The photograph above hangs as one of a pair either side of a charming 18th century mirror in Stanhope Dressing room on the first floor of the Castle. The other photo is in a similar theme. Most houses like Highclere have archives, often housed in specially designed rooms and dating back centuries. They are a unique window back into the past and at Highclere, the archivist and I try to share them with visitors, framing them for corridors as they come round, or use them to help people with their research into their family history as it might relate to Highclere.
Photographs are particularly captivating providing as they do, quite literally, a snapshot of a past lifestyle and social class. Copies of a few of one particular time in Highclere’s history in the early 20th have been in the press recently proving their interest. What really brings them to life however, is the back stories behind the grainy prints. Who were these people and what were their stories?
For me, and David our archivist, this is the most fulfilling part of the job. We are gradually creating a digital archive, collecting and building more knowledge which in turn helps us give better directions to those who enquire of us, thinking they might have some connection. We have scanned in quite a lot of our information so far but are still trying to work out the best way to index them as I am always “losing” them. By the time I have found the one I wanted, I have found so many other photos that hours have gone by…
Last week we had a lovely day sharing and celebrating the photos and stories of a “Highclere” family. Colonel Charles Clout was badly injured in the trenches in the First World War and sent back to England. He was adamant that he did not want to go to Lady Carnarvon’s hospital. Instead, he wanted to be near his sisters. He was ignored and sent nevertheless. He was in fact nursed back to health by Almina, the 5th Countess and had two operations at her hospital. The story is more than that because he fell in love with, and later married, Almina’s secretary, Mary Weekes, who was “helping to run the hospital extremely competently” according to Colonel Clout. Later, Almina organised their wedding at St George’s Church, Hannover Square, London in July 1918. She gave them many presents, providing for their honeymoon and always remained there to help them, as they started their life together and soon their family.
I only discovered the story a few years ago, quite by chance. A descendent, Izzy (Ismena) Clout, leant out to stop me as I crossed the Saloon on a day we were open to the public. Lunches and teas followed. We had some letters and photos, they had others. Their story was part of the book “Lady Almina” and some of the Clout family were able to return last week to plant a tree in their grandparents’ memory. We had a fun day together, walking with my dogs across snowy lawns, down to the Wood of Goodwill, to where Paul and the garden team had dug a large hole for the tree. Hearing the stories, as we walked warmly wrapped against a bitter wind, I felt very lucky to have met them: the photos of Mary and Charles came alive. We returned to find David and some archive photos and letters addressed by Mary or Charles to “My Dear Fairy Godmother” (Almina). I am so glad I turned on that day and said hello to Izzy, a remarkable girl who battled cancer but has since sadly died.