Monthly Archives: November 2014

Court Lodge on the front page again!



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.

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

The south face of the house overlooking the knot garden

A view across the pond to the summer house

A view across the pond to the summer house

A view over the pond to the Church

A view over the pond to the Church

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

A path alongside the sunken garden leading to the Church

The east face of the house

The east face of the house

The sunken garden

The sunken garden

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 ( or the Parks and Gardens website (


A license to… use powder?

At our visit to the archives the other day, Ian and I came across the following intriguing envelope:


Why would my ancestors need a license to use powder? Our first thought was that it had something to do with gunpowder, bearing in mind my ancestors’ penchant for hunting (see previous post). But when we looked inside, the names on these licenses were all names of the women in the Morland family:



The dates of these licenses were 1797-1799, and the names on them were the names of all the women in the Morland family at that time. Ann Morland was the head of the family, as her husband, Thomas Morland had died in 1784. Thomas and Ann had three sons and four daughters. All of her daughters are named on the licenses; Anna Eleanora, Mary, Margaretta and Eliza. Unless these female ancestors of mine were gunpowder-toting women, the licenses must have been for some other kind of powder.

Ann Morland as a young woman

Ann Morland (nee Matson) as a young woman

Ann Matson as an older woman, perhaps at the time she was living in Kendal

Ann Morland as an older woman, perhaps at the time she was living in Kendal

One of the documents revealed the answer: they were licenses for hair powder. In 1795 the government passed the Duty on Hair Powder Act, as one of many extra taxes imposed to pay for wars. Anyone wanting to use hair powder had to pay one guinea for an annual certificate.

What truly amazes me about this discovery is that these hair powder licenses were kept by every subsequent generation of Morlands, until they were eventually deposited in the Maidstone archives by my great uncle William. The Morlands certainly never had a clearout!

There are a couple of other interesting things to note here. Ann is listed as ‘housekeeper’. Does this mean ‘head of the household’? And there is another powder license in the name of Ann’s sister, Margaret Matson, who is listed as ‘inmate’.


My guess is that this means something like ‘member of the household’, as another of the documents listed, among the available options, housekeeper, daughter, inmate. So it seems that Ann’s sister never married, and lived with her in Kendal after she, Ann, had been widowed. This is a picture of Margaret as a young girl:


Another interesting thing is that these powder licenses have revealed some information that I didn’t know, and have opened up some lines of further enquiry. Ann’s husband had, as I mentioned, died in 1784, and I remember my great uncle William writing in a letter that he didn’t know whether Ann had stayed at Court Lodge, or moved back to Westmorland where she came from. These powder licenses show her living in Highgate, Kendal, with at least all four of her daughters. William also mentioned in that letter that two of her sons, William Alexander and Henry, went to school in Cumberland (with Wordsworth, as it happens – another literary connection to the Morlands!), so it looks very much like the whole family decamped up to Westmorland after Thomas’s death.

This is intriguing because the family also very clearly moved back to Court Lodge at some point not long after, as William Alexander was the head of the family at Court Lodge until his death in 1846. So it raises the questions: when did the Morlands move back to Court Lodge? And who lived at Court Lodge while Ann and her children were living in Kendal?

These questions are tantalising, and I have a few ideas as to how they might be answered. The answers, if I’m right, are quite exciting! I will do a little more research and then update this blog with what I have found out, so stay tuned!

Finding out more about my great grandfather, Henry Courtenay Morland

Last week Ian and I went for a trip to the Maidstone archives for a spot of research. Our intention was to focus on reading the family diaries of the early 1880s to see if there is any mention of the garden, in particular the Pulham rock garden. Sadly we didn’t find any reference to Pulham at all. But a visit to the archives is never wasted, as there is always some discovery to enlighten and inform us about the history of Court Lodge and the Morland family.

It was Ian’s first visit to the archives, and he wasn’t quite prepared for just how awful the handwriting of my ancestors was. My great uncle William once wrote in his diary (typed, mercifully), “My grandfather once told Madie (Miss Maddock, the writer’s old governess. Editor’s note) that no Morland ever wrote well.” Having tried to decipher the handwriting of several of my ancestors I can certainly endorse Madie’s opinion. William continues “Personally I believe I should have written adequately had I learnt to write with my left hand.” Poor William was of the generation that forced left handed children to write with their right hands, and his handwriting was truly illegible.

The diaries of William Courtenay Morland (WCM), my great great grandfather, followed a similar pattern to earlier diaries of his that I have read. The entries are succinct statements (one might anachronistically describe them as bullet points) about who he wrote to, and about what, where he walked or rode to, what meetings he attended, matters of estate business, and who came to stay or who he dined with. Reading WCM’s diaries certainly gives a picture of daily life at Court Lodge 150 years ago, but there is little in the way of feeling in them, particularly in these later diaries when he is in his late 50s to early 60s.

I also read one of the diaries by WCM’s younger son, my great grandfather, Henry Courtenay Morland. And this was an unexpected surprise for me. What I’ve found out about HCM so far has not made me warm to him, shall we say. I know that he was “beastly” to his first wife Alice, and that she died young – aged 40. I know that he once threw a burning log from the fire at his second wife Bessie. The butler, it is said, always bought the cheapest crockery he could, as he knew it would end up being thrown at someone. He was a very charming and sociable man, who enjoyed big game hunting, and in the late 1890s went on a two-year tour of India and Africa, where he dined and danced at one embassy after another, and kept a tally of all the creatures he killed. We have in our dining room an elephant’s foot that has been ‘converted’ into a decanter holder, as a lasting reminder of his big game hunting. Both his sons bought farms in Kenya in their twenties, in order to escape from him.

The elephant's foot/decanter holder

The elephant’s foot/decanter holder

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

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

With the image of him that I had inevitably formed with all this information, I was very surprised by what I read in his diary entries from 1883. He was in India with the army, and he describes most eloquently his overwhelming awe at the sights he saw. He also writes of being deeply affected by receiving letters from his wife Alice. He writes with emotion (unlike his father), and his appreciation of beauty adds a dimension to him that I was previously unaware of. Here is an example:

24th November. Left Delhi at 7am for Agra where we arrived at 3pm. Left luggage at station and Lobby and I went off in a cab to the Taj. This I cannot describe except as being the finest thing I ever saw built entirely of white marble and inlaid with precious stones. Shah Jahan is buried here and his wife for whose body he built it.

25th November. Took a walk by myself in the morning after breakfast. I went alone to the Taj and took my book about Agra and read it in the gardens and enjoyed looking at the Taj. I walked around it and spent nearly 2 hours looking at it. We met Col. Denby at the station at 3pm. He seems a charming man. He brought all our letters. Two from Alice. I enjoyed hearing from Alice more than anything I have seen in India. Such a nice long letter.

However, in the back of this diary is one of those tallies of his big game kills during this trip.


The list includes 1 panther, 51 black buck, 5 does, 2 jungle cats, 1 turtle (a turtle!) 70 ducks, 4 flamingoes and 3 pelicans. It’s very hard to forgive this level of big game hunting, even though we know that at the time this was seen as perfectly acceptable behaviour for a young upper class man abroad.

Reading this diary made me realise that Henry was, to a large extent, a product of his time. The diaries of their time at Court Lodge mention lots of hunting, shooting and fishing, so it would seem perfectly natural to hunt, shoot and fish the native creatures of countries they visited abroad. Sadly, as we know now, they failed to take into account the sustainability of those species, as they did at home with partridge and pheasant.

But Henry was also a product of war. His older brother Charles writes – in red – of taking Henry to Victoria Station to see him off to fight in the Zulu war in 1879. I don’t yet know the extent of his active service throughout his life, but the Zulu war would certainly have been a nightmarish experience. Perhaps these battlefield experiences left their mark on his character in the form of his nasty “temper”.

People’s characters are rarely black or white; they are much more complex than that. And I’m glad to have discovered that there is more to my great grandfather than just his furious temper and penchant for big game hunting.