On a damp Sunday afternoon we went to Dunham Massey in Cheshire to visit the “Sanctuary From the Trenches” exhibition that has just opened. This lovely old Georgian house, once the seat of the Earls of Warrington and Stamford was also a military hospital during the first World War. The National Trust, to commemorate the centenary of the war, has turned back time to 1917 and made an amazing job of recreating the hospital.Loads of people had the same idea as us, the whole place was extremely busy and we feared mass crowds would spoil our day. Not so however, the timed ticket system was working really well, inside the house didn’t feel crowded and outside there is more than enough acreage for everyone. There were extremely helpful staff dotted about inside the house, but this is a self-guided tour and you take things at your leisure. Right by the entrance we found heaps of information about the history of the hospital, how it came about, the illnesses that were treated here and the family’s role in everything. Lady Jane, the daughter of the house left school to become a nurse and found her vocation.
The corridors were full of old newspapers and Red cross boxes. We found the Saloon which, in 1917, was turned into a ward with 25 beds for the injured soldiers. You are encouraged to touch everything – beds, bedside cabinets etc. nothing is out of bounds. Each of the beds had the medical notes of a real soldier, a great touch. Son was enthralled to find actors in this area – “soldiers” in the beds and “nurses” going about their duties – it made things come alive for him (and us!).
Upstairs in the billiard room was the nurses’ station, it was full of interesting facts about the nurses and their lives. Lady Stamford turned an upstairs bedroom into her living room and sanctuary. It remains the way she had it with lots of photos and personal bits and pieces. The next room along was stacked high with furniture, dust sheets and had the general air of things being shoved there in a hurry – as it was in 1917. They have copies of Lady Stamford’s many letters on display as well as her prized OBE.
Son was by this time more than ready to get outside, run around and let off steam. We headed for the winter garden and picked up a children’s trail sheet at the entrance. He raced around tracking clues. We took in the signs of spring approaching (at long last). There are some nice views of the back of the house, a periscope and Son found where the family buried their pets. Evidence of some of our recent storms was also to be found.
The World War 1 theme continues throughout the gardens with lots of propaganda posters. There are two new memorials to the soldiers – one a rather ugly concrete offering which is supposed to represent all of the patients treated here. The other is more attractive and has soldiers’ poetry and thoughts engraved on it.
To end the day, we had a stroll through the deer park – with not a deer in sight. A great day out though and a fascinating insight into the life of a soldier returning from the horrors of the WW1 trenches. The National Trust have excelled with this project – it brings history to life and we loved it.