Linda Knock, volunteer and Friend of Hylands House, tells us a little about the history of Hylands House in Chelmsford during the First World War. I wonder if V Festival participants will appreciate the rich history of the house and its inhabitants.
Our research comes under two headings – ‘Hylands Military hospital and the people who were there’ and ‘The Men of Hylands who served in the Great War’. Our task was to find ‘the stories’ of these men. For both lots of research the Widford Choir books in the Essex Record Office and the local newspapers in the British Newspaper Archive proved invaluable. We have also been helped by the families of the men we have found. By building trees on Ancestry and putting a post there, I am in contact with the descendants of three men, and have been helped by a member of the Family History Society of Queensland [Australia] – I posted a request on their Facebook page and the following day one of their members went for a walk in the cemetery in Brisbane and found the family’s grave, including a mention of the soldier who died at Hylands. The emails to the local papers unfortunately did not produce any results, but the piece in the Friends of Hylands House newsletter found the descendant of one local soldier. Information from Luckings, the funeral directors, was very useful.
An Australian war grave for Samuel Barrow, a patient in the hospital who was presented with his Military medal on the ward, and then was sent home to Australia.
We were pleased to discover that Sir Daniel Gooch made the bedside lockers for the wards when the ground floor of his house was made into a hospital; first used by the 2nd and 3rd South Midland Field Ambulance Corps, then for Belgian soldiers and British soldiers. Many of the latter were from Scottish regiments and the local newspaper at the time of their arrival at the Hylands Halt on the railway said “Several Scottish regiments were represented, but as they were all in khaki it was difficult to distinguish their regiments.” There were also soldiers from Canadian and Australian regiments and I have to admit it was easier to access their records than those over here [and at no cost]. From over 1500 men who were treated at Hylands we have only 9 names from the local newspapers. But from those names we have found their families and their stories. One success already was the cleaning of the war graves in St Mary’s Churchyard in Widford. I was very upset when I visited the graves in November last year to find they were green, so I emailed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and was pleased to find that when I returned in April that they are in their original condition.
The grave of Private Gough, Canadian Infantry, in Widford churchyard
At the time of the Great War the Hylands Estate was not the park as we know it now, but a huge estate including many of the farms around – Widford Hall, Skeggs, Montpeliers, Webbs, Elms and many others, so the task was huge. We decided to find out as many names as possible from the 1911 census and the 1918 voters list [ERO]. There were many men who were the right age, so we have a list of names, but are concentrating on producing the stories of a few. We decided to include Widford as it was so close to Hylands and many of the men attended, or were choristers at St Mary’s Widford. The stories we have chosen so far are those of Lancelot Gooch of Hylands House, two brothers who went into the Army and the Navy at 16, a soldier and his wife who both died of influenza just after Peace was declared, a gamekeeper who lived in one of the Estate lodges, and a soldier who lived in one of the Causeway Cottages that belonged to the estate.
Eric Robinson of Widford on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth
If anyone reading this has information about soldiers who were treated at Hylands Military Hospital, or those who were from the Estate, please get in touch.
The results of our research will be displayed in the House at the event on 14th and 15th September.
Why not visit Hylands House on Sunday 14th September to see the research presented and also to get the first glimpse of the Last Poppy touring exhibition. The official launch will be at 12:45 that day! Watch this space…