Uncovering Ickworth's past

Chloe reading a book Ickworth

Knowledge about Ickworth's landscape, house and collection underpins every aspect of the work we do and how we tell our stories and our research team is vital in helping Ickworth do this. House and Collections Manager, Chloe works with the research team to use what they find within the House for visitors to see.

Who are the Research Team?

We have an extraordinarily talented team of volunteers and staff, with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds collaborating on our property Research group. Nearly twenty researchers work on specific tasks related to the planned programme of activities at Ickworth, as well as the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. To ensure that the projects have coherence these tasks are defined by a core group of four researchers along with property staff.

Every month, I am privileged to join in the conversation and debate with this talented team, who have greatly enhanced our understanding of Ickworth and the Hervey family. We aim to expand our knowledge, re-appraise and update existing information, identify and investigate topics for exhibitions or projects.

Our research interests are varied; whether it is medieval settlements, 18th century silver, 20th century servant life, or influential women; it is an ever evolving exploration of the social, cultural, creative and political histories of the Hervey family, their collection and estates.

Research can vary from collating and documenting information, reviewing a range of literature, working with our historic collections, recording oral histories, or writing up our discoveries. There is also the opportunity to read and transcribe letters, archives and other historic materials with personal anecdotes and details about the family. From exploring our own collections at Ickworth, looking at those in local records offices, and reading in national museums or libraries, our research can take us far and wide.

What projects are they currently working on?

The team are currently working on a whole host of research activities. This year, the group have brought alive the story of Frederick William Hervey, 1st Marquess of Bristol, unearthing some personal titbits from a cache of letters between him and his wife. Within the letters, the Marchioness worries about her son George’s poor spelling, whilst the Marquess relates an incident of haste when bringing his ill wife home by carriage, the children saw the brighter side of things collecting armfuls of flowers from the window. These stories help to deepen the narrative we have around the Marquess, his character, life, career and impact on Ickworth. You can find out more about him in our displays across 2019.

Most recently, the group have been focusing on the early history of Ickworth, commissioning drone surveys and locating earthworks in the Albana woods and near to St Mary's Church to help situate a series of now ‘lost’ medieval villages. The social history of the property from the 12th century up to the Tudor and Stuart period is therefore of great interest, with the team researching the lives of characters such as How Goodman recognised as a ‘Brickburner’ working at Ickworth in 1665.

Across this year we will also be uncovering the histories of some of our best examples of Art in the collection, as well as the more personal items that are favourites of our staff and volunteers. These include some that have never been out of store before or have been recently acquired.

What discoveries have they made in the past?

The team are discovering new things every day and sometimes a research thread comes from unexpected places. In 2015, a memento from the Great War was re-discovered in a collections store which sparked the interest of the team. Finding this small circular metal disc inscribed ‘part of Zeppelin L.21. Destroyed at Cuffley Sept 2 1916’ started a two and half year journey of research into life at Ickworth during 1914-1918. The Research team connected with the local church, schools and families of those who had lived in Horringer and Ickworth during the War, with 188 men serving time in the military. Each story provided a unique glimpse of the men behind the numbers; from stories of William Rowles (nick-named ‘Scribbling Billy’ for his love of writing) penning national gardening publications whilst active on the Front, to the remarkable and tragic experience of the Crack family, whose five sons saw their military service congratulated in a letter from King George V.

How does their research inform our storytelling?

Whilst it is important that we produce academic papers and research pamphlets on our given topics, the Research team also recognises that our work needs to be engaging and easily accessible. We often unearth new or untold stories, collaborating with our Curators, House and Collections teams, and other specialists to find interesting ways to share these histories with our visitors. The team plays a big role in considering how the stories of our properties can be presented, exhibited and explored through a range of different media, whether it be themed displays or articles for social media. Together, we write and carry out specialist talks, walks and tours for staff and volunteers as well as visitors. We also respond to frequent research questions whether it be tracing family trees or contributing to academic publications.