongoing jobs that never really gets finished, but progress will always be made.
While Ian and Mark Truman were clearing out the cellar a couple of months ago, they came across some really interesting architectural features there. These features suggested to Ian that there are remnants of an older house beneath the existing one. There is, for example, a stone mullioned window in a coal bunker that has been bricked up, but there is no room or even space behind it as far as we can tell. There are also remnants of a timber floor half way between the ground floor and basement level, with what looks like painted skirting. In two of the larger rooms in the cellar there are what look like semi-circular bay window details to the south elevation that have been partially filled in. It’s all fascinating but, as with the garden, we don’t really have the expertise to take this any further.
I had originally thought of contacting an Archaeology Department at a nearby University to see if they would be interested in looking into this for us, perhaps as a student research project, but during my meeting with Julia and Geoffrey today, Julia suggested the Kent Archaelogical Society as a first point of contact. She showed me a copy of their publication, in which some researchers had carried out an archaeological survey of Scotney Castle. It was very in-depth and detailed, and looked like exactly the sort of thing we would ultimately like for Court Lodge. The writers of the report were affiliated with Archaeology South-East, so I decided to send them an email explaining our situation.
Within a couple of hours I had a phonecall from Archaeology South-East! They sounded very interested, but thought that the work required would be too specialised for students. We could commission them to do an initial survey and report, which would be useful for things like supporting our applications for listed building consent, and would also give us a good starting point for more detailed research directions in the future. It would cost money, which we are sorely lacking at the moment, but it might be worth it. We will have to think about it. All very exciting!!