Somme tragedy remembered in a castle basement

Recreated WWI battle trench

One hundred years after the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916, visitors to Powis Castle are being transported back in time to experience life in the trenches during the First World War.

An installation, which has transformed the castle’s empty basement rooms into a full-scale replica trench and officers’ mess, tells the story of Viscount Percy Clive, the eldest son and heir of the 4th Earl of Powis. As an officer in the Welsh Guard, he was fatally wounded during the Battle of the Somme.

Gareth Sandham, Powis’ House and Collections Manager, said: “With an 800 year history, Powis Castle has so many stories to tell about the families who lived here. In this anniversary year of such a momentous event as the Battle of the Somme, we wanted to pay tribute to Percy Clive and invite our visitors to learn more about his life as they explore the house.

Oppressive environment

“When visitors weave through the trench surrounded by the sound of gunshots, they are able to reflect on the oppressive environment which Percy and the soldiers in his regiment would have endured and see how they would have spent their time waiting for the call to battle.  

“What makes the experience ever more poignant, however, is the stark and overwhelming contrast between the splendour of the house where Percy grew up and the cramped, dimly lit conditions of the trenches.”

Percy Clive's picture still sits on a desk at Powis Castle
A portrait of Percy Clive on a desk in a room at Powis Castle

Drawing on a wealth of original letters and diaries, the team at Powis Castle alongside a group of dedicated National Trust volunteers, have been able to piece together the story from the battlefield and the emotions of Percy’s family who remained at home.

Excerpts from the hand-written documents have been displayed throughout an exhibition to allow visitors to piece together the story as it unfolded.

Family letter

In one letter written by the sister of Percy Clive’s mother, Violet, she describes the moment the family were told that Percy wouldn’t recover from his wounds: ‘Violet and I were called up about 12 o’clock (midnight) and Violet ran down the street in a thin dressing gown… Our darling was unconscious and dying. My poor sister knelt by his side, his hand in hers, her head on his pillow… Dearest Clive never rallied.’

Percy’s death is a significant moment in Powis Castle’s history, not least because it was the first of a sequence of family tragedies that led to the castle passing into the care of the National Trust in 1952.

The installation at Powis Castle is open until 30 September. For more information and opening times, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/powis-castle-and-garden.

Powis Castle and Garden

A medieval castle rising dramatically above a world-famous garden.