Since we arrived back at Court Lodge almost 18 months ago, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job has been to fossick around in the county archives and all the papers, letters and photographs in the house. The history of Court Lodge and the characters that have inhabited it have started to take shape for me, and several of the characters have really stood out as people I would have liked to know personally. One of those is Ada Mary Morland.
Ada married Charles William Morland in 1882. Charles’s father was William Courtenay Morland, my great great grandfather, and the Squire of Lamberhurst throughout the Victorian era. (He’s another character I would have liked to get to know). The story in the family is that Ada and Charles were extremely nice, good people, who were devoted to each other. We don’t have a portrait of Ada, but I think I have identified her in a photograph, and if I am right, then there are many more photographs of her too. I came across a group photograph, in which Charles is standing at the back with his hands on the shoulders of the lady in front of him. Presumably in the Victorian era, this would not have been proper behaviour unless she was his wife!
If that is Ada in that photo, then this photo is also of her:
This shows Ada (if it is her) with her nephew William, who was my great uncle, and who owned Court Lodge before my father. Ada and Charles never had any children of their own, but she clearly gained a lot of happiness playing with her two nephews. From letters that I’ve found from William and John as children, they were obviously very fond of her too.
There is one diary of Ada’s in the archives in Maidstone, for the year 1914, the year that World War I broke out. We know that Court Lodge was requisitioned and used as a hospital in World War I, so I was intrigued to read this diary. In October of 1914 she writes “Cleared library for hospital. 9 beds. Dining room 10 beds. Drawing room for operating theatre.” On the next day “Cleared Vi’s room for 6 beds.” And on the next day “Cleared N. room for 5 beds. 25 wounded Belgians came in”. A few days later “Hospital work”, and then “Charles took 14 of the Belgian wounded. Major Braille came to take over hospital.”
Ada was clearly very involved when Court Lodge was being used as a hospital. She oversaw the clearing of the rooms for hospital beds, and even worked in the hospital herself. And this was obviously a fully functioning hospital, not merely a convalescent home, as the drawing room was the operating theatre.
We have a picture of some soldiers and nurses, taken out on the terrace:
And we have just been sent some more photos of hospital staff at Court Lodge:
These were taken in the courtyard, outside the Coach House, which is where my family and I are now living.
In 1923 disaster struck, and Ada died tragically. Her dress caught fire at the fireplace in the library, and she died from her burns. Not knowing what to do, Charles rolled her in a rug, but then sat her up in a chair, which was the worst thing he could have done. The rug acted as a chimney and the flames got worse. It hastened her death.
I came across a copy of the Vicar’s sermon from her funeral, and found it extremely moving and quite distressing to read. Here are some excerpts from it.
“My difficulties are two-fold. For one thing I find it hard to keep a curb on my emotions, for my heart is very full; and also I feel the poverty of my diction to set forth adequately the worth and the beauty of that life, that was lived amongst us, by her who has now passed before us into the happier, more abundant life above….
It was not only that one in a high position, a benefactress of the Parish, had been called away; it was much more than that; it was a great personal loss felt by all; for each one had a real affection and respect for her, whose gentle sympathy, and kindly charm, and unaffected goodness, and ever-ready help, had won for her an abiding place in the hearts of all round her.”
She sounds like a genuinely good person, and I wish I had known her.
On my most recent visit to the archives I read the diary of my great grandmother, Bessie Morland, who was Ada’s sister-in-law, for the year in which Ada died. Bessie and her husband Henry were away in France when the accident happened, but were kept informed of her condition by post and telegram. Two weeks after the accident Ada took a turn for the worse, and Bessie and Henry hurried back to Court Lodge.
On Tuesday 29th May 1923, Bessie writes “Arrived 7.30 at Court Lodge to find all was over. Ada died on Monday. She could never have recovered fully and must have endured tortures. Saw her in her coffin looking beautiful and so calm and peaceful and happy.”
Ada died on 28th May 1923. She is buried in Lamberhurst churchyard with Charles in a grave that stands alongside the family vault. The 91st anniversary of her death is a month away. I intend to mark the occasion, and remember this kind, gentle, helpful and practical woman, who was a good friend to so many, and a willing volunteer during Court Lodge’s hospital days.