On Thursday 28 October 2021 Lowewood Museum will be hosting a Model Railway Day in conjunction with the Hoddesdon Model and Railway Club. The event will run from 10am to 4pm. All are welcome
On Saturday 13 November 2021 Lowewood will be hosting a Family History Day with the Lea Valley U3A Family History Group. They will help visitors research their family history with a particular focus on accessing wartime and military service records. This event will run from 10am to 4pm, with a helpdesk available from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.
We look forward to seeing you at these events, both of which are free to attend.
Our Tankards, Tales and Taverns exhibition will continue until 6 November. This will be followed by a Christmas-themed exhibition – more details to come.
The first time that I opened the box containing Stephen Warner’s First World War diaries I was amazed at the variety of material housed within.
This collection was compiled by Warner between 1914 and 1918, and added to by subsequent generations. It contains hand-written diaries with pressed flowers and plants, newspaper cuttings, photographs and medals. The contents are very well preserved, wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside an archival box but their storage could be vastly improved to stop conservation issues developing in the future.
Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery we now have money needed to achieve these improvements.
Why do we want to keep them?
The varied war collection once belonged to Stephen Warner, whose relatives lived in Hoddesdon, and it documents his unique war experience.
A first glance at the diaries and their physical properties already tells us several things about Stephen’s experience. For example: pencil was used more often than ink, implying that ink was more difficult to come by. Flowers were pressed within the pages; showing us that, despite the ongoing war, men in service continued with their hobbies and interests. Especially in these centenary years of the commemoration of the First World War it is important to ensure that this collection survives well into the future for generations to learn from and enjoy.
What are the problems?
Historical objects react in different ways with their environment and with other materials that they come in contact with. This often makes it difficult to choose the correct environmental conditions to preserve collections in storage.
The diaries, which also act as herbaria (pressed plant collection), consist of paper and organic materials and prefer a relatively high humidity level. This prevents drying out, shrinkage and cracking.
The plants in the diaries have caused yellowing of several neighbouring pages which is likely to have been caused by acid degradation on the paper from seepage of residual organic material from the flowers.
Medals benefit from low humidity levels to prevent damp and subsequent corrosion or chemical reactions. The metal of medals can also react to their environment and even the oxygen in air can cause the surface of the medal to change and corrode.
Photographs also prefer lower humidity levels and can react with their environment – resulting in spotting, loss of colour or fading (depending on the production quality of the photograph).
Already, you can see that we have conflicting environmental needs in this small collection of objects. Although it is normal practise at museums to separate materials in storage we would like to keep all of this material together at least for the duration of the project and the exhibition. This will avoid disassociation of any items and make them easily accessible.
Each diary’s pages will be interspersed with the finest grade Japanese paper (very thin and chemically stable) beside each pressed plant to prevent further acid degradation on neighbouring pages and subsequent yellowing. They will be placed in specially made conservation grade archival boxes that open to allow easy access to the diaries.
Photographs will be placed in specially made chemically inert plastic sleeves that prevent them from touching other objects and make sure they are still visible. This has the added benefit of making them structurally stronger with a robust casing.
Medals will be put in conservation grade plastic boxes which are airtight. This keeps their environment chemically stable from the other pollutants in the box that might come from the organic material. We can also put silica gel packets in the boxes which absorb moisture and help to reduce the humidity.
The above is a simplified description of the environmental and conservation problems encountered. For more information on the topic, please consult the following online resources:
On February 28, 100 years ago, Stephen Warner was decorated for his brave actions on the Front Line.
For the centenary of the First World War Lowewood Museum is celebrating the life of Stephen Warner. Stephen was one of many unsung heroes of the war. Before fighting on the front line he spent over a year with the Royal Army Medical Corps and attended surgical operations as a theatre orderly, saving the lives of hundreds of men. He was an inspirational leader and much loved Second Lieutenant of A company, 9th Battalion, Essex Regiment, based I Arras, France. He won the Military Cross for organising successful raids on enemy trenches, taking prisoners and capturing a machine gun. This February it will be one hundred years since he won this prestigious award.
Tuesday 5 February 1918 – “The raid is done! The raid is a huge success! Thanks be!… Congratulations have been showered upon me and the Brigadier has interviewed me…and expressed his satisfaction.”
The Military Cross (MC) is a British military decoration that, at the time, was only bettered by the Victoria Cross and the Conspicuous Service Cross. It was introduced during the First World War and awarded to officers for “gallantry in the field.” Thousands of them were given out during the First World War and it, along with the standard issue service medals, was essential in recognising the immense efforts of British soldiers and volunteers in the war.
Stephen Warner assisted with a raid in January 1918 and led some of his own in February 1918 while based in Arras. Looking at the surviving documentation Stephen was given orders relating to the time, date and location of the task but it was up to him, as a patrol leader to decide who to take and how to carry out the task. On the 5th February Stephen and his patrol of 3 men crawled across ‘No-Man’s-Land’ in the dead of night. The conditions were muddy and treacherous while the men had to cut defensive barbed wire but they succeeded and leapt into the German Trench. Remarkably they managed to take two German soldiers as prisoners, capture a machine gun and get back behind their own lines with no casualties – except for ‘a couple of scratches’. For this effort and other successes he was awarded the MC.
February 28 1918 “I have had a proud day. A letter has just come from the adjutant telling me that I have been awarded the military cross! I do not feel that I did anything very wonderful, but I suppose the standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be.”
It is testament to Stephen’s character that he is so modest when he receives the award, commenting that he thinks the ‘standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be’. He also talks in diary entries about how satisfying it is to finally do something he feels contributes to the war effort in an immediately gratifying way.
At Lowewood Museum we are delighted to have Stephen’s diaries, letters and other documents that record his unique experience. We are using these to create an exhibition which is due to open on 19 May 2018.
Getting to know one First World War soldier’s unique experience.
Within Lowewood Museum’s collection are a set of five diaries written during the First World War by Stephen Warner, a soldier whose family came from Hoddesdon. The diaries offer a first-hand perspective of war, in a field hospital and on the front line. There are stories, drawings, pressed flowers, photographs and much more in them, which bring Stephen’s experience to life. Many quotes and images from the diaries have been shared on this blog in the past.
At Lowewood Museum we are working on a research project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, based on the diaries.
In May 2018, as part of our First World War centenary celebrations, we will be launching an exhibition and series of events focusing on this unsung hero and his war diaries.
Look out for more in the coming months and in the meantime keep reading to find out why Stephen is such an important character.
Local Connections and Family Importance
Stephen Warner was the great grandson of John Warner, who owned Lowewood Museum when it was a domestic residence. The Warner family were well known locally and there are several institutions named after them, such as John Warner School and the John Warner Sports Centre.
John Warner also had a bell foundry and famously cast the first ‘Big Ben’, the bell in the Elizabeth Tower at Westminster (it was later recast at Whitechapel in London).
Stephen served the majority of his time in the First World War at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, France. He then went on to serve with the Essex Regiment on the front line. Stephen joined the 3rd Battalion and fought on the front line in France, going on to receive the Military Cross for his gallant and self-sacrificing work.
Thursday. 28 February 1918 “I have had a proud day. A letter has just come from the adjutant telling me that I have been awarded the military cross! I do not feel that I did anything very wonderful, but I suppose the standard to gain the award is lower than it used to be.”
He survived the war but was reported wounded in April 1918. After the war he graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford with an MA. He had a keen interest in history and architecture and later published books on various historic buildings in England including Lincoln College.
In 1928 he moved to Alton, Hampshire and became the honorary curator of the local museum. The museum still has a significant number of artefacts and books that were donated by Stephen and by his wife after he died in 1948.
His diaries offer us a personal interpretation of life in the war from a unique man. Stephen had a keen interest in the flora of his local area and pressed specimens in his diaries.
Throughout the war and especially when he had days off from the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Stephen wandered through the countryside and villages, talking knowledgably about the landscape and flora. He also showed an interest in the local agricultural practises, comparing them to those in England.
Stephen was an intelligent man and took an interest in everything he came across. He describes in his diaries, detailed articles and notes about operations, infections, illnesses and treatments that were being carried out in the hospital. He had a close-up view of these things when he worked in the surgical theatre as an orderly.
Thursday 13 January 1916 “The chief feature is the church, which had a finely vaulted chancel and transept of late 1450. Nice carving on the pillar capitals including acanthus leaves and ivy with berries.”