Posted by lanhydrock on October 19, 2014
“I have visited Lanhydrock several times in later years and always think of the graciousness, generosity, concern and kindness of the [Agar] Robartes family”
The late Rev. Laurence E. Byrne C.R.L. November 1984
Despite the devastation caused to the family by the death of Tommy Agar-Robartes, the son and heir to the Lanhydrock estate, in 1915, there remained at Lanhydrock a large family with considerable talent and potential. However, the deaths of Thomas Charles, 6th Viscount Clifden his wife Mary Dickinson, and their children Alexander, Constance and Cecil cast a shadow over the inter-war period. Despite the sadness Eva, Victor and Violet led successful public and charitable lives. After the death of her mother in 1921 Miss Eva capably managed the day-to-day running of the house until her death in 1969.
Gerald returned to Lanhydrock as the 7th Viscount Clifden in 1930. The eminent historian A.L. Rowse described Gerald as ‘..a most cultivated and scholarly human being’. After an impressive diplomatic career in Britain and Europe between 1906 and 1930 his contribution to Cornish life became significant. Gerald sold the house and estate at Wimpole and introduced some of the furniture to Lanhydrock, where it can still be seen in the Drawing Room. He organised the planting of the great magnolias in 1933 which were approved by Vita Sackville-West in 1938 and to which the head gardener Peter Borlase referred to as ‘..such a spectacle that I cannot imagine the garden without them’. Ably assisted by his sisters he became a great patron to local charities, County Director of the Red Cross in Cornwall and assumed the responsibility of Lord in Waiting to King George VI.
Mike England, the Lanhydrock historian has produced this paper, as we approach the seventy-fifth anniversary of the arrival of the evacuees to the house in June 1940. Mike has collated and transcribed first hand accounts of life at Lanhydrock during the war. His efforts have formulated our understanding of this period of history by making the stories accessible to all readers. Indeed, through the oral tradition history becomes living and approachable to younger generations. The idea of this gathering is to both re-unite acquaintances and to create an awareness of events surrounding the evacuation. Pauline Castle recalls that ‘The evacuation was a sad time for everyone…’ Indeed, the range of emotions experienced by the evacuees can only be imagined by those of later generations.
In 2000 we invited the surviving evacuees and staff who knew the evacuees back to Lanhydrock for a reunion. On behalf of The National Trust I would like to thank, Celia Brown nee Grainger, Alex Hodgkinson, Madeline Peathey Johns nee Hodgkinson, Brian McNally, Dennis Munroe, Denis Quin, Antony Quin, Roderick Toms, Tom Webster, Daphne Woosnam nee Castle, and their respective guests, for attending. Apologies and best wishes have been received from Anita Burgh nee Eldridge, John Charlesworth, Pat Neave-Hill nee Lelli, Brian Reynolds and Pauline Wilkie nee Castle. My sincere apologies go out to those evacuees that I could not trace and who would have liked to be involved in this event.
Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager.
The Lanhydrock Evacuees by Mike England
Of all the events and good causes which Gerald, Viscount Clifden, and his two sisters undertook, the most interesting and unique for them, was the hospitality they provided for a group of evacuee children from London. Violet took a leading role in this venture. She had attended the arrival at the Lanhydrock Village Institute and had brought back seventeen, instead of ten children. Her kindness and endearing nature is reflected in her comment that,”Well you couldn’t just leave them”.
For a few dramatic years, these children became the new family at Lanhydrock House. Others were housed and looked after in and around the park. Said Daphne Woosnam, “It was really remarkable when you think they had no experience of children. I can see Miss Violet now with the dogs at her heels and children hanging on her arms and a basket and we’d all go up to the kitchen gardens. She’d got a birthday cake from Bodmin and walking down there, she ate a pastry in the street and Miss Eva told her off. There was always great excitement on birthdays. John the bus driver and Edna the conductress used to bring out birthday cakes for us. It was great fun. The ladies would cry ‘sweeties’”. The sweet ration was a bulk order purchased from the home-made Sweet Shop in Bodmin. Every other night was Sweetie night! Daphne continued “We would run and cluster round the bearer of such excitements hoping that by the time it was your turn that there would still be a favourite peppermint rock type sweetie left”.
Another of Lanhydrock’s great excitements was the primitive lift. “Miss Violet’s great pleasure was to take us between floors in the lift, it was regarded as a very special treat, as the lift was very old and might break down at any minute”, said Daphne. Violet was still very active and played golf and tennis at this time. Daphne accompanied her to Rock where Violet played the St Enodoc course. Daphne sat on the beach and read books, a favourite pastime of hers. “I can even recall the pleasure of having an empty beach to myself. I used to so admire the golfing stockings worn in those days”, said Daphne, “and at one point we were given some to wear”. The tennis court was in use then and Miss Violet taught some of the children to play tennis. She continued to coach until she slipped and broke her wrist. Violet was in her mid-fifties at that time. “I was told”, said Daphne, “that she herself had been coached by a Wimbledon `star’ of that era. I used to practise on the outside wall” of the Rackets Court, though “I was never any good at it”. The Racket’s Court was opposite the Servants Hall, now the restaurant, but was pulled down in the 1960’s. “On wet days we were allowed to go in there”, said Alex Hodgkinson, where “we loved scribbling on the walls. Once we had a snail race up the walls!”
School, of course, continued for the evacuees and the activities organised by Everilda and Violet were in addition to lessons and school events. Croquet was encouraged on the lawn and also clock golf. “Miss Violet was always involving herself with our activities”, said Daphne, “and in the Summer time, treats were organised, outings to the seaside. I well remember us all setting out; the old Rolls driven by Mr Baker, the Austin (8 or 10) driven by Mr Odgers, and following on the Pony Jingle, with Miss Violet and the `big girls’. I remember we walked up hills to give the pony a breather”. On one of the Padstow excursions, Alex’s sister Madeline “was rescued from drowning by Miss Violet”, said her brother. “My sister had tripped up and got disorientated; into the sea rushed Miss Violet fully clothed and pulled Madeline out!. We could go into the sea where there wasn’t any barbed wire and splash about”.
“The first winter we were there it snowed very heavily” said Alex. That was 1940. “Miss Robartes (Eva) and Miss Violet got a group of us together, and they brought a toboggan and a surf board along, to go down the slope, a little one on the croquet lawn. We graduated to tin trays borrowed from the Pantry and down the slopes in the woods”. On a similar occasion, Daphne described their activities on the croquet lawn where “we made a snowman. John, (Coad, Butler) came out bearing a tin tray, and some kind of top hat and scarf and he said, “His Lordship thought you could use these”. What are the trays for? We asked. “You can slide down the banks on them’, said John Coad”. Under the trees they had made this wooden slide, a seesaw and some swings. Viscount Clifden had this specially done, probably by one of the estate carpenters. When not at play the children were encouraged to write home regularly or they were allowed to use the telephone, Bodmin 180. “Miss Eva or Miss Violet would take turns to come out or call out, ‘Don’t forget, tell your mother this and tell your mother that. Do send your mother all good messages'”. Daphne always wondered what she meant by “good messages”!
The spring flowers at Lanhydrock, especially snowdrops and daffodils, remain beautiful to this day. The children would often pick some and send them to their mother’s in London. Violet would assist Daphne “..with a box of damp cotton wool and a selection of flowers, violets included, packed and sent off to London. My mother told me years later what a joy they were to receive. I can remember her very clearly recounting the story of a very bad night of blitz bombing (the nights were spent in a Public Air Raid Shelter), emerging in the morning to find her home almost gone and then to receive a parcel of hope (in the shape of Cornish wild flowers), she sat and wept”. It was a moving family memory and a typically thoughtful act of Violet’s. Pauline Castle has a strong remembrance of Miss Violet “..coming from the woods with a large basket of hydrangeas, which she had cut to stand in the hearth of the large granite fireplace in the Hall. Daphne was also grateful for Violet’s care, humour and concern when she was isolated in the dressing room of the East bedroom. She was supposed to have contracted German measles. Only a housemaid would visit with meals and to see to the fire. “Miss Violet would come and stand under the window and chat and I would lower a basket on a string and she would put items of interest in the basket for me to haul up. I was interested in drawing, so into the basket went drawing materials. I remember her warm smile with great pleasure”, some reassurance for the long days and nights alone when “the flickering firelight heightened my fears. I was sure there was a ghost (in the East bedroom) just waiting to pounce as soon as it was dark”. Daphne mixed fear with fun, occasionally creeping into the end bedroom where she “would bounce around in the big four-poster bed” whispering “ghosts, ghosts”. Her rash did not prove serious. It was possibly “nettle rash!”
The family will always be remembered by all who knew them for their kindness and, especially for many of the evacuees, particular acts of humility. “Violet had acquired (difficult in those days) foaming blue bath-salts, beautiful perfume and of course we all had to go to the bathroom. It was all frothed up and we were thrilled by this and Miss Violet was hopping around. Then one of us was invited to get into the bath. Miss Violet said, ‘Daphne would you get undressed to see if it turns you blue?’ and Miss Eva said, ‘Oh! really Violet!’ and the atmosphere sobered up. Everilda, however, was not a spoil-sport. She played an active role in many of the evacuee activities. She would show the children her personal possessions such as the dressing-table set of silver (mirror, hair-brush, comb etc.). On the back of the mirror was her name, Everilda, in green stones. Perhaps Eva’s best contributions were shared with Violet, as is the case of the amazing Mrs Tom Thumb, a “visitor” to Lanhydrock. “We walked very excitedly to see this visitor”, said Daphne, “and we were told that it was Mrs Tom Thumb. And there she was, it was incredible – this little, tiny woman, her head seemed to be a bit large for her body but there were her tiny little hands and feet. And she sang and danced. And then I suddenly realised that she had taken both her feet off the table she was standing on and it was Miss Eva and Miss Violet behind a curtain. One was the head and one was the feet. It was great fun.
Both sisters encouraged the evacuees to read in the same way they had been trained themselves. “Miss Violet found that I particularly liked to read historical romances and she took me to her room and over her bed she had this bookshelf, I think the whole works of Charlotte M. Young and I could borrow them one by one”, recalled Daphne. “Each time we took one back we used to have a little chat about it. What do you think of this? What do you think of that? What was interesting about this book? She had enjoyed such books when she was a ‘gal’, as she would say, and they all had to comment on the stories they had read. It gives me such pleasure to remember it. Daphne du Maurier had been to Lanhydrock, Miss Eva told me, and she said that if she had been to Lanhydrock before she wrote ‘The King’s General’, she would have portrayed Lord Robartes in a different light”.
Though not the puritans of John Robartes period, the sisters and Gerald were still keenly Protestant, despite some suggestions of High Church sentiments. The evacuees were from a Catholic school but were warmly welcomed except in the church. When Daphne tried to go in there on one occasion, “Miss Violet barred the way and exclaimed, ‘Oh, no, my dear!’” The children received instruction from Father Byrne, a very young priest. He would cycle out from St Mary’s Abbey, Bodmin and the evacuees would walk there for Mass, unless it was raining. The Gatehouse was used as a church, Daphne relates, “We had communion as the sun was rising. It was lovely”. She appreciated the Robartes’ tolerance to them; “It must have been difficult for people who were not of that persuasion (Catholic) to see that these children continued in their faith”. Father Byrne recalled that, “I said Mass for them at the Gatehouse at 8 a.m. every Sunday morning, going onto another Anglican lady’s house at Hengar at St.Tudy (6 miles away) for another service for children evacuated there, and finally on to Boscastle. All this I did on a push-bike which amounted to a round trip of 30 miles in all weathers. According to the regulations at the time, a priest and Catholics had to fast from food or drink from the night before. In view of the physical effort to cover the round I was given permission to have a drink after my first Mass at Lanhydrock which Lord Clifden generously arranged. It was a gesture of humanity and kindness. Each Sunday I went to Lanhydrock to give religious instruction to the children at 4 p.m. and was always invited to tea in the big house with Lord Clifden and the ladies.”
Facilities were provided for the children. A piano was put in the squash-court (since demolished). There were forms for sitting on and of course, it was marvellous for ball-games and skipping. The present Harness Room was given for use as a club room to play in. The children would explore these old stable rooms, upstairs as well as downstairs. The “dressing-up clothes”, so beloved by the Robartes children, were made available. Daphne recalls wearing a crinoline dress with a outer coat of Paisley cotton. Later it was made into two smaller dresses for Madeline and Margaret, the two smaller children. As a special treat on one occasion, Daphne got what they called the cockles-and-muscles dress. It had never been taken out of its box before but they could look at it. The day came when Miss Violet took it out of the box and it almost fell to pieces. Where it had lain in the box all the creases had rotted! It had belonged to Mrs Yarde-Buller, or Mary Robartes, the eldest of the family. She would have used it in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. The dress is still in a box in the attic rooms at Lanhydrock with a few remnants from that happy nineteenth century time, such as the “replica Earl of Radnor’s crown”, also used by the evacuees” When you stop to think of it”, said Daphne, “of Miss Eva and Miss Violet and the dogs, it was like bedlam, noisy and exciting, another world”. Of course there were antics and escapades but “I like to think we were well-behaved children”. When she returned to Lanhydrock four years after she left, Daphne was amazed when Miss Eva told her, “Oh, when we had to tell you off, it was so difficult to keep a straight face. Oh, you’d be so upset if you felt you’d done something wrong”. Daphne didn’t always do her homework.In the early days their “they would always come and say good-night to the little ones, they would have dressed for dinner and we would hear the gong and off they would go. After a while (and I can still smell it) came the wafting of cigarette smoke from the smoking-room. (I’m not sure who smoked). I would hang over the banisters to give a shout or at least have a quiet look”. On their outings with Violet up to the kitchen gardens they were provided with scaled down tools to use in their own “little garden plots by the kitchen garden wall. Often, Miss Violet would shut us in the raspberry beds until she came to collect us. Quite a few evenings of the week we would be involved in charades”, which would take place in the Morning Room and Drawing Room, using the sliding doors which were opened and shut for each part of the children’s act. It is not surprising that she was not always able to keep up with her homework from Harleigh School, which became the Grammar school after the war.
In the Nativity Play, Alex Hodgkinson recalls, “I played the part of Baby Jesus and all the costumes were made of crepe paper. Miss Robartes and Miss Violet let us use a hamper full of costumes and beards and we had great fun putting them on”. On this occasion Gerald Clifden, who had posed for a photograph with the evacuees in front of the Gatehouse previously, also took part in the photograph of the Nativity Play at the Village Hall. “We didn’t see much of Lord Clifden”, said Alex, “because of his duties as Gentleman (Lord) in Waiting to the King”. Pauline Castle confirms this, “Our Lordy had many duties to perform-which kept him very busy-so we never saw much of him. When he returned to Lanhydrock, he would always find time for us. If we were playing in the park, and Lordy happened to pass by in the car, he would give a wave and a smile. That was our Lordy!” Gerald was also at Truro for much of the time, but he did occasionally show up and mix with the children. “Viscount Clifden was a retiring shyish man”, said Daphne, “but would often put in an appearance when we were gathered together for some reason or other. His party trick was to shoot us with his walking-stick and we would suitably oblige by falling over, either dead or take a long time dying. We were often taken to hear our `Lordy’ speak at gatherings”. According to Alex Hodgkinson, Gerald Clifden was still keen on shooting at that time. “The Shoot took place in the field in front of the House”, said Alex. “Lord Clifden and his friends would line up along the edge of the field and the pheasants and partridges were driven towards them. I always fancied the shooting-sticks, which could be folded down to make a seat. As far as I recall they seemed to get a good `Bag'”. One escapade concerning `Lordy’ was recalled by Brian Reynolds, another evacuee, who lived with Mr and Mrs Chapman. “Mrs Chapman was the daughter of the Butler at Lanhydrock Big House”, said Brian. “Just before church one Sunday, one of the evacuees smuggled out Lord Clifden’s cricket bat. I used it to hit a large stone and shattered it. If it’s still there it’s stuck together with mud”.
Daphne’s brother, Dennis, was very young and came to Lanhydrock later than the others. He became a subject of interest to two other family members, Canon Yarde-Buller and his wife, Mary or May who lived in Truro. At night when Dennis was tucked up, Canon Yarde-Buller would come and talk of this and that, of seas and islands, sand and tides. Dennis still remembers some of his chats, especially his description of an atoll. On several occasions the car was sent from Truro to convey this tiny child down there for a day and he would return with hand-carved wooden objects, presents for us. Canon Yarde-Buller’s hobby was woodcarving.
The evacuees appreciated the wonderful treatment they received at Lanhydrock. Alex Hodgkinson recalled that the two sisters ran fetes in the Gardens for the Red Cross and for the local church. They found accommodation for visiting parents. His mother staying locally with Mrs Saunders. The family catered for the children’s spiritual needs by allowing Father Lawrence to say Mass in the Gatehouse, or if he couldn’t arranging transport to Bodmin. They also visited the children in Hospital, arranged visits to the Cinema in Bodmin and a organised a Pantomime. Lanhydrock hospitality was not something confined to the country gentry. Violet helped the children with their regular letters home, “coaxing” news out of them in the Gallery and writing it down. “Then she would weigh the letter on the small letter scales and seal it with sealing wax”, said Alex. “We were often invited to look around the Gallery, or shown how to use the telephone, shown the doll playing the piano etc… Miss Robartes and Miss Violet introduced us to Mr Cole (Groom) and his pony, Kitty. We were given rides on it and were photographed on it in the gardens in front of the Gatehouse. We were given rides in the Park”. Nearby was “a Yew tree with a lightning-blasted branch, which was a meeting place for young couples, which we called the `love-tree'”. Photos still exist of two or three children sat up on `Kitty’, with William Cole in attendance and the other children standing nearby, taken in October, 1940.
There were outings to see the King when he came to Cornwall and “blackberry-picking and collecting foxglove seeds for the ‘war-effort’”. Alex also remembered their Kitchen Garden activities which the ladies, especially Violet organised. He was impressed by the “high walls and a dummy cat with glass eyes to scare the birds off”. Although each of them had a “little plot about 10′ x 3′ and sowed flower seeds, I’m afraid”, said Alex, “I neglected mine but the others grew some good plants”. Everilda showed Alex how to knit when he “was in quarantine with chicken pox. Miss Robartes gave me some silky kind of wool and showed me how to use the needles, how to make a join, and how to “plain’ and how to purl”. Birthdays and Christmas were special occasions to be celebrated despite the war and circumstances. “Christmas Day started quietly; there was none of the usual bustle. All the Household went to Church. Afterwards we were given our presents and we went to see the Christmas Tree in the Servants Hall, and everyone wished each other Merry Christmas”. Alex’s father came down one year and “got us all singing carols. In the afternoon Miss Robartes and Miss Violet entertained us in the Library with a Marionette Show… Their favourite song was “Ta Ra Ra Boom Te Ay'”.The ties and affection shown to the London children did not end with the return of peace. “Ever since we were at Lanhydrock”, said Alex, “we have been sent a present, a Christmas pudding and a Christmas Cake every year, until Miss Robartes passed away”, which was in 1969.
The evacuees must have been totally overwhelmed by their experiences at Lanhydrock. The family welcome and affection were matched in different ways by the Lanhydrock staff, and the love of Lanhydrock has remained intensely with them. Some have returned many times and stayed nearby on holiday unable to erase the deep, abiding memories. Said Alex Hodgkinson, “I have told my wife Janet and my children Philip and Claire over and over again about my stay in Lanhydrock”, and Daphne and her sister have experienced the same intense memories. “You had this feeling, looking back now”, said Daphne, “that Lanhydrock as a whole, they welcomed us. It was as if everyone gathered round the House, with all the children. There was this sort of rapport between everybody… We had the best of upstairs and downstairs. We had the servants, they were our friends and also the Robartes”. And of course there were children staying in properties nearby. “It was really like one big village”, for the local people were also very welcoming. They had shared out the children at the Village Institute under the direction of Canon Wood, the Billeting Officer and his helpers. The excitement of seeing the ‘Big House’ is unimaginable to later generations. However, what is understandable is the sadness that the evacuees must have felt when they heard about London raids. A stark image of wartime England is expressed by Daphne’s remembrance of the house being, “so exciting and mysterious because of the subdued lighting, especially in the Nursery Wing. The black-out was responsible for this, blue bulbs in the lights which gave only the barest of visibility”.
Their rooms were in the Nursery Wing. The “big girls” bedroom was the Day Nursery. Pat Lilley, Daphne Hall and Celia Brown were three of the four girls sharing this. In the Night Nursery were the senior boys, Anthony and Dennis Quinn, Lawrence Hall and Eddie Peatcon. There were two smaller rooms for the younger boys and girls. In another room was their “Housemother”, Mrs. Lee, who had a daughter, Peggy. Later, there was another Housemother, Mrs. Castle, with a daughter, Daphne. “Our communal room was the “Still Room””, said Alex Hodgkinson, “which we called the “Stool Room”. This room is part of the restaurant today where the meals are prepared.” Daphne Woosnam enjoyed the servants’ facilities as well as their own. The restaurant rooms on the corner were the Housekeeper’s and the Housemaid’s rooms respectively. In that Housemaid’s sitting room “on winter’s evenings,” said Daphne, “I would sit with them in their cosy room. Log-fired, chintz chairs, the housemaids in their uniforms sewing and I would do my homework; but not for long, as one by one the housemaids were “called-up” and left for the forces.”
It was a strange time to be at Lanhydrock with a new tide of history sweeping over the house and occupants. “I think looking back,” said Daphne, “we were in on the end of the gracious living scene. The house was full of servants when we went and there was a bustle and life about the house. Old Mr. Coad, as he was called, was Head Butler. Mr. Coad died not long after I came to the house.” Marwood Coad was the victim of a road accident in London. He was knocked down and never recovered. His place was taken by his son Victor. In the Robartes tradition he was called John, so as not to confuse names with Victor Robartes, though Victor did not live at Lanhydrock. Daphne remembered George Archer, who was valet and chauffeur to Gerald Clifden. George also left for the services, “but not before he married Evelyn, ladies -maid to Eva and Violet.” George was really called Cecil, but because of Cecil Robartes he had to use his second name of George, though Cecil had died in 1939. “Evelyn Archer always had a smile and a joke,” said Alex Hodgkinson, “and sometimes invited us into the housekeeper’s room” to listen to a gramophone record or cut up sheets into bandages for wounded soldiers. The popular songs of the day were, “Alice Blue Gown”, “Daddy wouldn’t buy me a Bow-Wow” and “Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line”, which was later banned.”
On their way to school in the village hall, said Alex, “we would pass the oil engine, which would drive the generator.” This was up above the “church circle” across from the Home Farm buildings. “The house wasn’t connected to the National Grid, but had this generator which would make a steady “bomp bomp” noise. The generator charged up whole banks of accumulators, attended by Mr. Davies, the electrician. When we got some tadpoles from down by the Spinney, Mr. Davies would let us use a cracked accumulator, which made an excellent aquarium. The crack was stopped off with Vaseline.” The carpenter was Mr. Thomas who would give them “old pieces of wood to make simulated harbours and ships. We used to be fascinated with the wooden cockle shells he made, when drilling holes in wood.” Alex learned how to make “Swanee” whistles out of ash twigs, which he believed were unique to the Lanhydrock area. He sent two of these to Canon Harmer in 1987 and they are still in the House Museum today. “I was shown how to make them by a local boy,” said Alex, “and I haven’t seen them anywhere else. And I have travelled a lot.” They were made welcome everywhere they went; by John Coad, the butler, who was usually very busy; by Mr. Odgers, the chauffeur, who made “Shushing noises” when cleaning the car, “as if he was grooming a horse”; Charlie Stephens, “the yardman would always have a chat with us”, although Daphne thought that Charlie “didn’t care for kids”, but he did sell them all sorts of little goodies.
Pauline Castle remembers Tom ‘Henry’ Webster, the Pantry Boy, as “an older cheeky devil of a brother, with dimples, that you loved and was our joy”. Pauline continues, “ We heard Henry shouting from the Servant’s Hall, ‘Come and see’. In we went, but no sign of Henry! Then all of a sudden one of the cupboard doors flew open, and Henry jumped out. He had a torch in his mouth, and it terrified us”. Daphne recalls, “There was also an “odd job man” who came in daily. How well I remember these dear people and their many kindness’.” Evelyn Archer had “under her care and direction” three housemaids. Each of these “had their own little rooms with shelves and many cupboards in which was kept all one needed for the cleaning and polishing of such a large house. There was also a daily lady who used to scrub the downstairs passages. Mrs. Dickinson was the cook, or I believe she was called housekeeper, with an under-cook called Hilda, and a scullery maid. Mrs. Dickinson had been cook to the Duke and Duchess of York,” before they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1936. “The kitchen was a hub of activity, mornings and evenings,” recalled Daphne. Mrs. Dickinson “was quite remarkable. She had quite a unique position in the house. Her kitchen I always felt was a joy, especially when it was busy. They had the bantam eggs boiled, coloured and then hidden in the High Garden,” which was a treat for the children. “We knew Mrs. Dickinson as Mrs. Dick,” said Daphne, who was surprised as she grew older that everybody “was given their right titles” as well as their names, e.g. 4th housemaid or pantry boy, Tom. It sounded “a little disrespectful, but it was all with love and affection and certainly there was no disrespect.” Mr. Odgers, a chauffeur, and his wife were “so welcoming when they saw us and they didn’t have any children; so it was quite new to them. He loved to show us his top hats. The door was opened and they were on the shelf.”The staff, like the Robartes, enjoyed and tolerated the visiting London children. They were “devils” said Evelyn Archer, but they provided the life that the “Big House” needed. They visited school friends in neighbouring houses. “A favourite place to go was Len Coad’s farm,” said Alex. “The Mowey was a great place to play, tumbling amongst the straw sheaves and hay. Sometimes the waterwheel was going round, driving the mill which ground the grain for feed.”
These friends in local homes would often play at Lanhydrock in return. Brian Reynolds was several years older than Alex and did not usually play with him “except I think I sneaked into the Long Hall and with him and a girl called, I think, Pal Lally, we slid up and down the polished floor in our stockinged feet. I also remember the swimming pool in the woods which was, of course, empty,” though Daphne remembered falling into the pool on school prize-giving day and having to change out of her wet uniform. Alex Hodgkinson remembered the plug being removed, (not by him), from the pool. When the water had drained away the old family swimming pool, a feature of the Robartes children’s life at the beginning of the century, was never refilled. Unused then in any case, its condition gradually deteriorated and it was a major reclamation job by the National Trust in the 1990’s.
Brian Reynolds also “had to help in the giant kitchen with the washing-up”. After 12 years, he was one of the senior evacuees. His reward was “to have left-overs that the Lord of the Manor and his sisters didn’t require. They were rather elderly”, he thought, (though they lived on another 25 years), “and didn’t eat very much. I remember that the food was sent up on beautiful large silver trays but would only have a small bit of rabbit and mash potatoes. Rarely it might be sardines on toast”.Brian thought that their teacher, Miss Dowling was “wonderful”, “Irish and very good-looking, but oh so strict”. He thought she was old then, about sixty, but she was probably in her thirties. She organised their “stage shows and took us around entertaining in other village halls, seats 3d and 6d. With the money she took us to Bodmin for the pictures or to the Newquay beaches”. By that time, the Head Master, Mr Brennan had gone back to London. As some children also returned to their London homes eventually “the remainder of us were transferred to the Lanhydrock Village School”, said Alex Hodgkinson. This meant a longer walk, said Alex, “up and down the Drive and up the lane or across the fields and woods, twice a day”.
Brian recalls how he was sent on one or two dubious errands. One was to a “farm on the Bodmin road” owned by Mrs Chapman’s brother-in-law. “He made cream which was illegal and I had to go once a week to get a jar of it. I was only told to go for it at night and always use the path through the woods. How I hated that! Another illegal matter was when they killed a pig on the farm. I’m sure it could be heard at Bodmin Police Station. I realise now that they most likely got a joint of pork. Cutting down trees on the estate was not allowed but Mr Chapman and I used to go out at night, cut one down and chop it up for firewood. We were never caught, though one night it snowed and we left a trail right back to our house. It makes it sound as though I was having good training to be a criminal”, said Brian, who, however, worked in a munitions factory briefly, joined the Merchant Navy in 1945, when 16, for four years and then spent forty years with the Post Office. It was a culture shock for the London children living at Lanhydrock. Whereas in London, said Brian, “a bus passed every few minutes, in Lanhydrock we only had one a week. Our house had no gas, lights or running water. We had an oil lamp and candles and if we wanted water there was a pump outside. To flush the toilet you had to pump 100 times; not 80, 90, not 95. Any less and you had to start from one. The radio was battery powered and it was only switched on for the nine o’clock news, never at any other time. All cooking was done by the fire”.
Coming back to Lanhydrock as many evacuees do so often, their memories are deep a result of being made at such an impressionable age. In the park there is some difficulty identifying places they once knew and frequented. Others look different with the passage of time. The River Fowey seemed shallower to Brian Reynolds than he remembered. He had “wallowed” through the “lower level of the grounds” which “seemed to be always swampy”, probably the same area where Daphne was warned by Charlie Stephens when she picked water-cress; “That’s the cess-pit!” On one occasion Brian had fallen in the river “and nearly drowned”. Other boy evacuees, said Alec, had made a punt to use in the river. Brian told the Chapman’s he had “been caught in a heavy shower but I don’t think they believed me”, he said. In turn, the House is also vastly different to the returning evacuees. In the Gallery, said Daphne, “there were flowers, hydrangeas in the fire-places (as elsewhere in the house), a musical box, a ship in a glass case, a priceless doll and the lady with the piano; all the knick-knacks which made it home – Tommy’s gas-mask. It was much more homely! There were double violets with heavy heads, grown for Miss Violet, always on the dining-room table. The Gatehouse model ink-stand was in the Music Room as were the Spaniel dog models”. The male servants’ bedrooms were in use as were the female rooms, now attic work -rooms and storage places. The Linen room suffered from cockroaches which “would scuffle from within doors and cupboards”. Unlike the many modern cleaning machines there was only one Hoover during the war period, “but that was in great demand; Otherwise only carpet-sweepers”.
It was a shock for some of the evacuees when the National Trust took over. They had lost the personal family link with the House. Since that time they have largely enjoyed the regeneration of the House and its success in recent years. There are now so many rooms open to the public compared to the gradual closing down during the war, with the family reduced, black-out regulations, shortages of fuel and a reduction in servant numbers. The park too was vastly different. During the war parts were ploughed to aid food production. There were often soldiers camped there, “British near the avenue”, said Daphne “and Yanks further up in the woods”. These would attend dances at the Village Institute where Daphne attended on later occasions. Gerald Clifden was not too happy with certain military movements in the park and submitted moderate claims for damage later which were partly met. Brian Reynolds paid a return visit in 1995. In the kitchen “it was strange to see so many of the pots and pans hanging up that I had washed 54 years ago”, he said. “I certainly made a good job of it as they still gleamed”, he joked. That is more of a tribute to the staff at Lanhydrock who maintains the House in such impressive condition in modern times.
Posted by lanhydrock on September 26, 2014
Buried at Lapugnoy, near Loos, in Northern France lies my Grandfather, a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery, killed like so many, in the Great War. I had visited his grave some 20 years ago, but on this the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities, I knew I should go again – it wasn’t much to ask. As a National Trust member (and volunteer at Godolphin House) was also aware that Captain the Honourable Tommy Agar-Robartes MP, heir to the Lanhydrock estate was also buried at Lapugnoy, so I offered to take a wreath for Tommy as well.
On 7 April 2014 my husband Tony and myself set off to Dover to catch the ferry (hurrah for the orange army who had completed the rail link at Dawlish just 3 days before). Overnight in Dover, and onto the early morning ferry – the nice calm sea, just right for a full English breakfast to while away the crossing during which we speculated on how things would have been different for those 1914 volunteers. We were now a party of 5, Mike our guide/driver and Francis and Sheila who were hoping to find the grave of their Great Uncle killed on the Somme. I knew my Grandfather had been killed in 1918 at a place called Philosophe as he was mentioned (surprisingly for a lowly Bombardier) in the unit war diary for that day, and this was close to a water tower at Vermelles (also mentioned by the diarist). Tommy had been mortally wounded 3 years earlier in 1915 at a Chalk Pit (below) about a mile beyond Vermelles . How easy for us with GPS to drive and find these locations, the terrain now showing no scars of the massive trench network indicated on our war maps. A surreal feeling driving through Philosophe and finding the Water Tower, surely a modern one now, but built on the same site. Next, close by to locate some of the landmarks mentioned in Tommy’s unit war diary.
On 26 September (2 days before he was wounded) Tommy’s diarist states that they had marched (via Vermelles) to a ‘farm, called Le Rutoire and bivouacked in a field close by’. The farm house is still there, smartly restored, with the name clearly over the door. In 1915 it would almost certainly have been shelled. Next the unit dug itself in at ‘Lone Tree’ and we were sure we had located this place, a junction of tracks, but of course no sign now of the desolation there would have been nearly a hundred years ago. A few yards further to ‘trenches around wood and Chalk Pit’. I walked up the road to the pit, now overgrown and enclosed by a modern fence for safety reasons and impossible to see clearly, but this undoubtedly was the place where Tommy was wounded He subsequently died of his wounds 2 days later.. The surrounding area was flat as a pancake for miles, a chalk pit, however shallow, would have been a godsend. The Germans were well dug in at Bois Victor Hugo (see map above) and the diarist writes how the British soldiers ‘were met almost before they got out of the trenches by a terrific machine gun fire…they were absolutely mown down’.
On the third day of our visit (after visting the Somme, at Arras and at Thiepval) we returned to Lapugnoy to lay wreaths on the graves. The cemetery lies in a peaceful valley and holds 1,324 burials, the site first chosen in 1915 for the forthcoming battle of Loos, and later extended in 1917 for the battle of Arras and later conflicts. Twenty years ago there was a storm brewing with thunder rumbling overhead as I laid a wreath for my Grandad, and said the Collect for the Royal Artillery. An emotional moment. The sun came out and the cold wind died as we read a simple poem for Grandad and for Tommy. It seemed that in the intervening years I had become more understanding, more accepting, more forgiving. The atmosphere was less charged. The woods behind Tommy’s grave were full of bluebells, (just like Lanhydrock), he would have felt at home.
The National Trust at Lanhydrock would like to thank Carolyn and Tony Shipton for writing this article and providing the photographs based on their experiences visiting the war cemetary at Lapugnoy.
Posted by lanhydrock on May 1, 2014
Cornwall Record Office and the National Trust has been awarded a grant of £24,800 to reveal the contents of an archive charting 400 years of life at Lanhydrock House.
Dating from the 1570s to the 1970s, the collection captures the fascinating story of the Robartes family, who owned Lanhydrock House before giving it to the National Trust in 1953.
The grant, from the Cataloguing Grants Scheme, will enable Cornwall Record Office to work with volunteers to sort, clean and catalogue the collection, making it more accessible to members of the public.
Among the treasures the team will be working on are papers from the English civil war era, records relating to the rebuilding of the house after the 1881 fire, and over 500 plans of properties and land.
The collection includes the records of prominent family members including Charles Robartes, who commissioned the stunning Lanhydrock Atlas dating from around 1695, as well as holding a large amount of information on tenants and community life on the estate.
Councillor Julian German, Cornwall Council portfolio holder for Economy and Culture, said: “We are delighted that our project was chosen for support this year. The collection contains a wealth of material that has so far been largely inaccessible to the public due to the lack of detailed information. This is a great opportunity to discover what stories are hidden in these boxes.”
Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager at Lanhydrock, who helped to develop the project said; “The Robartes family were one of the most notable gentry families in Cornwall and this collection tells their story. Who knows what we may uncover in this project? My hope is that we can facilitate future research by having a better understanding of what is in the archive.”
The Cataloguing Grants Scheme is sponsored by a range of charitable foundations and administered by The National Archives. It aims to help archives in the UK tackle their cataloguing backlogs.
For more details see http://vimeo.com/84613286 produced by Falmouth University.
Posted by lanhydrock on January 24, 2014
I would like to start with a passage written from the trenches
‘One finds it hard to realise [that] the Germans are only 75yds away until a machine gun or two opens fire. There was a lull in the fighting, and they lifted their heads above the parapets and called to each other in mockery. One said: ‘Come on over here,’ in the best German he could. He got a reply from a German trying an English accent, saying: ‘Not blooming likely!’ Then, after about half-an-hour, they started fighting again…if you raised your head, it would have been blown off. There are scores of men lying dead. These grenades are murderous things. Found watercress growing in a stream – went alright with bread and cheese’.
These straightforward, uncomplicated, words were not written by a celebrated poet or a prominent commentator; they are not part of any regimental diary or official war record nor are they the voice of authority or rank – indeed, far from it. These lines were written in the war diary of Sapper John French ─ a Redruth tin miner serving with the Royal Engineers in northern France who spent much of his time burrowing beneath enemy lines or franticly building structures to facilitate the advance of his comrades towards their adversaries.
Sapper French, like the men of this parish, were amongst the 9 million men from the British Empire who were recruited for the war effort. War, on the ground, was predominantly a working class occupation. His diary gives us a day-to-day portrayal of war, in the trenches and in the field. It tells us about emotions, comradeship, survival and sustenance in a poignant, often humorous commentary. Most war recruits from this parish were working class. From their work in agriculture or the service industry they travelled to various theatres of war safe in the knowledge that hostilities would be short-lived and that the foregone conclusion was a celebrated victory and a swift return to their families. The harsh reality was that they found themselves far from home, in some of the most inhospitable places on earth, living in squalid, disease-ridden, conditions, facing death on a daily basis and witnessing destruction on an unimaginable scale.
The men listed on our war memorial were amongst 3 million British casualties. Our purpose today is to remember these men; to acknowledge their sacrifice and to observe a silence that will evoke and embrace the spirit of continuity and memory. However, in order to remember we need to understand. My aim is to reveal their stories so that we can begin to understand. Yet, we can never fully appreciate − the hardships, the fear, the stress, the comradeship, the loss − all I can ever hope to achieve is to breathe some life back into the cold chiselled names on the plaque above the south door. I feel honoured to tell their stories but am well aware that I do so from the fortunate position that I have never witnessed, first-hand, conflict on any scale. Therefore their worlds are far from mine and their fears I shall never share ─ only gratitude and remembrance can I impart.
Here are their stories
William Beare, son of an Egloshayle miller, and Thomas Fewell of Chelmsford in Essex, were best friends. They first met in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry when stationed together at Gravesend Barracks in 1911. In 1913 Private Beare married Emily Rusk, daughter of an Irish farm labourer living at Treffry Cottages. Performing best man duties that day was Thomas Fewell, a duty that William reciprocated in 1915 at the wedding of Thomas and, Emily’s sister, Sarah Rusk.
Private Beare joined the army in 1910 and served on the home front. In March 1918 he travelled to France to re-enforce the front line after severe losses. In April he transferred to the1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, promoted to Sergeant and was ordered to lead his men towards the French/Belgium boarder.
As they arrived at the front line, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig – Commander-in-Chief of the British Army – issued a Special Order from the comfort of his French Chateaux. It read
Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.
Perhaps with this rhetoric in his mind, on 15 April, during the battle of Hazebrouck, Sergeant Beare advanced his men through barbed wire defences into relentless German Calvalry machine gun fire in an attempt to gain control of Pacult Woods. They failed, and were driven back. He was listed as one of 215 who died during the assault, his name now appears on the Loos Memorial.
By the end of hostilities four further members of his immediate family had been killed in military action, one of them, William’s brother, Harvey, being killed only seven days prior.
Thomas Fewell, the son of a Chelmsford tanner, was stationed in Ireland at the outbreak of the war but soon transferred to the continent to be amongst the first British infantrymen to engage the enemy at the Battle of Mons. Perhaps injured, Fewell returned to Falmouth where he was deployed in training new recruits. It was here he married Sarah Rusk.
In July 1916 he joined the British and Commonwealth forces on the Somme battlefields. At the end of July the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry advanced to relieve the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and engaged with a prolonged and destructive enemy artillery barrage – described by a contemporary as ‘… a truly terribly sight and a nerve-wracking experience for those who had to endure that awful holocaust’. On this day Acting Corporal Thomas Fewell, aged 25, was officially declared ‘killed in action’. He has no known grave and his name can be found upon the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,000 missing of the Somme. The Essex County Chronicle reported his death and added ‘Mrs. Fewell has four other sons and her husband serving with the Colours’.
One of the witnesses to Thomas Fewell’s marriage was William Roberts,
most likely the father of William Roberts junior who lived at Carminow Cross, Bodmin, and had worked on the Lanhydrock estate between 1904 and 1912. Sapper Roberts signed his enlistment papers in Sydney, Australia, and in June 1915 transferred with the Australian Engineers to Gallipoli. In July 1916, 2nd Corporal Roberts, led a successful attack on Pozieres during the Somme offensive. One contemporary report recorded
All day long ground rocked and swayed backwards and forwards from the concussion . . . men were driven stark staring mad and more than one of them rushed out of the trench over towards the Germans, any amount of them could be seen crying and sobbing like children their nerves completely gone . . . we were nearly all in a state of silliness and half dazed but still the Australians refused to give ground. Men were buried by the dozen, but were frantically dug out again some dead and some alive.
During August the Australians, despite heavy German gun-fire, were repairing captured trenches, during which time 2nd Corporal William Roberts, received, according to his Casualty Record a ‘G[un] S[hot] W[ound to the] Head’. He was buried in a small military cemetery which was later violated by further fighting in 1918.
Another to loose their life on the Somme battlefields was Clarence Hawken of Garden House. Clarence was an assistant gardener to his father James, who was also a local Methodist preacher. Like William Roberts, Hawken sought is fortunes overseas and, in June 1915, joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force in Ontario. Private Hawken arrived at the Somme battlefield in the summer of 1915 and by 9 October was reported ‘missing’ near Courcelette. The regimental war diary said that the men were ‘as cool as cucumbers and as bright and keen as harmless babies’.
Another reported missing in the Somme was Private Alfred Walkley. His association with the parish is unclear however he was living in Bodmin in 1916 when he enlisted in the 23rd Battalion of the London Regiment. In August 1916 an assault was made on an area known as High Woods where four companies of the London Regiment advanced through a strong mist towards the enemy lines. Ninety minutes into the advance reports said that the soldiers advanced beyond their target. However, confusion reigned when the Germans launched a counter attack which resulted in 22 officers and 565 men in the ranks killed, wounded or reported missing from the London Regiment alone – Private Walkley was amongst them. Two and a half hours later High Wood was taken.
Private William Vanderwolf of Quarry Park Cottage survived the Somme. The 1911 census shows a dozen members of the Vanderwolf family living in the small cottage, most in some way serving the local community as a blacksmith, dressmaker, assistant school teacher, labourers, parlour-maids and farm hands. William Vanderwolf enlisted with the 10th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1916 as soon as he turned 18. After the Somme he served at Ypres, specifically tasked with recapturing a strategic position known as the Messines ridge. Yet, within a fortnight of his arrival he was dead. He has no known grave. After the war the family relocated to Cutmaddock Farm.
Some of those who enlisted from the parish found themselves in some unusual places.
At the outbreak of war Sergeant Charles Johns served with the Territorial 4th Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry based in Truro. Most likely from Tywardreath, Johns is listed on the 1911 census as a car driver so feasibly he served the family here as a chauffeur. His military service is equally sketchy; however he is commemorated on the Basra Memorial in Iraq, one of over 40,000 men who died in the campaign against the Turks. He has no known grave.
Joseph Coad was brought-up at Trebyan, his father, also Joseph, being a butcher and farmer. He is pictured with the bell-ringers on the back wall of this church. In 1911 Joseph Coad junior was married, with a son William, living in Lostwithiel and working as a butcher’s apprentice. Enlisted into the Devonshire Regiment, Private Coad transferred to France with the 9th Battalion in 1916 most likely serving on the Somme before serving in an offensive on the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line in France. In August 1916 he moved north to Flanders to fight on the flooded battlefields of Passchendaele.
On 9 October the Devonshire’s were called into action on the front line at short notice. The conditions were so horrendous, it was impossible to dig new trenches, and enemy gun positions soon found an accurate range – 270 officers and men of the 9th were killed. Later that month the Cornish Guardian reported
Quite a gloom was cast over the parish when it became know that Pte Joe Coad, son of Mr and Mrs H Coad, had been killed by a sniper on the Western Front. ‘Joe’ was well known throughout the district, and his bright, cheerful disposition in all circumstances made him a general favourite. [The] Deceased was one of the church ringers, and was also a member of the cricket and football teams. He was a good sport, always keen in either game. He was always a good emergency man, on many occasions winning the game for his side …
His commanding officer wrote to his widow ‘He did not suffer, death was instantaneous …’ his body was never recovered.
Frank Blake from St Winnow, was living above Colgare Stables in 1911 and was employed as a domestic groom. After turning 18 he sailed for Gallipoli with the Royal 1st Devon Yeomanry. The main combat was over by the time of his arrival and the regiment transferred first to Egypt, and then with the 16th Devonshire Regiment to Jerusalem. Severely weakened by weeks of extensive fighting, shortages of food and ineffective horses the Devonshire’s braved very difficult terrain and strong Turkish opposition, much of which was close quarter fighting. After fierce fighting the Devonshire’s retreated ─ amongst the dead was Private Frank Blake ─ again, his body was never found.
Two men who did have marked graves are Sidney Smith and the Honourable Tommy Agar-Robartes. Smith is buried at St Martin’s Church, Liskeard, Tommy’s body remained in France near Loos where he fell. Their stories could not be more different. Smith was a groom here at Lanhydrock and lived above the stable block in two modest rooms. Tommy meanwhile was son and heir to the vast Lanydrock estates and the Viscount Clifden title. Tommy was a Member of Parliament whose duty arguably was in this country politically managing the war effort. However, he insisted that his life of no more importance that that of any other Englishman. Such bravery wouldn’t have been lost on the likes of Smith nor, I am sure, was the death of his master at Loos in September 1915.
It is likely that Private Smith served either on the Western Front or in the Middle East but injury forced him home. Once fit he became attached to the Labour Corps which afforded non-combatant roles in uniform. Being attached to an agricultural company it is likely that worked to overcome food shortages. Private Smith died in Wandsworth four days after the Armistice was declared, possibly of the influenza virus that was sweeping the country.
At the back of the church is another war commemoration, a brass plague commemorating the death of Nicholas Lewarne, one of seven children born to John Lewarne, one time innkeeper of the White Hart Inn at Respryn who rose to prominence as Lord Robartes’ estate steward and Guardian of Lanhydrock parish. Nicholas was raised in Newton House and joined the army at a young age. He became a Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters, Derbyshire regiment, and in August 1897 was promoted to Captain by the British Indian Army being assigned to the 15th Sikh infantry regiment. Lewarne was immediately assigned to the North West Frontier of India where he died during an ineffectual campaign to control the Khyber Pass.
By understanding these stories we can appreciate the sacrifice. Through our gratitude we will honour those who served and remember those who died. The lessons will live with us for ever.
Posted by lanhydrock on October 20, 2013
Posted by lanhydrock on June 30, 2013
Over the last fifty years many visitors to Lanhydrock House will have been, no doubt, oblivious to the fact that the very foundations were causing a conservation headache. Indeed, our precious nineteenth century mosaic floor has been subject to such severe swelling that lateral movement has occurred to the Jacobean oak staircase. The major concerns faced by the property are threefold. First, what is the potential of the damage? Second, what would be the prospective cost of remedial conservation work? Last, and most importantly, what is at the very root of the problem?
An archaeological investigation was commissioned in order to ascertain answers to the above three issues and, hopefully, formulate some plan of care. This work extracted two core samples from the damaged section of the foundations and a single control sample from under the stairs. The result of the survey showed that sulphates present within the brick fill have expanded through contact with inherent dampness. As the substantial granite walls have restricted this expansion, a severe heave has formed vertically causing consequential damage to the mosaic tiling.
The results did quell speculation that a geological spur or a natural spring was being forced underneath the house, or indeed that the family crypt was in the surrounding area! It remains uncertain if the expansion has reached an optimum level: the maximum, in this case, being cited as two times the volume of brick. Therefore, as the potential damage remains unclear, monitoring of the movement within the floor and stairs will continue, in addition to constant humidity and temperature observations. Previous monitoring has shown that the heave contracts as well as expands, depending on the levels of moisture content below ground. As for cost, the survey has temporarily prevented the consideration of taking up this section of mosaic floor-a task that would be both costly and fruitless at this stage. However, work will have to be done in due course on the structure of the oak stairs in order to stabilise the bottom treads.
The heart of the house will, for the foreseeable future, keep beating.
Posted by lanhydrock on June 30, 2013
A century before World War1, the Napoleonic Wars were moving to a climax. Vast numbers of men moved eastwards towards the Russian frontiers where the Russians, too, had been massing since 1811.War began on 12th June, 1812, Tolstoy recorded – ‘an event counter to all the laws of human reason and human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, deceptions, treacheries, robberies, forgeries, issues of false monies, depredations, incendiarisms and murders as the annals of all the courts of justice in the world could not muster in the course of whole centuries, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as crimes’.
Could there possibly be a repeat on such a scale in a more advanced technological era? Gerald Agar-Robartes worked as a ‘peacemaker’ in this period, serving at the British Foreign Office from 1906 until his retirement in 1930. He was steadily promoted from Attaché to Third Secretary, 1908, to Second in 1914, and then First Secretary in 1919 and a Counsellor of Embassy in 1926. He was in Paris from 1907-10, Vienna from 1910-14, and then The Hague in 1914, for the International Opium Conference. He served at the Foreign Office during the war, assisting Lord Cecil from 1915, then the Earl of Balfour from 1917, and Lord Curzon from 1919-1925, when he spent time in Berne and Madrid
Many books in the Lanhydrock collection tell us about this period, as well as private letters, press cuttings, documents and certificates. Richard Seymour served a few years earlier than Gerald and in his book, ‘The Last Quarter’, listed diplomatic salaries at £8000 a year, for the Ambassador, £800, plus £150 House Allowance for the Secretary of Embassy, £300 for Second Secretaries, with an annual increase of £15, and Third Secretaries £150. Attachés received nothing. Seymour thought salaries and expenses were on the low side, especially as there were ‘no typists, archivists, or second division clerks at the Embassy in those days, so all the copying, ciphering, keeping of accounts and other routine work was done by the members of the diplomatic staff’. This provided ‘good training in all the practical details of office work and many first-rate ambassadors went through this drudgery in their early days in Diplomacy’. Overall, said Curtis, ‘the system was one which had its advantages as well as its disadvantages’.
Gerald received praise for his loyalty and hard work in this area, ‘I was very grateful to you for the good work you did in the strenuous time in Paris and I wish you all possible luck and success in your new post. It was good of you to contribute to the 50 years service medal,’ wrote Francis Bertie from the British Embassy in Paris, February, 1914. Bertie continues, ‘it shows that you had a happy time here which gives me the greatest pleasure. All good luck to you. If in the short time that remains to me here you should come to Paris, make this your hotel. We should be delighted to receive you’. In similar vein, Lord Curzon wrote from the Foreign Office, December 9th ,1920 ‘As you are leaving the Private Secretaries Room, where I owe that I have sometimes imposed upon you hard tasks and many long hours, do let me thank you for your kind and loyal service during the past two years and let me wish you success in your career’.
Curzon was not an ‘easy chief’ to work for, said Odo Russell, another colleague and friend of Gerald. He had been Viceroy of India while still under forty and then Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He distrusted Russia and resigned after arguing with Kitchener in 1905. Curzon was Foreign Secretary, 1919-24 and bitter at being passed over as Prime Minister, in 1923, because he was a member of the House of Lords.
Odo Russell wrote a book in later life about Curzon and other public personalities that he had encountered in his career. It is part of the Lanhydrock family library today, with an enclosed letter – ‘To Gerald – from Theo, (Odo) Chelsea, 1947’. It covers the reminiscences from contacts with famous political figures in his career, starting with his meeting with Queen Victoria in his childhood. ‘I hope that Eva and Violet will also read the book and that I may have your opinions afterwards. Happy New Year to you all. Yours ever, Theo’.
Gerald could well have written his own book of encounters with politicians, statesmen and diplomats. He was at the heart of many important events as the Great and Lesser Powers all jockeyed for position in the last desperate struggle for Empire, territory, trade and power, at the beginning of the twentieth century. At the same time, smaller nations were beginning to undermine the old Empires and seek independence and power for themselves. The Ottoman Empire was under threat and the Hapsburg Empire, led by Austria and Hungary, faced unrest from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.
The Robartes had always been staunch Liberals, Peter Bessell, Liberal M.P. for Bodmin, was very close to Gerald –– ‘He was in Vienna during the last years of the Hapsburg Monarchy’, said Bessell, ‘and saw for himself the intrigues, jealousies and grumbling discord at the Court of the Emperor Francis Joseph,’ who lost a brother executed in Mexico,1867- his son Rudolph committed suicide,1889-his wife Elisabeth was murdered by an anarchist,1898 and the shooting of his nephew, Francis Ferdinand and his wife, by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo led to the outbreak of war in 1914.
Gerald had left Vienna before these final crises and was also on leave from the British Legation, at the Hague Conference, when the tragedy unfolded. A month later, July 30th, Harry Chilton wrote to Gerald from The Hague, ‘Can you give me a rough idea as to about when you think of coming back. I don’t want to hurry you unless things take a turn for the worst in which case I shall telegraph to you. They are fussing rather here and have all their men under arms, railway bridges on German lines guarded, armed men all along the coast, even on the pier at Sonereningen, day and night!! All preparations are being made to defend their neutrality if threatened’.
Harry Chilton had tried to squeeze in a game of golf – Lanhydrock had its own small course at that time – but he had to rush back for an urgent telegram. ‘This is not a hint that I want you back’, he told Gerald, ‘as Chambers and I can perfectly well do it all, unless Russia, Germany & Co. get to work. Then you had better come. If all is quiet Chambers will go on leave when you return but he is in no hurry’.
The letter coolly understated the serious situation. All was not quiet on the Western Front. A few days later, on August 4th, the Germans invaded Belgium and Britain declared war. From the British Embassy in Paris, on August 21st, Gerald’s close friend and colleague, Reggie, wrote to him in despair, ‘about this awful calamity about which we have some times vaguely speculated, but which I never believed could really happen’. He had found it hard to write ‘to anyone for a month’, and it was ‘quite impossible to think, everything as you say will change entirely and whatever we have known and enjoyed hitherto will be no more’.
There was ‘a tremendous quantity of work which practically never ceases, masses of telegrams to decipher to which I rise at 7.30 and the pressure goes on pretty steadily until midnight. I have very much wished that we could be together during this crisis for there would have been so many small points to discuss which interest us both so enormously’. He told Gerald of the ‘ominous melancholy of the first three days or so of the mobilisation here, (in France), which was enhanced by the uncertainty as to whether we, (British), should support the French or not. I felt I could not have stood it if we had not.’ He spoke of the strange atmosphere in Paris – the remarkable ‘orderliness and quiet. Troops of gigantic policemen occupy the streets, there are no omnibuses and scarcely any cabs, hardly any men, most of the shops in this quarter shut’. He was turned out of the restaurants at 9.30 by order of the Prefect of Police. ‘The quiet and deserted character of the streets at night is amazing – The mobilisation was astonishingly well carried out here – The British troops ‘carried out their landing in excellent order – The airmen flew over to the number of 50 which was very ‘chic’. Field-Marshal French and several Generals spent one night in the Embassy on their way to the British H.Q.
Not only did Gerald miss all this while on leave but also the ‘Vienna Embassy which passed through Paris on their way home to England from Switzerland. I thought it was really such a chance that you were not there. Gerald would have been pleased to hear that ‘there was practically no anti-English feeling in Wien (Vienna) up to the very last.’ All of Reggie’s news was of great interest to Gerald, who had served in Paris and Vienna. He might not agree with the melancholy forecast of his friend who wrote, ‘I consider the war to be an end to us at any rate. For it will be difficult to wrestle with a whole new set of conditions, when one could only just grapple with the old. Nous serons les gens d’avant la guerre.’
However, the golden era for the family at Lanhydrock had now passed. Four of the brothers eventually went off to serve in the Great War. Gerald too, felt that he should offer his services to fight after diplomacy had failed. It was sad that his mother, Mary, should feel embarrassed by this, despite having four sons at the front. She wrote to the Lanhydrock steward, Gilbert, from Great Stanhope Street in 1916, that ‘If anything comes about it, I would like people to know Mr (Our) Gerald volunteered for the front but was not allowed by the Secretary of State to leave his work at the F.O. (Foreign Office); Of course we had not put it in the papers exactly.’
Gerald never felt at ease with this situation and as social pressure increased, he applied once more, in May1918, to the Ambassador in Paris, for ‘favourable consideration to his request for permission to be released from the Staff of the Embassy in order to enter the Army. The reply came back the same day; ‘I cannot recommend to G.C. as I consider that the efficiency of the work here would be impaired by the departure of any member of the regular Staff.’ The Ambassador indicated on the note that he would ‘speak to Mr. Agar Robartes.’
War service was a difficult situation. The Lanhydrock ladies, led by Everilda and her mother, Mary Clifden, organised a very successful War Hospital Supply Depot. Tommy, heir to the family estate and local M.P. had lost his life at the Battle of Loos,in 1915. Victor had been wounded, not badly, three times. Alex had suffered a bad facial wound and nervous reaction from his war experiences, leading to his suicide in 1930. Cecil did not enjoy good health exacerbated by the war and a car accident in 1936. He died in 1939.
World War1 had ended the happy era of the Lanhydrock family. Books from that period still rest on attic room shelves. One entitled ‘The Hapsburg Monarchy,’ printed in 1913, would have been well received that year, if not the next. The inscription, in Mary Clifden’s neat writing reads – ‘Francis Gerald Agar-Robartes. With his Mothers love. Christmas Day 1913’ – a time when Gerald was still based in Vienna and the famous old Empire was still in some sort of stable existence, sharing power with Hungary but not with their Slav subjects. Another book is entitled ‘Mother and Sons in War Time,’ printed in 1917, and given to ‘Mother from E.(Everilda) Jan 30th 1917.’ On the first page an extract reads – ‘Their graves will be renowned and their names will be had in remembrance. But in hundreds of English homes their mothers sit today, remembering the sons who fed at their breasts and slept in their arms; happy if, in the watches of the night, some flow of tears may slacken the tense strings of the heart and lull the busy iteration of memory in the aching brain.’
In another attic book at Lanhydrock – ‘Victory and After.’ printed in 1919, the inscription reads, ‘To T.C. (Thos. Charles) – ‘With best love from M.C. (Mary Clifden) Christmas, 1919. It quotes ‘recent memorandum from the man who was German ambassador in London at the time war was declared. Again and again he says, ‘With goodwill on both sides, matters might have been settled in two interviews, but my Government was ‘intent on war and meant war’.’ In the attic book, ‘Ordeal by Battle,’ a slur on the British government was made, saying, ‘Those who were responsible for British policy appear to have given more credit to the assurances of German diplomacy’ than to the threats and anger from ‘hundreds of German patriots and professors.’
The failure of diplomacy in this crisis was doubly felt by the diplomats – (such as Gerald) – themselves. The family bound copy of the Liberal government book for 1914 compared 1914 to the Franco-Prussian war situation when France was more likely to march through Belgium than Prussia. ‘Our most peaceful Prime Minister, William Gladstone, even more than Mr. Pitt, made agreements with France and Prussia to co-operate with either of the belligerents if the other violated Belgian territory…. ‘If we had gone to war,’ said Gladstone then, (he had visited Lanhydrock in 1889), which he was prepared to do, we should have gone to war for freedom – for public right –to save human happiness from being invaded by tyrannous and lawless power’.
That message of the past was as clear as the 1914 situation but Germany, led by modern Prussian militarism, thought we were too influenced by the treaty with Belgium – ‘a scrap of paper.’ It was expected that modern technology, such as infantry rifles sighted up to 1000 yards and field guns ranged up to five miles, firing up to twenty rounds a minute, and siege guns ranging over twenty five miles, would make a long war impossible and too expensive, according to Ivan Bloch in his book, ‘La guerre future,’1899. The German Chief of Staff, Alfred von Schlieffen, spoke of ‘armies of millions of men costing milliards of marks’, hence the need for speed and tactics which cut down on time for negotiations and conciliation. German militarism gained the upper hand over German culture. Gerald had experienced the latter socially at home and abroad, as seen in the Gallery Visitors Book signed by Baronesses Else von Hammerstein, Hildesheim, Hanover, and he had enjoyed many Embassy functions shown, for example, in the table layout for thirty three guests, among Lanhydrock documents. Gerald was seated at the far end of the table facing his colleague Theo Russell, top at the near end. The mainly titled guests included the Prince and Princess Liechtenstein, Comte and Comtesse Herberstein, the German Ambassador and the Roumanian Minister. Another such function shows more German presence. Bethman Hollweg, the German Chancellor was positioned close to Theo Russell, while Gerald titled as Sekretar Hon.Agar Robartes was next to the top at the near end of the table. The Liberal bound year books, of pamphlets and brochures in the House at Lanhydrock also stress the dividing line in German society between Germanic culture and militarism, with the latter gaining the upper hand in modern times from 1870-1 to 1945. Gerald was an acute witness to this process, painfully so in 1914, but sharply conscious of the appeasement problem after he had left the diplomatic service in the 1930’s.
For a while Gerald carried the disappointment of the failing of the nations to prevent a disastrous war, a diplomatic horror to his stunned profession. Then, the death of Tommy, eldest son and heir, and incredibly popular, shattered for ever the happy family. Memorial Services were held at Westminster and Lanhydrock. A depleted family was without Miss Mary, who was too ill to attend and Constance, a nurse herself, who stayed at home to look after her. Gerald obtained leave from the Foreign Office as did Cecil from the Rifle Brigade. Alexander was wounded and in hospital and Victor was to take seven days leave the following day. Everilda and Violet were the only others of the younger family to attend.
Gerald assumed extra family responsibilities after Tommy’s death. He tried to keep in touch with his three younger brothers at the front with interest, good cheer and personal gifts etc. at birthdays and Christmas. Time and the intensity of the war at the front and at the foreign office helped only a little.
‘Thank you so very much for the handsome gift which arrived today,’ Alec wrote to Gerald in December, 1916. I had an amazing amount of parcels, in fact I had an entire mail bag to myself. My leave is definite now and I go from here on the 3rd or 4th. The trenches that we have been in have been monstrously bad and the whole thing is very desolating – I imagine that there is no possibility of peace, or at any rate an imminent one’ – a question which Gerald would have found heartbreaking.
Victor’s gramophone was sent out to the front in April 1917 and aided the cheerful party lifestyle which relieved the gloom of the war. ‘Victor appears to be going on well, I am glad to say,’ Alec wrote to Gerald in April 1918. Cecil wrote to Gerald that he had ‘tried to see Victor and Alec the other day – I’m about 30 miles south as the crow flies – but they were both in the line. I’m afraid leave is entirely beyond the horizon at present, at any rate, until we’ve had a show, which of course we can’t tell when may happen,’ In quite a long letter to Gerald, Cecil chatted on about Saturday night out being ‘generally more trouble than it is worth’ – on society gossip about the lady who ‘had rather decided views about her brother’s marriage with an actress’ and the personal habits of his brother officers – ‘I shall hope to see you in Paris in a couple of months.’
Gerald did his best to help his brothers from his more comfortable position in London. He wrote to cheer Alec in January 1918. ‘My dear Gerald,’ the letter came back. ‘Thank you so much for the provisions which have arrived safely at a very opportune moment. We have been moving about a great deal as usual and are now in a very noisy place which is rather trying. There has been snow all the time since I have been back until today when we had some rain. I was very amused to hear about the skating at Wimpole. This was Gerald’s own personal property from 1906 when he had started his diplomatic career. ‘You must have a place of your own, my boy,’ said his father at that time. You will find that they all do’. Gerald told him the story with an entirely straight face, said Michael Trinick in later life. However, a London press gossip-writer quoted in the Cornish Guardian gave a different picture of Gerald as ‘a clever diplomatist – small, dark-haired and pink-faced, one who talks brilliantly on any subject in an amusing staccato fashion and who is a particularly good host and gourmet of experience.’
Gerald did well at the Foreign Office during the war, despite the intense diplomatic pressure. This is shown in a private letter he received in March 1915 from Theo Russell; ‘Many thanks for your interesting letter of 5 March,’ it began – ‘extracts of which I read to Sir E, Grey’. (Foreign Secretary). ‘Everything,’ wrote Russell, ‘depends on the Dardanelles. If it comes off, as the Admiralty expect it to, all should be well and it will be the first really big nail in Germany’s coffin – We are pretty busy but occasionally there are lulls in our work,’ he informed Gerald, who was to work with him at the Foreign Office. The Dardanelles campaign, however, was not successful.
Gerald used the family home, No. I Great Stanhope Street, as his base during the war. Agnes Bray was a housemaid then. She had received the news of Tommy’s death there and had ‘to go to that evening to deliver a letter to Miss Constance where she was nursing.’ Agnes told of the comings and goings of the family during that hectic period in London. She and Mabel Roskelly prepared meals for Gerald ‘who went to the Foreign Office most days, sometimes going to Wimpole for a week-end. Victor would travel home on leave or for convalescence. When returning to France he had to leave early and I so well remember him walking away one sunny morning and wondering if he would return safely.’ Gerald and the family back at home would share the same feelings. His mother suffered most and died in 1921. Gerald continued his career through the era of controversial peacemaking and the breaking up of Empires. The large certificate of his appointment as Counsellor of Embassy in 1926, signed by ‘George R.I.’ (George VI), is still proudly intact among the many mementoes of his past at Lanhydrock. The most recent discovery of his substantial and sad career is the poignant family letter which he wrote to his sister, Everilda, Tommy’s twin, April 1924:-
My dearest Eva,
Thank you very much for your letter. We arrived all right yesterday evening after a very good journey& smooth crossing but the train and boat were very crowded & we were an hour late – Cora also arrived from Lincoln. I think she looks rather fatter in the face. I went to Lapugnoy (Tommy’s cemetery) on Saturday as I wanted to see the Headstone and it was the first time I had been to France for any length of time since I left in 1919. I went by train to Arras & motored from there about 25 miles. I found everything in beautiful order and saw the head gardener who seemed a very nice man. They have done a great deal of planting but it was of course too early for anything to be out though the daffodils were beginning to show. I can’t say that I really much like the Headstones, but I suppose it was essential to have something of the sort as the wooden crosses would not have been permanent. It was nice to find it so beautifully kept – I took some Parma violets (Tommy’s normal posh button-hole decoration) & asked the gardener to move them as soon as they withered.I expect to go to Wimpole on Saturday for about ten days& hope to reach Cornwall on April 17th. I hope Cecil is getting on all right & that Violet is beginning to pick up. I believe injections are always very exhausting – It is very cold here& I miss the central heating.
Yr loving Gerald.
Gerald’s time with the Foreign Office in the 1920’s was interesting and also a lull before another storm of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s and the steady rise of Fascism in Italy and Germany. There were trips and visits with friends and Embassy colleagues. Charles Prescott was a keen Liberal who visited Gerald at most of his diplomatic posts – Paris and Vienna before the war and Madrid after, Summer evenings in Paris saw trips to Versailles and Compiegne and from Madrid they visited, with Edward Phelips, the owner of Montacute, the Escorial, Aranjuez. They particularly enjoyed entertainment at the leading Madrid music-hall, the Circo de Price, where we saw,’ said Gerald, ‘a ridiculous skit on a bull-fight (the bull and the horse being men in disguise.) Charles Prescott became almost paralysed with laughter by their absurd antics, which reduced him to a state verging on collapse.’
The laughter and good life did not last long. From the British Embassy in San Sebastian, Gerald wrote to Everilda, Sept.1926, of trips to Dax, Pau and Lourdes and complained that the ‘mosquitoes in the Dax Hotel were rather trying and they do not provide any nets.’ Family news and weather conditions were mentioned, ‘I was much amused by the account of Rachel’s mock grouse drive,’ he added. His niece (Victor’s daughter) was then only four years old.
Sporadic fighting broke out in Spain, including San Sebastian, after he had left. His colleagues in Hindaye later suffered ‘machine gun bullets whizzing all around the Chancery and having to escape by the back door.’
As Head of the family (with the death of his father) after 1930, he built on family traditions with a cultured and creative mind. Tommy’s death always took the edge off family recovery, if in an heroic manner. Gerald received a letter from the Selby family in 1933, reporting the death of Frederick Selby, who had been ‘instrumental in aiding the Hon. T. Agar-Robartes when he lay mortally wounded in France. Soon afterwards he was seriously wounded himself,’ was in hospital for twelve months, was visited by Lady Clifden while convalescing ‘and was able to tell her about her son,’
Gerald remained unhappy about the drift of international events. By a strange coincidence he had been in Vienna before the war at the same time as Adolf Hitler, who failed to get into the Academy of Fine Arts, sold pictures on the street with a friend, spent a small family legacy and lived awhile in a hostel. He attended an opera of Wagner’s, as Gerald and his colleagues did and became entranced by Wagner’s early opera ‘Rienzi’,
A.L.Rowse, Cornish historian, was a good friend of the Lanhydrock family. Later in life he wrote – ‘They have always been so good to me from early days – the 1930’s when we were together against Chamberlain. The Robartes have always been Liberals bur Gerald had been a Foreign Office man and was opposed to appeasement’. In contrast Quiller-Couch, a great friend of Tommy Robartes and the family, ‘ceased to be a Party man,’ said Rowse, ‘and accounts for his silence as to the unforgivable course of British policy in the Thirties. He described Gerald ‘as an intelligent man who well understood that the course (of appeasement) was fatal.’
At the third Weapons Week in 1941, in St.Austell, Gerald led the appeal for extra funds, ‘One thing Hitler’s war had proved up to the hilt – the need for supremely efficient mechanical equipment. War was never so costly, but whatever it costs, we have to win this war. To do it we must concentrate on the creation of the greatest force ever seen in the world. For the Germans are bullies by nature and the only thing they understand and respect is force. It is no use trying to appease or be kind to the Germans, because if you do they merely think you are afraid of them. Therefore let us have ‘annihilating force – ships, tanks, aeroplanes.’‘President Roosevelt was saying something of the same sort a few hours later,’ reported the local press.
Gerald continued to serve the country in many important capacities but declined a request to return to the Foreign Office during the war.
Posted by lanhydrock on June 30, 2013
On 4 April 1881 Lanhydrock House, the most impressive mansion in south-west England, caught fire (above). Lord Robartes immediately commissioned the architect Richard Coad to refurbish the house as an ‘unpretentious’ family residence. In doing so he incorporated the latest in Victorian fire prevention solutions, most notably 300mm thick concrete ceilings supplied by Dennett and Ingles of London to stop the spread of fire between floors, patent fireproof plaster, structural ironwork to hold these great loads in place and an internal fire hydrant system drawing on 200,000 gallons of water stored in a reservoir in the High Gardens. Despite the employment of high-Victorian technologies Lord Robartes curiously did not consider gas lighting or electrical power safe and so built a lamp room from which paraffin lamps were wicked and primed.
One hundred and thirty years after the family moved back into the house, and sixty years after the National Trust acquired the property, the Fire Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order was legislated through Parliament. This Act places emphasis on a risk based attitude towards fire assessment, most notably in reducing the possibility of fire starting in the first place or, in the worse-case scenario of fire being confirmed, safeguarding life by providing a safe means of escape and subsequently damage limitation in restricting the spread of fire.
Fire Risk Assessment
In response to the new Act we initiated a detailed risk assessment. On completion we instigated a phased schedule of works to deal with issues identified in the report and to explore varying building solutions to create a sustainable future for Lanhydrock.
Fortunately, the constructional techniques employed by the Victorians gave us a head start. The concrete ceilings, for example, still offer good fire resistance between floors, a methodology known as horizontal compartmentation. Furthermore, the iron fabrication uses little or no timber beneath the floors and in the roof.
The risk assessment however did identify several issues of concern.
The first was the need to repair all pipe-work and cabling breaches between floors and compartments in order to stop any potential fire spreading (below). These breaches varied from small cable routes to gaps that a whole body would pass through with ease. Once done we commissioned an independent specialist to certificate all existing vertical and horizontal compartment walls.
Second, the risk assessment identified the need for two new vertical compartments to be created, one to separate the internationally important 17th-century Gallery from the rest of the house, the other was to create a second protected staircase for means of escape. To do this we had to introduce new bespoke fire doors into the historic interior. However, for certification we had to consider all existing historic doors in these compartments, making sure that they had the correct intumescent and cold smoke seals fitted. Furthermore, to prevent a potential fire spreading through the door frame itself we had to dismantle the door architraves and seal all gaps with intumescent foams and sealants, treat all combustible linings with reversible intumescent varnishes and paints and seal all voids beneath and above the door.
Thirdly, it was vital to separate the high risk areas, such as catering and boiler room, from the historic interiors. As both of these areas contain gas burning equipment we needed to consider gas safety shut off valves, fire shutters activated by the automatic fire alarms, safety of flues removing the products of combustion, flue proving systems and electrical isolating switches.
A fourth element to the project was replacing old unsupported systems hence a new automatic alarm system has been fitted into the property. To create the earliest warning possible the fire alarm specification includes the installation of an intelligent fire panel that feeds addressable information into to localised pagers via a radio link and thence direct to the fire service and monitoring station through protected telephone cables. In addition we have installed six air sampling devices, known as Vesda units, which analyse air patterns and activate pre- and full- alarms on discovery of smoke particles in the air. These pieces of equipment are interfaced into auxillery safety components such as mechanical door contacts, gas leak detection systems, fusible links on boilers and external fire shutter and fire curtain systems.
Statutory Protection and Curatorship
The real challenge of this project has been effecting statutory changes without any noticeable impact on the historic interior. Lanhydrock has maximum statutory protection from central government, it is grade 1 listed by English Heritage, our statutory consultee, which means it is of ‘exceptional architectural and historical interest’ − only 2.5% of listed buildings in Great Britain have grade 1 listed status.
All of the activities mentioned here have, understandably, raised pertinent questions within the National Trust over conservation practice and modern intervention techniques − questions that, for example, examined the longevity, performance and aesthetic appearance of new materials, looked closely at natural and artificial ventilation systems to maintain humidity control throughout the newly created compartments and challenged the potential for physical damage to the same historic interior that we were trying to protect.
Placing such an emphasis on good conservation practices and high curatorial standards means lots of dialogue. One of the real benefits of communication was our ability to thin out the fire risk assessment by looking carefully at the historical layout and operational management of the house. For example, it was initially determined that for continuity the six vertical compartment walls running from the roof structure down through the property would have to be terminated in the tunnels beneath the house. But as a highly protected bat roost this was impractical. So after discussions with our architect and fire specialists we decided that by fire stopping all breaches in the tunnel walls and roof, and by separating the adjoining boiler room from the tunnel with the installation of a bespoke automatic fire curtain, we could treat the tunnel as a single horizontal compartment.
Another thorny issue was dealing with the directive to upgrade a Victorian Drawing Room door with beautiful etched Aesthetic movement-style glass in order to create a 30 minute fire rated door. To do this, either with fire-rated secondary glazing or intumescent varnish, would have essentially destroyed the heritage we were trying to protect. After looking at other solutions, such as, a fire shutter or curtain we came to a pragmatic solution which was to consider the volume of the room in terms of its ability to contain smoke in the barrel-vaulted ceiling thereby facilitating a safe means of escape. Both of these simple solutions saved money, time and, more importantly, unnecessary damage to the historic interiors.
A further challenge, and one I am sure we all share, is how to comply with statutory requirements regarding, for example, emergency lighting, fire signage and self-closing fire doors without compromising the historic integrity of the building. Thankfully, once again, management systems came to our rescue. For emergency lighting the historic lights were deployed using battery packs connected to inverter switches that automatically switched power supplies to battery back-up in the event of mains power failure. This meant that no specific bespoke escape lighting was needed. In order to alleviate the need for excessive signage we operate an evacuation procedure led by volunteer room guides who chaperone visitors from the building to muster points outside while closing fire doors is done manually as part of the evacuation procedure. Solutions, like these, have allowed us to retain the authenticity, appearance and value of Lanhydrock.
This level of preventative fire protection is aspirational for all National Trust properties yet, one element of the Fire Safety Order that we live with daily is our responsibility for record keeping. Maintaining our duty of care for historic buildings means that we need to carry out and record fire alarm and emergency lighting testing, fire evacuation training and certification of fire-fighting water supplies, back-up battery packs, gas boilers, gas supply pipework, fire extinguishers, chimneys that host open fires and electrical installations. Our policy is to install electrical supplies in mineral insulated cables which have higher fire integrity than PVC cabling and a much greater life span. As part of the fire risk assessment the cabling itself is certificated every five years while all appliances such as, computers, printers, vacuum cleaners, kettles &c are tested and certificated annually.
Our fire risk strategy aims for elimination, avoidance or control of risk at source. For this reason halogen lighting is banned in our properties, as is all hot works, although we are now beginning to light open fires but only with stringent risk controls in place such as architect inspection of the chimney’s with fibre-optic cameras, using seasoned logs for burning, having appropriate fire screens and regular chimney sweeping. To add to this list opening the attraction to visitors, filming, housekeeping works, events and managing contractors have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. It must be stressed that however good your fire culture lapses will occur − only recently I found logs and cardboard being stored beneath an escape stairway and keeping fire exits clear can be quite a challenge.
Emergency planning is a key part of fire strategy. Plans should take a pragmatic approach to salvage operations not least because we have to be realistic in that we would not be allowed into a potentially burning building without the authority of the fire service. Our role in an emergency is to activate staff to site either from a telephone tree or call out system. Once staff arrive to site we need to monitor and manage arrival, establish an effective command and control structure and establish and equip salvage teams who will stay well out of the way of the fire-fighting operation but be in readiness to spring into action when asked. Our role as curators is to facilitate the progress of the operation by advising on aspects as diverse as room layout, systems infrastructures, priority salvage, storage and care of retrieved items and afterwards deal with site security and inventory checking.
Having been on several fire exercises I have witnessed first-hand how plans can be compromised. One exercise I attended became completely overwhelmed by too much unnecessary radio communication; another took 20 minutes to locate the front door key having to engage in small talk with the fire service whilst the hunt was on. At another a salvage operator severed his thumb with a knife cutting bubble wrap in the dark in order to wrap ceramics – surely a better plan would have been to get the ceramics out first and then protect them.
Working closely with the fire service has allowed us to rehearse our comprehensive emergency procedure plan and look at our infrastructure to support fire and rescue systems, such as, the installation of deep hard-standings in our courtyard to accommodate specialist high-level cranes, rehearsing tunnel rescue and rope techniques and drawing back-up water supplies from the river, one mile away.
Throughout our fire risk assessment project we have made well-informed decisions, based in good practice and on sound research. It was always an aspiration for the project team to maintain meticulous records of the works in order be accountable for the changes we, as custodians, were making to our heritage. Hence, our comprehensive ‘as built’ documents records, both in textual and photographic form, the before and after changes and the logic that we have applied in implementing change.
The proverbial title of this paper ‘Heaven Helps those who Help Themselves’ is drawn from an 1879 copy of a journal called the ‘The Fireman’. It implies that those of us with a duty of care for a house and collection must realise that the effectiveness of any solution will rely on the amount of effort that is put into its preparation. It is a perilous task to forage into the unknown world of endless logistics and permutations, particularly in our hope that such strategies will never be deployed; nevertheless less it is an absolute crucial professional duty.
Posted by lanhydrock on March 24, 2013
Damage caused by insect pests is an age-old problem. References occur in the Bible: ‘Thou makest his beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment’ (Psalm 39), and in Shakespeare’s ‘Rape of Lucrece’ ‘To fill with worm-holes stately monuments; To feed Oblivion with decay of things’.
Pest damage in country house collections has always been rife, not least because of the combination of damp, unheated rooms and lots of edible, organic artefacts. Housekeeping books and guides became popular in the eighteenth-century as house owners realised the potential damage of infestation. Susanna Whatman in her housekeeping book of 1776, gave strict instructions to her servants for the control of moth in the carpets and bug infestations in books. Likewise, the letters of Lanhydrock’s nineteenth-century chatelaine, Anna Maria Agar (1771-1861), show that she was alert to the need of heat, ventilation and light in controlling rodents and insect pests from damaging her important collection of pictures and furniture.
Today, as it was historically, the ‘putting the house to bed’ winter programme remains a vital period for us to monitor, control and manage the damage caused by a plethora of pests. Prevention is certainly better than cure, so good housekeeping is always the best method of keeping pests at bay. However, Lanhydrock, as well as having 51 rooms on display, has many storage areas for textiles, carpets, documents, books and furniture which, although cared for, do not receive the daily attention of the conservation team. The blacked-out conditions protect the contents against the harmful affects of light but can also encourage mould growth and dust accumulation, which, in turn, will allow insects and rodents to thrive. So throughout the whole house we place sticky insect traps which are checked every week during the year. These are checked regularly and monitored closely and any findings are recorded and acted upon. These traps attract three main insect pests.
The Clothes Moth
Clothes moths hide in dark, undisturbed areas. They are about a quarter of an inch in length and they scuttle around rather than fly. As with most pests, it is the larvae which cause the damage. The clothes moth can lay 40 to 50 eggs over a period of two to three weeks and when the eggs are all laid the insect dies. These eggs hatch in between four and ten days in warm weather and the larval period lasts from between thirty-five days to two and a half years. As they love to lay their eggs in threads of fabric, if left undiscovered they can completely destroy textiles within months.
Good housekeeping and cleanliness is important in combating moth infestation. Several years ago we packed up two woollen and fur coats in tissue and placed them in a large drawer for the winter months to protect them from the light. Three months later they were carefully removed and unpacked to put back on display. As we opened the drawer we immediately knew we had a problem. Lots of moth flew out and on closer inspection we discovered that they had completely eaten their way through the coats rendering them beyond repair.
Many lessons were learnt that year. We now check every item before we pack it and store it away. All items in storage are checked on a regular basis. So if you have things tucked away in your attics, make sure you check them regularly. Moths as well as other insects love breeding in places where they won’t be disturbed, so make sure you disturb them as often as you can.
The Furniture Beetle
This is more commonly known as the woodworm. The adults do not feed, they just reproduce. The female will lay her eggs in cracks or holes in wood and they will hatch after approximately three weeks. The larvae will then bore through the timber for between three to four years. When they are ready to pupate they are drawn nearer to the surface, excavating small spaces as they go. The adults soon break through to the surface spilling dust, which is called frass. These are our first visible signs that we have an infestation.
Australian Spider Beetle
Like woodworm, spider beetle appear during the spring. Although they usually like to live on cereal, the ones who visit us at Lanhydrock like to feed on our very precious books in the Gallery. Our last major infestation was nearly six years ago when volunteers and house staff painstakingly removed all 3,000 books from their shelves to check for any signs of damage. The book presses were then treated with insecticide, air circulation was upgraded and the presses themselves were damp-proofed. Comprehensive records are made to record any infestation and treatment. These records show that we have had specific problems about every six years. So, when considering that out last major problem was in 2000 it would seem that our next infestation is on the horizon.
In protecting your contents against pest damage remember, prevention is always better than cure. Good packing, cleanliness of storage or presentation, sound humidity control and regular checking will go some way in caring for your items.
Anne Marie Woof, House Steward
Posted by lanhydrock on January 26, 2013