Tag Archives: WW1

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.

Advertisements

Court Lodge to feature in BBC WWI broadcast

A couple of months ago I was interviewed by a journalist, Steven George, from BBC Radio Kent for their World War One at Home series. They were interested in the fact that Court Lodge was used as a hospital during World War One, and wanted to include an item on it. Steven was here for a couple of hours, while I told him all I knew about this time.

I told him about Charles and Ada who were head of the household during World War One, and who, by all accounts, were lovely people. I had read Ada’s diary from 1914, which is in the Maidstone Archives, where she talks about clearing the rooms for hospital beds and for the operating theatre, and also working in the hospital. I also mentioned the fact that Siegfried Sassoon, the famous World War I poet, used to play golf here with Charles. Really I just wittered on for a couple of hours while Steven listened very patiently!

A couple of days ago I received a CD in the post of the results of that interview. Steven had masterfully edited my witterings down to almost 9 minutes of audio, and I have to say the result is amazing! I sound much better than I remember sounding! They have very cleverly put it together so that it is a complete story about Charles and Ada during the war. They used actors to voice Ada’s diary entries and the vicar’s sermon from her funeral. It was all very moving.

They say it will be aired in November to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice. As soon as I know more about when it will be aired I will post it here. In the meantime, here are some photographs from that time:

Nurses working in the courtyard outside the Coach House (which is now home to my family!)

Nurses working in the courtyard outside the Coach House (which is now home to my family!)

Nurses and wounded soldiers

Nurses and wounded soldiers on the terrace at Court Lodge

Ada Mary Morland (née Sperling) (1856-1923)

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!

Charles is standing at the back on the right. I presume it is Ada standing in front of him

Charles is standing at the back on the right. I presume it is Ada standing in front of him

If that is Ada in that photo, then this photo is also of her:

IMG_3105

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's diary for late October 1914

Ada’s diary for late October 1914

P1040232

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:

IMG_2572

And we have just been sent some more photos of hospital staff at Court Lodge:

Court Lodge, VAD Hosp. 1914 - Version 2

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.