Hello! My name is Hannah, and I am very grateful to be the first recipient of the Bamber Gascoigne Bursary. This has been my first week at West Horsely Place and I’ve already discovered whispers in the archive of exciting stories that are waiting to be uncovered.

On my first day at West Horsley Place, I met the team and it was great to hear about the activities that were taking place that day. Jo Ellison, the Arts, Heritage, and Learning Coordinator, gave me a tour of the house and showed me the archive room filled with stacks of boxes.

Where to begin? I knew that I wanted to focus on Lady Crewe’s experience during the Second World War, so it made sense to start with her papers. I read through everything, looking for dates or hints of the conflict, trying to make sense of the scribbles of handwriting.

I loved reading the letters from the evacuees who stayed at West Horsley Place in late 1939 and attended an impressive Christmas party which was held by Lord and Lady Crewe. The letters were in excellent condition, and you could see the effort the children had put into making their handwriting neat for their hosts.

In a folder filled with correspondence from the Royal Family, there was a newspaper clipping of Lady Crewe meeting General de Gaulle – leader of the Free French in WWII. This was interesting, and surprising, so I made a note of it. I then came across condolence letters sent to Lady Crewe in August 1945 after the death of Lord Crewe. There was a telegram from the King. But also letters from the Naval Forces of France in Great Britain and commanders of the Free French Forces. Evidently, her connection to France during the war was significant. And then, on top of a shelf was a certificate made out to Madame la Marquise de Crewe. It was an Order National De La Legion D’Honneur – the highest civilian honour that can be awarded by France.

My burning question then became, what did Lady Crewe do during the war to be awarded this honour? I turned to newspaper archives and found hundreds of mentions of Lady Crewe. She was often linked to the “French in Great Britain Fund” and the “British Emergency Council for Help to France”. I also found references to these organisations in French newspapers and there seems to be one related file held at the National Archive.

This week I also worked on uncovering more about the evacuees. Surrey History Centre holds records of Horsley’s history magazine which contains mentions of evacuees’ wartime memories. Clearly, next week I’ll be busy travelling to these different archives and uncovering more snippets of information.

I now have lots of questions but importantly I have a clear focus. If I can, I want to find the evacuees reflections on their time at West Horsley and possibly photographs of them. I also want to paint a clearer picture of Lady Crewe’s relationship with France and the Free French during the war.