Theobalds Park in Cheshunt Hertfordshire was once home to the characterful Lady Valerie Meux. Built in the 1760s by George Prescott, Esq, its slightly elevated position would have provided stunning views over the Lea Valley, and today is occupied by the De Vere Hotel.
The estate was acquired by Sir Henry Meux, a brewer from London, in the 1820s. It was under the ownership of Henry’s son, also named Henry, and his wife Lady Valerie Meux, that Theobalds perhaps witnessed its most colourful period of history.
Born in 1847, before she married into the wealthy Meux family, Valerie Susan Langdon worked as an actress and according to her obituary in the New York Times she had met her husband whilst performing in Brighton. Rumours have however suggested a more scandalous meeting whilst working in Holborn. Her flamboyant character wasn’t too popular within the aristocratic society she had married into, and the marriage had in itself caused quite a scandal.
Nevertheless, once comfortably embedded in the family seat at Theobalds, Lady Meux was not reluctant in making her mark. Fascinated by Egyptian history, she established a museum of Egyptian antiquities at Theobalds, a collection of over 1,700 items. She also improved and enlarged the estate with additions including a swimming pool and indoor rolling skating rink – all impressive features for her to entertain her many guests, including the Prince of Wales and Winston Churchill.
Perhaps her most lavish influence was persuading her husband to purchase Temple Bar from the City of London, which was residing in storage, so that she would have a grand entrance to her estate. The iconic gateway designed by Sir Christopher Wren remained at Theobalds until 2003, when it returned to Paternoster Square, London. This was not the only extravagant purchase she had persuaded her husband to spend his money on. Race horses were also a passion of Lady Meux’s and so she had her husband buy them for her, which she would race under the name of Mr Theobalds.
In 1881, Lady Meux commissioned James McNeil Whistler to paint her portrait. His portrait Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux can be seen today at the Frick Museum in New York, and Arrangement in Black: Lady Meux belongs to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A third portrait was also commissioned although was never finished due to a dispute between Whistler and Lady Meux. It was subsequently destroyed by the artist.
Following her husband’s death in 1900, Lady Meux had become concerned for the British forces during the Siege of Ladysmith of the Second Boer War. Her offer quickly to finance artillery was rejected by the War Office, but fearsome as she was she went ahead and did it privately anyway, supplying 12 field guns.
After the war, she got to know Sir Hedworth Lambton, a senior naval officer at Ladysmith. So impressed was she with Sir Hedworth, she left everything, including the Meux brewery, to him in her will on the proviso that Sir Hedworth change his name to Meux, which he readily did on his benefactress’ death in 1910. Sir Hedworth Meux went on to become Admiral of the Fleet and a Conservative MP. His hunting trophies, a tiger and leopard, from an expedition with King George V (then the Prince of Wales) were for many years on display at Cedars Park, Cheshunt and today can be seen at Lowewood Museum.
The Meux family continued to live at Theobalds until 1929. Since then, the house has been used as a hotel, a school and college, before re-opening as a hotel as it is used today.
Give a brief outline of what you will be working on over the coming year.
I am working on a project celebrating the work of the Pulhams of Broxbourne, key landscape designers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I will be developing a touring exhibition and marketing this to potential host venues. The exhibition will launch at Lowewood Museum in January 2017 and be available for tour from May 2017. I will also be organising an event program to accompany the exhibition, and producing interpretation signage on the former Pulham factory site, the remains of which are being conserved as part of the project. The whole project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is being delivered in partnership with Broxbourne Borough Council and B3Living.
What is your favourite thing about working in Museums?
That moment when a visitor discovers a famous, personal or local history link to a museum object that makes them go ‘oh wow’. Inspiring and enthusing people of all ages with the collections and the areas of history covered by a museum is the most rewarding part of the job. Plus the chance to get involved in lots of different activities, get dressed up in historical costumes for events, and generally have fun all in the name of the job!
Share one piece of advice for those interested in working in the Museum field.
Think outside the box. The role and work of museums is constantly changing, so be flexible and don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas, whether you are volunteering or at a job interview!
Which historical figure would you like to meet and why. What would you ask them?
John Ray, the 17th Century father of natural history, who worked out the first scientific definition of a species and catalogued thousands of plants, animals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects during his life. The sheer scale of his works amazes me. He also wrote very advanced papers for the 17th Century on adaptation and the origins of fossils. However, sadly he is not that well known despite his ground-breaking contributions. He lived in my former home village of Black Notley in Essex so I guess I would probably ask him – ‘What was it really like to live in Black Notley in the 1690s?’
Where would you choose to go/visit if you could go anywhere in the world for a day?
New Zealand to see the Lord of the Rings sets
What was the first music track or album you bought?
Ronan Keating’s album Ronan
“we hear that the Russians are performing more than favourably – again that Lord Kitchener is unexpectedly drowned off the coast of the Orkneys and so the tide of this war ebbs and flows.” Wednesday 28 June
“the hospital is still being kept empty and as the people say that our artillery is very active, I suppose we may reckon on an advantage being made shortly and then no doubt we will be busy.”
Prehistory of the Lea Valley: Stone Age to Iron Age c.1,000,000 BC – 43AD
This incredible period of history lasted over 1,000,000 years. Dramatic changes in climate shaped the landscape we see today. The oldest period is known as the Stone Age because of the main material people used to make tools with at the time. Remains of these tools, and the animals that were hunted with them can still be found around this area and many of them are on display in Lowewood Museum.
There are three periods within the Stone Age, which mark changes in the stone tools that were made. During the Palaeolithic, or Old Stone Age, the main tool was the handaxe. This was a large piece of flint with one rounded edge that fitted comfortably in the hand. There was also a sharp edge that could be used for a range of different jobs such as cutting meat and wood, scraping animal hides or making other tools. In the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, stone tools got smaller and a range of different tools were made to suit different jobs. In the Neolithic, or New Stone Age, stone tools were polished which made them much stronger.
During the Palaeolithic period there were great changes in the climate between cold and warm periods. During cold periods the landscape round here was covered by wide open grasslands where woolly mammoth, woolly rhino and bison thrived. In warmer periods grasslands were replaced by forests which suited different animals, such as straight tusked elephants and aurochs, an ancient type of wild cattle.
Molar tooth of a woolly mammoth.
Bone of a straight tusked elephant, flint axes and hammer stone.
During the Mesolithic period which started about 8,800 BC, the climate warmed again. Forests grew and different animals such as wild boar, deer, foxes and badgers moved here across the land bridge with Europe. Mammoth and other animals that preferred cold conditions moved further north and across to what we now know as Siberia. The land bridge was finally cut off about 6,500BC when sea levels rose. People had to adapt their tools to suit hunting different animals in a different landscape. They made small arrowheads for hunting deer in forests and smaller scrapers for cutting and cleaning meat and skins.
In the Neolithic period, people used stronger polished stone tools to cut down trees and plough land so they could grow food by farming as well as hunting.
The Bronze Age began around 2,600BC when people worked out how to extract metal ore from rock. Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, could be heated until it turned into liquid, and then poured into clay moulds to make axe heads useful for clearing even more land for farming. The majority of Bronze Age objects in the Museum’s collection were found in Half Hide Lane, Cheshunt during an archaeological dig in 1983.
Around 800 BC, the Iron Age began when people worked out how to create the high temperatures needed to heat iron and hammer it in to shape. Iron was even stronger than bronze, allowing for more tools and equipment to be made. Wooden fragments on display in Lowewood Museum are evidence of a possible Iron Age Lake Village was found at Fishers Green.
Find out more about the prehistoric people, animals and places of Broxbourne within Lowewood Museum’s Braham Gallery.
A museum’s mission is to be at the heart of the local community. Lowewood Museum’s Development Officer, Carly Hearn, gives an insight into the creation of memory boxes – which when used as part of reminiscence therapy can help reconnect a person with their identity. The project was supported through funding by Broxbourne Borough Council, Epping Forest District Council and Hertfordshire Association of Museums.
Have you ever visited your local museum? Do you know what services they provide for older people? Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, is one of many museums playing a supportive role to residential and nursing homes providing outreach work which uses their collection in productive and meaningful ways. In 2015, the Lowewood Museum launched a set of memory boxes containing nostalgic objects for local care homes and community organisations.
Memory boxes are often used for reminiscence therapy, helping to reconnect a person with their identity and to improve communication, mood and overall wellbeing. Reminiscence therapy encourages social interaction by giving people the opportunity to share stories and experiences through a fun and stimulating activity. It also helps to bring together people of different backgrounds and generations, often helping to improve relationships between carers and the older person. The Cochrane Collaboration Review on reminiscence therapy for dementia showed that for 144 of the participants studied, there was evidence to show that reminiscence therapy improved cognition, mood and general behavioural function.
Lowewood Museum is not alone with this as many museums across the country offer memory boxes which are often free to hire. These easy to use low-cost boxes, filled with memory-jogging objects, can have a significant impact on someone’s wellbeing and evidence has also shown that reminiscence therapy can also significantly reduce care-giver strain when family carers are also involved (Thorgrimsen, 2002).
Joint reminiscence work involving people with dementia and their family care givers is a good example of relationship-centred care (Wood B, Spector AE, Jones CA, Orrell M, Davies SP, 2005) and evidence has shown that reminiscence therapy can assist in the reduction of depression in older people without dementia. (Bohlmeijer, 2003). Involving carers and older people without dementia in both the development and delivery of the boxes was vital for Lowewood’s project, as from the outset it was essential to recognise the central role played by volunteers and carers in nursing and residential care. With the ever increasing demand on care home staff, the Museum offered a base for community groups to work together producing a set of memory boxes which they could take ownership of, helping to promote to more individuals.
For Lowewood’s project, volunteers from the Lea Valley University of the Third Age (U3A) were recruited to help develop the boxes, working alongside staff from local nursing home, Quantum Care’s Belmont View, flexi care and independent living provider, B3Living, visual impaired organisation, Vision4Growth and speech and language therapy group, Cheshunt Aphasia, helping to ensure the boxes met the needs of their residents and group members. By working with Visual Impaired Organisation, Vision4Growth and speech and language support group, Cheshunt Aphasia, the Museum ensured expert advice was sought for residents in care who had suffered strokes, or other causes of speech and sight impairment. All those involved received training from a reminiscence specialist on how to use reminiscence therapy in person-centred care.
The final result produced four boxes which incorporated objects from the 1930s onwards appealing to both men and women, arranged in themes including Home Sweet Home, Out on the Town, When We Were Young, and Happy Days. Each box also comprised a support pack for care staff, which includes cue cards for discussion prompts and feedback sheets for sharing reminiscence session ideas between care homes. Popular items within the boxes that have helped to un-lock memories and stimulate discussions include cat’s cradle, Dinky Toys, a school milk bottle, Punch and Judy puppets, seaside postcards, dress and knitting patterns, sunlight soap, men’s razors and ladies hair curlers. We were also careful to include more recent items from the 1970s and 1980s for use with younger residents and people living with early onset dementia. All items were relatively inexpensive, sourced online or through car boot sales and local donations. Within three months of their launch the boxes were fully booked by local care homes and community groups, used in reminiscence sessions by over 300 people. Lowewood Museum has built on this initial success to develop new reminiscence based resources and support for care homes, including reminiscence sessions and tea and chat sessions at the Museum.
‘Home Sweet Home worked very well with our residents and staff alike! Our residents shared their memories as the items prompted long forgotten thoughts. There was much laughter at some of the stories told. The residents enjoyed talking to the younger members of staff and teaching them about life in past times – that was empowering for them. Thank you.’
St Catherine’s Care Home, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Lowewood Museum’s Home Sweet Home Memory Box.
One of the care homes making use of the boxes is St Catherine’s in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Activity and Lifestyle Facilitator, Carol Kerr, first used the boxes in a group setting, sitting with residents and selecting objects one at a time. Carol spoke of how the objects prompted many memories with the residents, with many stating, “I had one of those” and “‘I haven’t seen one of those for years”. Carol also said that ‘some of our younger member of staff had never seen some of the items before and so it empowered our residents, to be able to explain to them what their uses were’. Carol went on to explain how the room was filled with laughter and how a lovely afternoon was spent reminiscing and sharing stories.
Carol also used the memory boxes with individuals in a quieter setting. Ellie who is 87 prefers to sit in a quiet lounge and carers often find it hard to interest and engage her in any activity. However, when a member of staff walked into the lounge wearing the old fashioned apron, (or pinny as they called it!), Ellie threw her head back and laughed. “I used to wear one of those” she said, and remained cheerful and was happy to look through the box. The staff found this very rewarding.
Lowewood Museum’s memory boxes are available to hire for groups. They can be borrowed free of charge – for more information contact us on email@example.com or 01992 445596.
Using memory boxes in person-centred care is an inexpensive resource offering meaningful results. With the ever-increasing pressure on care home staff to fulfil their daily tasks, it is perhaps their local museum who can offer the support in the development of reminiscence resources. If you haven’t visited your local museum, why not find out where it is and see what they have to offer in terms of resources and support for your care home? A museum’s mission is to be at the heart of its local community, as a main hub helping to bring together local communities, groups and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Museums should exist as a place to offer all individuals the opportunity to explore and re-connect with the past and thus can play a crucial role in supporting nursing and residential care homes with the objects they collect and the vibrant outreach work they offer.
Wood B, Spector AE, Jones CA, Orrell M, Davies SP (2005) Reminscence Therapy for Demntia. The Cochrane Collaboration Review.
L Thorgrimsen, P Schweitzer, M Orrell (2002) Evaluating reminiscence for people with dementia: a pilot study. The Arts is Psychotherapy.
Bohlmeijer E, Smit F, Cuijpers P (2003) Effects of reminiscence and life review on late-life depression: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Museum of Liverpool (2012) An evaluation of National Museums Liverpool: Dementia Training Programme
“a few days ago there was a bomb accident in the training camp at the back amongst the Australians and New Zealanders – the sergeant instructor was killed outright and 5 others wounded. We were sent for with stitches and brought them down here where two died from their wounds.”
Monday 15 May
“another bomb accident – last Saturday! An officer was brought into us straight onto the operating table with his cart hood artery almost completely severed. We did our best but to no purpose and he died an hour after – terrible.”
“I have been worrying lately because I am here! I am 35, unmarked, with no dependants and recently passed by one of our doctors and the local eye specialist as fit for service – I therefore ask myself: ‘Why am I here at the base?’ ‘Am I not fulfilling all the conditions for a man to be at the front?’ My conscience amounts that I am and I ought therefore to be at the front.” Thursday 18 May
“today we have had a visit from General Sir Douglas Haig – the Commander-In-Chief – but he did not come to the theatre. A handsome looking man between 50 and 60, I suppose with a pleasant type of face.”
“tomorrow Hartley goes into a ward and Nicholls takes his place – so our happy little family is broken up – fortunately Nicholls is a good chap (a man from Hitchin) and we shall get on all right together”
Thursday December 2
“an unusual thing happened today – we had two very easy operations simultaneously – one a secondary haemorrhage which lead to the arm and punctuation of the leg – this seemed a nasty wound in the back punctuating the pleural cavity. We extracted bits of rib and a piece of army shirt – as would naturally be expected, practically all gunshot wounds contain bits of clothing”
Saturday December 11
“I fear that this diary has of late become rather dull and I expect that in places I have repeated myself but it is difficult always to remember what one has already written or to make ones ordinary work appear rather attractive in black and white”
Wednesday December 15
“Vol. II of my diary! Where shall I be when this book is finished! I don’t think I ever really contemplated reaching into a second volume”
Friday December 17
“more trouble in the barrack rooms – the major came round the other day and complained that they were not sufficiently tidy – hence everything except one small box for cleaning tackle is to be or has been swept away to our disgust”
“I also had the worst case of trench foot that I have so far seen – at the top joints of the legs on the right foot having mortified and so might be cut off”
Saturday December 18
“afternoon off today so went with Evelyn to Beauton – we got a lift in a passing cart driven by a man whose home was at La Bassee – his wife and children were in the hands of the Germans and he had heard nothing of them since October 9th!”
Saturday December 25
“how today – X-Mas day – we have a breathing space with no operations. As such a landmark in the year comes round the feeling of ___ , being in a horrible dream strikes one afresh. What am I out in France as an orderly in a hospital for? Why am I doing it?”
“I will tell the story of the sergeant’s turkey : Lounds, the x-Ray man, was going down to the barrack rooms and saw the sergeant’s orderly carrying the cooked turkey in a dish across the road – a wet night and tarred road did the rest! The turkey landed heavily on the road. The orderly stooped down and lifting the bird by one leg, examined it all over. Then, glancing around and thinking himself to be alone, drew out of his pocket a handkerchief and carefully removed the mud! The turkey was replaced on the dish and so far we have not heard that the sergeant complained of his meal!”