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Update on the planning permission situation

Back in February 2016 I wrote a post on this blog about various unexpected challenges we were facing here at Court Lodge. We had then been working for about two years on trying to get planning permission to be able to hold functions and events here at Court Lodge, as a way of trying to generate much-needed revenue to carry out the repairs and restoration that is needed on the house and grounds. We are now ten months on from that blog post, and we still haven’t had a decision about the planning permission. In September we were asked by the planning office to resubmit our application, as it had changed somewhat from our original application. This is because we had made various changes to what we were proposing to do, to try and accommodate concerns from local residents. We rewrote and resubmitted our application in November, and it is now up on the planning portal and open for public consultation. To date there are 13 letters of support from local residents and businesses, and no letters of opposition. We fully expect that the objectors will object again, even though we believe we have removed all their grounds for concern, so there should be nothing left for them to object to. But it is good to see that there is so much local support for what we are trying to do here. Thank you to all of you who have rallied round and supported us!

The application states that the planning office has a target date for a decision of 6th February 2017. Given our experience so far we will not yet hold our breath, but we are hopeful of finally knowing where we stand sometime in the next two or three months. Watch this space!

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Mysteries in the wills of the ancestors

I recently acquired copies of the wills of my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland (WCM), and his two sons Charles William Morland and Henry Courtenay Morland. (You can search for wills and buy them for £10 from the Government’s probate search website.) Henry, the younger son, is my great grandfather. It’s fascinating what puzzles and clues to the past you can find in a will, although I now feel that we have more questions than answers about these particular ancestors

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William Courtenay Morland with his wife, Margaretta, and their eldest son, Charles

Henry married twice, first to Lady Alice Nevill with whom he had a daughter, Violet. The family gossip has it that he was ‘beastly’ to Alice, and she took to drink and died tragically young, aged 40. His second marriage was to Bessie Laird, daughter of John Laird of Birkenhead, of shipbuilding fame. Henry and Bessie had two sons, William and John. He was also “beastly” to Bessie. I have written about Henry, and the complex character that he was in an earlier post.

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Henry Courtenay Morland

Violet never got on with her father, and they particularly fell out when she became an actress, and also converted to Catholicism. Family gossip also tells us that Henry cut Violet out of his will, so I was intrigued to see whether this was so. Sure enough, Violet is not mentioned in Henry’s will. But, there is an interesting twist to this tale, revealed in Henry’s father’s, WCM’s will. Perhaps WCM found out that Henry was planning to leave Violet out of his will, because he added a codicil to his will to make sure she was provided for.

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William Courtenay Morland with his grandson William

The codicil to WCM’s will is dated 1904, five years before he died, and just after the birth of  Henry’s sons by his second marriage. He states in it that when he originally made his will he had been under the impression that Henry would be leaving Violet a sum of money, but that he had since discovered that she would be inheriting less than he had thought. In his original will, WCM bequeathed to Henry all of “my land at Playden in the County of Sussex known as Boonshill for his own use and benefit absolutely”. Now, by this codicil, he revokes that bequest and instead he places that land, and also another farm at Playden, Cliffs Farm, in trust for Violet, stating that he is “desirous of making such further provision for the said Violet Alice Morland”.

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Violet with her half brother William

The Court Lodge estate passed from WCM to his eldest son, Charles William Morland. Charles and his wife Ada had no children, so it then passed from Charles to Henry’s eldest son William.

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Charles William Morland

Henry himself never owned the estate, although he did live here from when Charles died in 1926 until his own death in 1934. But although he never owned Court Lodge, and so couldn’t bequeath it to the next generation, he did have his own personal wealth to bequeath. As I mentioned above, he left none of it to Violet. He left some specific legacies to his wife and sons: £500 to Bessie, £1,000 to William and £220 to John. The legacy to John appears to come with the condition that he “dispose of it in accordance with my [Henry’s] wishes”, which is a bit odd, and rather controlling.

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

But the most puzzling thing by far in Henry’s will is how he deals with his “residuary estate”, or the remainder of his assets after all other legacies and expenses have been settled. He leaves it to his younger son John, presumably because William was well provided for having inherited the Court Lodge estate. But the will also specifies what should happen to the residuary estate should John die before Henry leaving no heirs of his own: it would in that case go to William. And if William were also to die before Henry leaving no heirs, it would then go to Bessie, his wife. And then, after Bessie’s death, it would go to someone named Helen Keelan, daughter of Colonel Keelan of the Manor House, Pembury.

Of course, John didn’t die before Henry, so the residuary estate will have gone to him. But what if both John and William had died before Henry leaving no heirs? The residue of Henry’s estate would then, ultimately, have gone to a woman named Helen Keelan. But who was she? No one in the family seems to know.

We are currently doing some research to try and find out more about Helen Keelan, and what her connection to Henry was.

Bringing home my ancestors’ diaries

During the 20th Century my great uncle, William Morland, deposited many old documents that he had found in Court Lodge with the Kent archives. These documents included old estate maps, accounts, letters dating back as far as the 18th century, strange documents such as the hair powder licenses I wrote about a while ago, and lots and lots of diaries. My ancestors were evidently great diary keepers. There are 24 volumes of my great great grandfather, William Courtenay Morland’s diaries, and I have visited the archives in Maidstone several times to read some of them. There are also diaries by my great grandmother, Bessie Morland (née Laird), and Ada Morland who was the lady of the house during World War One. I have written about her diary from 1914, when the house was turned into a hospital for wounded soldiers, here. There is also a lovely radio piece by BBC Radio Kent about the use of Court Lodge during World War One that you can listen to here.

I’ve been corresponding with the archives for some time about the possibility of bringing the diaries back to Court Lodge temporarily so that we can get them all fully transcribed. We have a wonderful team of volunteers who come here regularly and were eager to start delving into the history of Court Lodge through these diaries. The archives needed various documentation from me, to prove that I am descended from the depositor of the diaries, which I eventually managed to procure. Finally, one week ago, all the hoops had been duly jumped through, and Ian and I were able to collect the diaries and bring them home.

Boxes of diaries

Boxes of diaries

WCMs diaries from the 19th Century

WCMs diaries from the 19th Century

It seems that each year he bought the same Lett’s diary, and recorded his daily life in it on pretty much every day.

As well as reading the whole of WCM’s diaries, I’m particularly looking forward to reading the diaries of Bessie and Ada, to find out more about what women’s life was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We have also finally got round to sorting through various old boxes of keys that we found in the house. Some of these are very old. Most, we think, no longer open anything in the house. But they are a historical record in their own right.

Boxes of old keys

Boxes of old keys

This key is labelled "Gaol Committee Room" and the key next to it is from the Bayham Estate

This key is labelled “Gaol Committee Room” and the key next to it is from the Bayham Estate

The key to the Gaol Committee Room must have been WCM’s as he writes frequently in his diary of travelling to Maidstone to attend the Gaol Committee meetings. He was a Justice of the Peace for the district. There are also several keys to the Bayham Estate. I’m not quite sure how they ended up here!

This set of keys was for the Silver Chest. Sadly, we no longer have a silver chest.

These keys are labelled "Silver Chest"

These keys are labelled “Silver Chest”

Along with the keys we also found this money bag from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo! Empty, alas!

This money bag is from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo

This money bag is from the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in Cairo

One thing I love about being at Court Lodge is unearthing all this evidence of its history, and the people who lived here.

Getting on with the restoration of Court Lodge as best we can

There has been a lot going on at Court Lodge lately, and some good progress has been made on restoring parts of the house and garden. There is always so much to do though that it does seem to be a herculean task at times. Still, the only way we can make progress is by doing it in small, manageable (and affordable!) steps.

One job that was quite urgent was repairing and repointing the stonework on the southwest corner of the house. This seemed to be the area where the most damage has been done by the weather. The scaffolding went up a few weeks ago, and then the work began.

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

Scaffolding goes up and EB Sculpture set to work

As with so many other jobs at Court Lodge, once the work got started, the problem was revealed to be much worse than we had initially thought, and consequently it has taken much longer, and will be much more expensive, to fix.

A wall of loose stones

A wall of loose stones

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

Much of the stonework was just loose, weathered stones.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

There was nothing holding many of these stones together. We were lucky they had stayed in place as long as they had.

Still, the men from EB Sculpture, who have restored many heritage buildings, have been doing a fantastic job. The stonework on the southwest corner will soon be repaired, weatherproof, and set to last for another hundred years or more.

We have also been very lucky to have been able to hire some really handy handymen over the last few weeks. We were joined by Matthew Poole for a couple of weeks, who did lots of mowing and lots of odd jobs that Ian hasn’t been able to get round to. Sadly for us, Matthew was so good that he has landed himself a job, so won’t be able to do much more for us at Court Lodge. We really enjoyed having him around, and we wish him well for the future.

We also have Elwyn Scott who is an ace decorator. He decorated some bedrooms, and is now working on various window frames around the building.

We were also lucky enough to hire Bryan Ellis for a week of carpentry and various other jobs. His work is of such high quality that he is in very high demand, so we’re really pleased we could have him for a week. One of the jobs he did was to remove some old brick and slate tables from the Conservatory, which will make it a much more usable space. We were very pleased to see that the Pulham tiled floor beneath the tables was still in tact.

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

It might have been a bit heavy for Ian!

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

They got the conservatory cleared pretty quickly, and it looks great.

So things are moving on at Court Lodge. We are making progress and the house is responding well to the love and attention it is getting from us and our fantastic team.

Digging up more history at Court Lodge

A while ago we were contacted by some keen metal detectorists, wanting to know if they could came and run their metal detectors around the garden at Court Lodge. Apparently, sites untouched by metal detectorists are rare, and they are always on the lookout for places they can come and visit and indulge their interest.

We were more than happy for them to come and see what they could find at Court Lodge. If they find anything of value they would share it with us. They told us of a recent find nearby of a chest full of coins (buried treasure!) that had netted the owners and the detectorists £1.2m! But even if they didn’t find anything of value, we thought there was a good chance that they would find things of interest.

So, what did they find? Well, there were lots of 20p coins on the lawn! We figured this was probably from the Lazy Sunday fete that we held last September. There was also the cap of a hand grenade, and some musket balls. I’m not sure how old these would be, or what they are evidence of, but it certainly shows that there have been some interesting goings-on here at Court Lodge in the past. The researcher from the Kent Gardens Trust, Mike O’Brien, who wrote a report on the history of our garden last year discovered that there was once a rifle range on the parkland of the estate, probably built for my great grandfather, Henry, and his older brother Charles, who were both in the army in the late 19th century. He also found that munitions were stored on the golf course during the second world war.

Another thing our metal detectorists found was an old golfing cap badge:

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The first nine holes of Lamberhurst golf course was originally laid out by the Morland family as their own private golf course in the parkland of the estate. Siegfried Sassoon used to come and play here, as he records in his memoirs. (I’ve written more about this in a blog post here.) I’d love to know the history of this badge.

This discovery reminded us of one of the photos we’d found among the old glass slides (see previous post). It looks like a boys’ cricket match was played at Court Lodge on what is now part of the golf course.

Cricket South ParkIt looks like Court Lodge has been the site of many sporting triumphs through the years. I just love all the physical evidence of Court Lodge’s past that the house and the garden keeps throwing up for us to wonder about.

 

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. We have done amazingly well, being viewed about 5000 times, from people in 37 countries!

Our most popular post was ‘A Visit from Years 3 and 4’ and we hope to be doing more work with local schools in 2015, so watch this space!

Thank you to everyone who has read, commented on, and enjoyed this blog in 2014. I have really enjoyed writing it, and getting your feedback. It makes our journey a whole lot more fun, and is especially helpful to us when times are a bit tough.

Thank you, and a Happy New Year to you all!

Heather, Ian, Ruby and Damian

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

First of nine chimneys restored

The nine chimneys on the roof of Court Lodge are all badly in need of restoration. This summer we started the process and had our first chimney restored. It was a crumbly old wreck of a chimney, and has been letting in vast quantities of rain. Last winter was particularly wet, so the chimney breast below it was sodden until late spring.

Before

Before

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

Close up of the chimney in dire need of restoration

A very crumbly old chimney

A very crumbly old chimney

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

Not much more than a pile of bricks!

The mortar holding the bricks together in the chimney had all eroded away, so it needed to be practically rebuilt. And it needed not just any old mortar, but lime mortar, which is a very specialist material requiring a high level of skill and expertise. We are lucky enough to have met Mark Truman of Stornoway Lime and Restoration, who specialises in just this kind of work. He has done various other jobs for us around Court Lodge and we really value the quality of his work. He was longing to get his hands on one of our chimneys, so at the beginning of the summer we let him loose on this one. Here are the results:

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After

After

Here is a close up of Mark’s lime mortar work:

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

What a difference from the crumbly mortar!

And here is the chimney taking pride of place on top of the house:

Looking smart from a distance.

Looking smart from a distance.

Hopefully that one is now good for at least another 100 years. Now we only have eight more to go!