Monday means it’s my time to write a post, and as I’ve been christened ‘history buff and modern day Tony Robinson’ by Christina (I hope she allows my embellishment of the role she bestowed upon me in the previous post), I thought it’d be interesting to occasionally venture off-topic and write about a little bit of detective work I’ve been doing over the past year or so, in this case it’s tied into the Magnificent Seven quite well, although indirectly.
My friend Ben used to live in an apartment of an old Victorian mansion down in East Grinstead. At the time of its construction it was a very well furnished and comfortable family home set within sixty-four acres. The grounds boasted a lake with Pheasants, Badgers and Deer roaming wild. It was the first place I saw a clear night sky relatively unhindered by light pollution as it was out in the depths of the Sussex countryside, and many an evening I’ve spent there having barbeques, going on ghost hunts after a precarious amount of Polish beer and Two and a Half Men marathons.
Ben’s parents then decided to move, and as is customary with moving, belongings were sifted through in due process to be ready to take to the next house. This involved going into a converted stables and sorting through the belongings that couldn’t fit into the apartment. Ben invited me over one weekend as he wanted to show me something before he moved.
I’d never been to this part of the outbuildings before, and he opened the old stable doors to where Horses were once kept, which had been converted into a workshop for his Carpentry shenaningans. He told me to climb an incredibly steep staircase to what was the old hayloft, which I did. What greeted me at the top of the stairs was nothing short of extraordinary.
Old Secrets Uncovered
During the War, the Army commandeered the Mansion and used it as a stop-off station for soldiers. What happened to the family that lived there I’m not sure, but in the foyer of the Mansion are pictures of the history of the house and my eye on one occasion was drawn to a picture that showed George V in the grounds, probably in support of the Soldiers posted there.
The room that lay before me was probably 12 by 14ft long, painted in a flaking pastel green colour. It was empty save for an old wheelchair and an old Chest. The floor was worn, unvarnished wood and the windows were black lead lined single glazed glass. Ben then told me to look at the walls. Immediately, my eyes were unsure where to focus, as markings covered the walls: all four of them. I looked more closely and saw various little mottos and names written in biro and marker pen: one gave a name with a crude Canadian flag drawn immediately above it. Ben then told me that this graffiti was made during the occupation of the house by the armed forces.
Ben then drew my attention to the black chest in the top right hand corner of the room. I went over to it and opened it, and it was jam-packed with photographs, letters, and books. Faces of people who were long dead. I was touched by how the photos of various parties, stage productions and gatherings were now lost to time, in years gone by clearly capturing very fond, intimate moments of a life well lived.
I then happened upon something in the chest that picqued my interest.
On some very aged, pale blue paper, a little longer and narrower than a sheet of A4, was some beautiful copperplate handwriting. Authentically written with a dip pen and ink. On the first side various weights and measures were listed (cubic, apothecary, cloth, wine), and on the reverse, ‘leading dates of English History’, stretching from 55BC to 1857. All beautifully written, and with such precision. Various events on there I’d never even heard of, such as ‘the execution of Sir W.Russell – 1683’ and ‘The Battle of ‘Oudenarde – 1708’. At the bottom, just as ornately, was written ‘Montague Fowler, June 30th, 1869’, surrounded by tiny dots.
There was also a bible belonging to him in there, where he had the title ‘Reverend’. Who was this man, what happened to him, and why were his belongings in a forgotten hayloft in Sussex?
The story continues below…