Kent Life explores Birchington's Quex Park

PUBLISHED: 00:02 18 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:10 20 February 2013

Kent Life explores Birchington’s Quex Park

Kent Life explores Birchington’s Quex Park

With June marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Powell-Cotton, founder of the celebrated Quex Museum, Kent Life looks at the life of this pioneering explorer

Kent Life explores Birchingtons Quex Park

With June marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Powell-Cotton, founder of the celebrated Quex Museum, Kent Life looks at the life of this pioneering explorer

It was a fine spring morning in late Victorian England and the eminent explorer and anthropologist Major Percy Powell-Cotton was immersed in a pile of African journals at his desk in Quex House near Margate.

A young woman with kind blue eyes and a gentle smile walked into his office to take up her post as secretary and her arrival changed the course of both their lives. While the major pursued his exploration of the unknown African and Asian continents, Hannah Brayton Slater worked tirelessly at Quex, running the estate and keeping the house in order.

But a pioneering spirit soon began to reveal itself through the letters they exchanged, and a mutual admiration and respect led finally to romance. In 1905 Hannah and the major married in Nairobi and she accompanied him on his future expeditions, eventually helping him to fulfil a shared dream - the creation of the first African diorama (displays of mounted mammals in representations of their natural habitats) at Quex Museum.

This ace museum is now celebrated for those dioramas, which are unique to the UK and outstanding examples of the medium pioneered by Powell-Cotton. It is also home to his significant collection of African wildlife, weaponry, and other gems which he wanted to show the people back home in Kent so they had a clearer idea of the kind of experiences he witnessed on his travels.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of Powell-Cottons death and Quexs estate manager Anthony Curwen believes that 21st-century Quex is a fitting tribute to the life of the famous explorer.

Anthony has been running the estate since 1991 but his links to Quex date back to his childhood when his father, John Curwen, was estate manager. He used to take instructions from Hannah Powell-Cotton still a force to be reckoned with, even in her old age! he says. They were an exceptional couple and Hannah made sure that after Percys death his legacy and his work continued - and we have taken up the baton.

Museum curator Malcolm Harman stresses the importance of putting Powell-Cotton and his contribution to mankind into context for the modern visitor. In 1906, in his book In Unknown Africa, he criticises people shooting their way across Africa without any purpose other than to kill.

He then goes on to say that to preserve the wildlife there should be warden-controlled safari parks with sealed borders to stop poaching. This is close to the practice subsequently implemented - and in operation now.

The museum is a scientific storehouse with data relating to the specific areas in which the animals lived as well as a detailed record of animal dimensions and full skeletons for researchers to use. Put simply as Darwin provided the idea of evolution, Powell-Cotton produced the data to test the theory.

Alongside this is an amazing photographic and film archive, and an exhaustive documentation of the sources for the cultural objects and the social history documents provided by the trip packs, all of which are valuable and relevant for study today.

The Powell-Cotton Museum, a key part of the appealingly quirky mix at Quex Park, is one of only 10 museums in the county to be selected for the BBCs A History of the World in 100 Objects series.

The museums exquisite 17th-century triptych of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was rescued by Powell-Cotton on one of his two trips to Abyssinia.

Quex embraces a packed programme of family events and attractions throughout the year alongside its other enterprises such as farming, education, community-based projects, local food production, falconry, a craft centre, farm shop, butchers and restaurant.

Quex is also a committed conservationist and creator of habitats for wildlife. At least 55 species of bird have been spotted in recent years and more than 2,000 trees and three miles of hedgerow have been planted in partnership with Trees for Thanet, the group which works with school students undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Quex has some unique chalk caves, home to three species of bat; nearby are local beehives.

The estate has recently launched a prestigious new venue in the form of the Hannah Dining Suite, another permanent reminder of the Powell-Cotton charisma. Quex approached master-chef Dev Biswal, owner-chef of Margates The Indian Princess, to recreate Hannahs personality with a quintessentially English menu that has a fine dining twist in its tail. Local meats and vegetables as well as herbs grown in the Quex gardens all feature.

Although the Hannah is geared to weddings, functions and seminars (it accommodates up to 120 seated guests) and can be hired for receptions and evening parties, the good news is that the restaurant is open for lunches and afternoon teas throughout the summer season and - subject to availability - will feature an la carte menu.

Fact file

Quex Park, Park Lane

Birchington CT7 0BH

Tel: 01843 842168

How to get there

From London take the M2, or from Canterbury the A28, and follow signs for Margate. As you enter Birchington, Quex Museum (the Powell-Cotton Collection) is clearly signposted alongside All Saints Church on your left. Turn right into Park Lane following directions to Acol. The entrance is half a mile along on the left.

The Powell-Cotton Museum and Gardens are open Tue-Sun, 11am-5pm

Quex House is open Tue-Sun, 2pm-5pm

Admission: adults 7, concessions 5, families 20. A gift aid season ticket valid for a year is: adults 15, concessions 10.

Coming soon

July 10 & 11: Quexpo - traditional steam and country fair including arena exhibitions, craft stalls, live music, dog show, Wall of Death motorcycle stunt show, old time and modern fairground rides, steam engines, railway rides, tractors, custom and classic cars, motorcycles, childrens entertainment, beer tent and food concessions.

August 21: Torchlight Night at Quex Maize Maze follow the spooky trails of the maze to complete the quiz. Bring a torch, and a sense of humour!

Entry 1.50. BBQ food and refreshments on sale.

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