History Scrapbook: November 2016

An illuminated book signed by every Member of the House of Commons in 1954, given to Winston Churchi

An illuminated book signed by every Member of the House of Commons in 1954, given to Winston Churchill as a sign of respect, currently on show at Chartwell - Credit: Archant

Kent Life’s history sleuth delves back into Novembers past. Words by: Rachael Hale. Images: National Trust, Godinton House and Canterbury Heritage Museum

Julius Lucius Brenchley

Julius Lucius Brenchley - Credit: Archant

A Curious Collector

Julius Lucius Brenchley was destined for a life devoted to God. But two years after he became curate at the Holy Trinity Church in Maidstone, his father decided to take him on a Grand Tour of Europe. The experience changed his future, and the collections of Maidstone Museum, forever.

Julius left Maidstone in 1845 and soon became one of the 19th century’s most prominent explorers. By the end of his life he had visited every continent in the world except Antarctica. An impressive accomplishment by today’s standards but when you consider the modes of transport, extended travelling times, and vast amount of unfamiliar and unmapped territory relevant to the Victorian era, it’s an enormous achievement.

It was also not without danger. During his lifetime Julius fell into the smoking crater of a live volcano, had to flee from Mormons who thought he was an assassin and was shot in the neck by an arrow when he was attacked by Indians. Going home was not always as peaceful as it should be either and a trip to his Parisian home in 1870 resulted in him being trapped during the Prussian Siege.

Replica wallpaper made for Scotney Castle

Replica wallpaper made for Scotney Castle - Credit: Archant

Julius’ mantra was to ‘wander, marvel and adore’. Wherever he went, he collected traditional artefacts and he donated the majority of his collection to The British Museum and The Maidstone Museum. He also provided for a new wing at Maidstone Museum to house these items, now known as the Brenchley Collection, and purchased Brenchley Gardens for the town.

It was ill health that finally brought an end to Julius’ travels and he died in Folkestone at the age of 56 from a travel-related illness. This November marks the 200th anniversary of his birth and Rebecca Arnott, Maidstone Museum’s Collections Officer, will be giving a talk about his life on Saturday 3 December at 11am in the Museum Library. Objects collected on his travels will also be on show and the talk will end with a tour of the world cultures gallery.

Julius was also well-known for his particularly impressive beard and younger visitors can take part in a beard-making session from 10.30am-3pm in the Great Hall. Further details can be found at www.museum.maidstone.gov.uk

Rupert Bear

Rupert Bear - Credit: Archant

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Restoring Glory

The large windows of Scotney Castle allow visitors to admire its rooms with ease. They also allow in so much light the fabrics and wallpapers can easily become damaged.

One wallpaper to fall victim to such damage is the faded, dry and brittle gold damask lining the grand staircase. It’s been under careful observation for the past two years and now, thanks to a £13,000 fundraising campaign, visitors can watch it being replaced with a hand-made, block-printed paper created in France.

The original wallpaper was hung by Christopher and Betty Hussey, the last family members to live at Scotney in the 1950s. Betty described it as ‘rolls of a rather, grand, bold patterned wallpaper in two grades of gold, the same period of the house, which looks well on the staircase.’

Portrait of Nicholas Toke

Portrait of Nicholas Toke - Credit: Archant

The funding to reprint the wallpaper was kindly supplied by the John Cornforth Memorial Fund, a close friend of the Hussey’s and throughout November visitors can watch from behind-the-scenes as the original, unusually sized, paper is painstakingly replaced and the staircase restored to its former glory. The house is open until February and accessed via a timed ticket, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/scotney-castle

The Little Lost Bear

The image of a cute little bear on his way to market is entirely innocent, but on Monday 8 November 1920 the Daily Express hoped the appearance of Rupert Bear would be its new secret weapon in the battle to gain readers. ‘Teddy Tail’ and ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ were already appearing in rival publications and the newspaper wanted a character that would capture the imagination of its younger readers.

So Herbert Tourtel, the night manager of the Daily Express, did what many wise men do and asked his wife, Mary, for help. Mary was a talented artist who had studied at the Sidney Cooper School of Art in Canterbury before their marriage. Now aged 45, she worked as a housewife but soon rose to the challenge and created the character of Rupert Bear with his trademark checked trousers, scarf and red jumper (in the early books he can also be seen wearing cream trousers and a blue jumper).

In Rupert’s first picture he is shown saying goodbye to his parents as he sets off to buy some honey and fruit.

The text underneath warns him not to stray as ‘many things might happen to small bears who lost the way’. Mary wrote and illustrated his story for 15 years until Albert Bestall took over from her. Now 96 years on, Rupert Bear annuals are still on sale and fans of all ages can go and find out more about his story, friends and creation at the Canterbury Heritage Museum.

You can also say hello to Bagpuss and Noggin the Nog as you wander through to the Rupert Bear Room, which will re-open for Christmas from 17-23 December.


Churchill’s Unwanted Gift

We’ve all received a present we don’t like. The question is what to do with it. Hide it away? Pretend it accidentally got broken? But what happens when you receive something so ghastly that you just have to destroy it?

On November 30 1954, Winston Churchill was presented with an illuminated book covered in green leather. Inside it, was the signature of every Member of the House of Commons, a rare demonstration of the respect he was afforded by his peers. Churchill valued the book highly and is quoted as saying, ‘There has never been anything like it in British History. I doubt whether any of the modern democracies abroad have shown such a degree of kindness and generosity to a party politician who has not yet retired and may at any time be involved in controversy.’

Little did he know how true his words would soon turn out to be. For accompanying the book, was a full-length portrait of Churchill painted by Graham Sutherland. Members of both Houses had subscribed 1,000 guineas to commission it but Churchill and his wife detested the portrait on sight. Lady Churchill thought it made her husband look ‘half-witted’ and hid it.

No one knew where it was until, many years after Lady Churchill’s death, a taped interview with her Private Secretary revealed that, in order to grant her employer’s wish for the painting to disappear, she had taken the portrait away in the dead of night and burnt it. Fortunately, the illuminated book was greatly treasured and is now temporarily on show at Chartwell as part of the new Child of the Commons exhibition, which runs from 12 November-19 February, between 11am-3pm.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of Chartwell to the public. The National Trust has launched a major appeal to raise £7.1m to acquire hundreds of Churchill’s personal objects, which includes the House of Commons Birthday book, so they can be returned to his former home.


In Want Of An Heir

In November 1641, ‘Captain’ Nicholas Toke stood at the altar of Eastwell Church waiting for his bride. For the fifth time. Sadly, the 56-year-old owner of Godinton House, near Ashford had already been widowed four times, but rather than give up the idea of having an heir, Mr Toke decided he would increase his chances of offspring by taking a much younger bride.

Lady Diana Finch, whose father, the Earl of Winchelsea, owned Eastwell Manor, was deemed a suitable match and celebratory full-length paintings were made of the couple. Lady Diana is depicted wearing a brightly coloured, embroidered gown with flowers scattered at her feet, while her new husband is shown as a tall, remarkably young-looking man, dressed in black and rather a lot of lace.

The reason Captain Toke was so eager to produce an heir was to protect his family’s ownership of Godinton Estate. For without an heir to carry on his line, the estate would fall to his nephew. Sadly, it was not to be and although the couple were married for nearly 26 years they didn’t have any children. Captain Toke was not about to give up, however, and local legend says that he died at the age of 92 en route to London to marry his sixth wife!

The portraits continued to hang at Godinton until the Toke family left the house some 250 years later. In 1996, the portraits were put up for auction and the Godinton House Preservation Trust were able to bring them back home. Visitors can now see them in the Dining Room.