The Cowdray Heritage Trust was very pleased to be part of the Midhurst Town Cup which took place on Sunday 2nd July. For those of you who may not have come across us before, the Trust is a Registered Charity responsible for preserving and maintaining Cowdray Ruins.
Cowdray Ruins was a once great Tudor House with building work starting in 1520 and the house being virtually complete by 1542. Although Cowdray is mainly associated with the Tudor period it has, of course, played a significant role in Midhurst during its long history and has been visited by Royalty, including Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.
The connection between the great house and equestrian sport stretches back to Sir Anthony Browne, Henry VIII’s Master of The Horse, and continues to the present day as the Home of British Polo, so it seemed very apt that Cowdray Heritage Trust was part of the Midhurst Town Cup.
Cowdray was also linked to the Gunpowder Plot and survived occupation by Civil War Roundhead troops – however, in 1793 a devastating fire took hold within the house and it became The Ruins we see today. During the nineteenth century Cowdray was embraced by the fashionable Romantic Revival as an object of antiquarian interest and general curiosity, and during the World Wars played host to servicemen and the Women’s Land Army.
We wanted to bring some of The Ruins’ illustrious history to life at the Midhurst Town Cup, and we were, therefore, delighted to have the “Land Army” with us as well as a blacksmith demonstrating Tudor period crafts.
The “Land Girls at Large”, a wonderful Living History Group, set up a “Land Army” recruitment office and visitors to the Midhurst Town Cup were able to have an interview with the Recruitment Officer. Meanwhile, local Historian Tania Pons together with her daughter Cristina were suitably dressed in Land Girl uniforms, together with hoe and pitchfork!
Not only did Cowdray take on many ‘Land Girls’ to work on the estate during both conflicts, the First Viscount’s daughter, Lady Trudy Denman, was Assistant Honorary Director of the organisation in WWI, and became its Honorary National Director in WWII, with the Land Army headquarters based at her Balcombe home.
The Black Kettle Workshop represented our Tudor History, setting up a charcoal forge to demonstrate various smithing techniques, explaining “Blacksmiths were essential to medieval and Tudor society and a team of smiths would have been responsible for all the metalwork and upkeep inside Cowdray House, from the cooking equipment in the kitchens down to the nails used in its construction”.
The forge proved so popular that the son of one of our Cowdray Colleagues has now determined that he wants to be a blacksmith when he grows up.
The Cowdray Heritage Trust Team were kept busy talking to visitors about Cowdray Ruins and connecting with our younger audience through craft activities, making a wooden spoon puppet or a bejewelled crown. Colour-in pictures of The Ruins were given away with an invitation for families to sign up to our new Heritage Newsletter.
One of the many questions we were asked during the day was “when can we visit The Ruins again?” and by signing up to the newsletter we will be able to keep everyone informed of events and news about the site.
It was a great day for Cowdray Heritage Trust at the Midhurst Town Cup and we hope to be back next year!
Written by Sally Guile and Tania Pons