Kentish tales of love
PUBLISHED: 14:23 30 January 2016 | UPDATED: 14:23 30 January 2016
© National Trust / Charles Thomas
This month Kent Life's history sleuth has delved into the county's archives to find tales of love lost, found and everlasting.
Carriage of heartbreak
In a flurry of excitement, the engagement between the 12th Earl of Moray, an ex-soldier turned politician, and the daughter of the Earl of Elgin was announced in the 1830s. Much planning, organising and arranging ensued, but in a true-life tale to rival those on Downton Abbey, the eagerly awaited wedding never took place.
The Earl of Moray was heartbroken. Described as ‘six feet in stature, dark complexioned and handsome,’ the honourable John Stewart had organised a Grand Tour of Europe for his honeymoon and commissioned a stylish, black travelling coach for the trip. Six magnificent white horses had been bought to pull the coach, but as the news of the broken engagement travelled, the Earl had the horses shot.
He ordered the coach to be withdrawn from sight and it was taken to the coach house where it sat, unused, for the next 120 years. In 1951, the coach was finally moved to the Tyrwhitt Drake Carriage Museum in Maidstone, where it now sits in stately but subdued grandeur. Even its window shutters are drawn against enquiring eyes and in an echo of its former owner’s lifetime, it remains out of the limelight.
In 1859, at the age of 62, the honourable John Stewart succeeded his elder brother, who was, apparently, insane from childhood, to the peerage and took control of his family’s extensive estates in north-east Scotland. He remained unmarried and died in November 1867 having ‘for many years taken no part whatsoever in public affairs.’
The carriage is just one of many incredible sights at the Maidstone Carriage Museum, also known as the Tyrwhitt Drake Museum of Carriages and further information can be found at: www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk/tyrwhittdrake.
The Golden Rose Garden
Roses and romance go hand in hand and every Valentines’ Day millions of red roses are sent in the hope that the givers’ passion will be reciprocated. Since its introduction in the 18th century, however, the cheerful yellow rose has symbolised kindness, affection, joy, and familial love - so what better gift could the children of Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill give their parents on their golden wedding anniversary than an entire yellow rose garden?
Located within the walled kitchen garden, which provided the family with fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the Second World War, the ‘Golden Rose Walk’ was originally planted with 32 varieties of gold and yellow-hued roses.
The idea for the garden may have been inspired by the fact that Winston proposed to Clemmie in the rose garden at Blenheim Palace shortly after he narrowly avoided death in a house fire. The couple married on September 12 1908, less than a month later, and on their golden wedding anniversary their children presented them with the yellow rose book as their new garden wasn’t ready in time.
The book is a compilation of paintings, created by notable artists of the day, depicting 29 of the roses planted within the original garden which was finished just a few weeks later on 10 November 1958.
The book is now on display in the dining room at Chartwell and thanks to support and donations received by the National Trust, the Golden Rose Walk is currently being replanted with roses as close to the originals as possible. For further information please visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chartwell
Lullingstone’s wedding goblet
On 8 January 1974 Sarah and Oliver Guy Hart Dyke were married. Sarah’s mother presented them with a crystal goblet engraved with the date and a picture of Lullingstone castle. It was a symbolic gift representing the couples’ new leadership of the castle and in 1976, in an effort to save the castle for future generations; the couple took the momentous decision to open the castle’s doors to members of the public for the first time. Next month, the castle will re-open to the public on Easter Saturday (26 March) and, as the flag is raised by their son, the famous plant-hunter Tom Hart Dyke, the family will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of welcoming public visitors into their home. The March issue of Kent Life will also be giving readers a sneak peek behind the scenes and revealing the family’s favourite rooms and historical stories. www.lullingstonecastle.co.uk
A grooms’ waistcoat
Look through the pages of any bridal magazine (and p106-107 in this edition) and you can see how the hunt for the ‘perfect’ bridal gown can turn into an obsession. In 1743 Mary Bridges decided her future husband’s outfit was just as important as her own and commissioned a seamstress named Mary Bampton to make him this stunning silk-embroidered waistcoat. It cost three pounds, three shillings, a huge amount at the time, and a note in the Tunbridge Wells Museum archive confirms that the ‘second Joseph Black’ wore it on his wedding day.
The museum’s now world-class collection was started by past curator Edythe Bradley in the 1950s at a time many of the local large properties were being developed into flats. The museum now holds more than 6,000 costumes, from ballgowns to 20th-century Wonderbras. The collection is often used by researchers and Liz Douglas, Collections Development Manager, says they are keen build up their 20th-century collection, particularly menswear items from the 1960s to 1990s. If you would like to make a donation, visit: www.tunbridgewellsmuseum.org
The Red House revelation
Weddings. Just the word conjures up a flurry of mental images and so often the day passes so fast it’s only when you see the photos that you get the chance to relish all the little moments. For William and Jane Morris the moment they exchanged wedding rings could never be forgotten as it was depicted, albeit within a more famous tableau, on the plaster walls of their home – The Red House in Bexleyheath.
The couple were actually married in Oxford but when Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a famous Victorian artist and designer, visited their home he decided to paint the wedding ceremony from the Tale of Sir Degrevaunt onto their walls and use their faces as those of the bride and groom.
The medieval-inspired mural raised more than one eyebrow in the neighbourhood, as did the occupants of the Red House, and conservation work carried out in 2013 gave rise to yet more gossip when it revealed several repeating floral patterns, this time painted by William Morris himself, beneath the 19th-century wooden panelling surrounding the wedding mural.
A scroll sitting amongst the blue-green stylised poppies features the phrase ‘Qui bien aime tard oublie’ which comes from a French proverb frequently used on Valentine cards meaning ‘one never forgets true love’ or ‘who loves best loves longest.’
To find out when you can see it for yourself, visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house