Opening the post yesterday I was very excited to see the latest edition of the Kent Gardens Trust newsletter, featuring Court Lodge on the front page. During the course of the year one of the researchers from the Kent Gardens Trust, Mike O’Brien, carried out some really in-depth research into the history of Court Lodge, with a particular focus on the garden. The final report was published a few months ago, and now the Trust has featured Mike’s work in its newsletter.
Mike’s report traces the history of Court Lodge back to the reign of King John (1199-1216). It wouldn’t have been the very same building that stands today, but there has clearly been a manor house on this site for over 800 years.
His research was so thorough, that working with him was very instructive. One thing he enjoyed about the project was the fact that there was so much archival material available to him. There are boxes of documents in the house, as well as many old family photograph albums, and there are also the diaries in the archives. We also have a series of 19th century hand painted plates on the walls around the staircase documenting the garden in its heyday.
Mike found out so much more about the garden during his research, including many things we didn’t know. He came across an obituary for a gardener named Cephus Nye who was “gardener to the Morland family for 69 years” according to the Times, and who died in 1951 aged 85, which means he must have been a teenager when he started working in the garden, and continued working in the garden practically until the day he died! When I was reading my great uncle William’s diary for 1949, I came across a few comments referring to Nye:
“Nye is still digging in the kitchen garden, and considering his 81 years he is very remarkable.”
“Nye highly indignant with Manser because he had worked all through the rain and got soaking wet out of doors when there were lots of jobs for him to do indoors.”
“Nye pruning the roses – obviously in a bad temper.”
It is fascinating to see the story of Court Lodge, and of the garden, pieced together by Mike’s discoveries, and the diaries kept by my ancestors, and to see the characters emerge from the page and come to life.
Great Uncle William clearly felt the same too, as I also read in his diary for 1949, which is the year after his mother died, that he too spent time reading his grandfather’s diaries. He writes, “Read some of Grandpapa Morland’s diaries. He sailed through life with a magnificent confidence with plenty of interests, and enthusiasm and love of his home and estate. Life cannot have been so bad in those days for the likes of him and I am sure he made the world around him a better place.” I drew a similar conclusion reading the same diaries, those of William Courtenay Morland, my great great grandfather, earlier this year.
Great Uncle William goes on, “One could wish some of the entries were elaborated. What did he mean by “night school” in 1856? Did he go to learn or to teach? What did he and various friends lecture on, and to whom? What were the chemical experiments with which he amused Charley? Reading old diaries and letters and press cuttings is humiliating. And salutary.”
Mike O’Brien’s research into the history of Court Lodge has really helped us to move forwards in uncovering the story of Court Lodge. There is, and always will be, more to find out, and we are lucky to have so much archival material to draw on. If only we had more time to spend reading it.
Anyone wanting to read Mike’s report on the Court Lodge garden will be able to do so soon (hopefully!) on either the Kent Gardens Trust website (www.kentgardenstrust.org.uk/) or the Parks and Gardens website (http://www.parksandgardens.org/).