Duty Calls: Yorkshire Country Houses launch linked exhibitions revealing wartime role

By Richard Moss | 18 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Duty Calls: The Country House in Time of War, various locations, Yorkshire, until October 2014

a photo of First World War soldier with his wife and four young children
A family on the Estate of Sewerby Hall during World War One© Courtesy YCHP
With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War approaching in 2014, the latest project from the innovative Yorkshire Country House Partnership (YCHP) is a timely one which focuses on the role of the county’s major country houses during wartime.  

Most of the great houses and estates in the county were affected by the cataclysmic events of two world wars. Some of them can even trace involvement in conflicts back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Duty Calls: The Country House in Time of War looks at the impact of these conflicts on nine of Yorkshire’s major country houses with a series of interlinked exhibitions.

Utilising photographs, paintings, military memorabilia and a rich selection of letters, journals, and estate papers, the nine displays reveal the stories of the houses, their occupants and the wider communities as they faced the hardships of war across three centuries.

Some of the displays focus on personal experiences of military combat, others on how war affected the use of the house itself and the running of the estate or the lives of those left at home. They also reveal the level of community initiatives and war work, as well as the economic and social consequences of war in the aftermath.

a photo of a World War One soldier standing straight with a swagger stick
Arty Spence, Gamekeeper at Kiplin Hall, First World War© Courtesy YCHP / Kiplin Hall
At National Trust Property Beningbrough Hall, near York (until November 2013), the exhibition focuses on the poignant histories of the men and women who stayed there during the period when the house was requisitioned as a billet and mess for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The life of a country house in both world wars at home and abroad is explored at Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster (March 29 2013 to September 2014) with artefacts and letters, including those sent from men in the trenches thanking a school girl for her knitting them garments.

For generations at Castle Howard, (May 25 – December 2014) war cast a shadow over all of its inhabitants from the Howard family right down to the staff and tenants, who all suffered bereavement and losses that can be traced today on the local war memorials.

Fairfax House (August 9 – December 31 2013), in York, casts its net further back into history to explore the role of the house during the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 and how the symbolism of the Rose in artwork from the time reveals the pattern of shifting allegiances during this turbulent period.

At Kiplin Hall, in Richmond (March 29 2013 to October 29 2014), the exhibition highlights many stories including that of its last owner, the remarkable Miss Bridget Talbot, who served with the Red Cross in the First World War, invented a torch for life-jackets that saved many lives in the Second World War, and oversaw Kiplin as a World War II RAF maintenance unit.

The long history of conflict and how it affected the Gascoigne family is explored at Lotherton Hall in Leeds (22 March to 31 January 2014), where the history of conflict stretches from the American War of Independence to the Second World War. The Hall was used as a military hospital in the First World War.

Reserved as a safe haven for the Royal family should the Royal Palaces come under attack, the role of Newby Hall in Ripon (March 29 2013) during the Second World War is revealed in an intriguing exhibition exploring how the house was shrouded in secrecy and intrigue. Newby had to be ready to receive the Royal party with just six hours’ notice.

At National Trust property Nostell Priory, near Wakefield (from June 2013 to August 2014), researchers are still looking into the way the First World War touched lives at home and away, for rich and poor, farmworker, landowner, tradesman or maid.

And at Sewerby Hall, Bridlington (March 23 to September 1 2013), an exhibition contrasts the experiences of the Lloyd Graeme family and their estate workers during the First and Second World War when it was requisitioned as a convalescent home for RAF personnel.

YCHP is a collaboration between partnership houses across Yorkshire and the University of York, dedicated to research into the history of the houses, investigating their architecture, landscapes, families, archives, collections and local communities.

Duty Calls follows hugely popular joint exhibition projects Maids and Mistresses (2004); and Work and Play (2007). Duty Calls is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund.

  • A series of related evnts takes place througout the project. For full details visit www.ychp.org.uk

More photos:

a photo of two servicemen sat on a dump of large bombs
Bomb dumps in Kiplin Woods, Second World War. Kiplin was used by the RAF as 224 Maintenance Unit from 1942 to 1944© Courtesy YCHP / Kiplin Hall
a group photo of men in First World War British uniform
Staff at Sewerby Hall© Courtesy YCHP / Brodsworth Hall
a photo of three men in flying gear with the man in the centre wearing a large fur coat
Geoffrey Talbot (centre) of Kipin Hall served with the Royal Naval Air Service, stationed at Dunkirk and Dover. He was killed in June 1916© Courtesy YCHP / Kiplin Hall
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