Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’ on display at Hever Castle

Dr Jonathan Foyle talking about the discovery of the tudor Bed of Roses ©Rachael Hale web

Dr Jonathan Foyle talking about the discovery of the tudor Bed of Roses ©Rachael Hale web

If my bed was as beautiful as this Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’ I don’t think I would ever get out of it. Ornately carved from dark wood, this four poster bed stands 9ft tall and is currently on display at Hever Castle.   Its story is remarkable and when Dr Jonathan Foyle, an architectural historian and broadcaster, made a long train journey to inspect a ‘Royal Tudor bed’ he assumed it would be a fake. What he actually discovered was astonishing.

Jonathan says he initially thought it was ‘a great piece of Victorian replica work’ and his primary challenge was to prove it bogus.  ‘I thought well, you need to find one problem with this bed to disprove it and we can say hats off to the Victorian who achieved such a thing.’ But it wasn’t that simple. For the past two years the bed has undergone rigorous testing to assess its authenticity and now Jonathan is convinced that not only is it genuine but it’s the bed made for the marriage of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486.  The carvings depict biblical tales of redemption and portray Henry and Elizabeth as saviours rescuing mankind from evil. Symbolising the fact the marriage forged a connection between the two great houses of Lancaster and York and brought an end to the ‘War of the Roses’.

Middle panel depicting the Royal couple as Adam and Eve   ©Rachael Hale

Middle panel depicting the Royal couple as Adam and Eve
©Rachael Hale

Installed in the ‘Painted Chamber’ at Westminster Palace, the bed was originally decorated with a red-brown, grained paint effect and marbling.  Some parts of the frame still retain traces of lapis lazuli, the most expensive of all medieval paint materials and, measuring 6ft 6” long and 5ft 6” wide, the contours of the bed frame perfectly match the shaping of the mural which served as its backdrop.

What happened to the bed after the death of the royal couple has led to a tale of travel and fraudulent dealings and it can all be discovered, alongside the Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’, at Hever Castle until 22 November 2015.

The Tudor 'Bed of Roses' © Rachael Hale web

The Tudor ‘Bed of Roses’ © Rachael Hale web

With thanks to Vivien Oldfield for inviting me to the exhibition launch at Hever Castle and allowing me to publish images. Many thanks are also due to Dr Jonathan Foyle for allowing me to use quotes from his speech.

*This article was previously published in the May issue of Bygone Kent magazine

Exhibition News: A Walk on the Wild Side at Tunbridge Wells Museum

Boxing Squirrels at the Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

Boxing Squirrels at the Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

The sound of running feet, a gasp and a shriek of laughter heralded the arrival of a youngster at the Walk on the Wild Side exhibition in Tunbridge Wells and I knew exactly how he felt.  Four glass fronted cabinets displaying a taxidermied squirrels boxing match is not something I’ve seen before either and to be perfectly honest it raised a rush of very conflicting emotions ranging from  ‘what the hell is that?’ to ‘that’s actually quite clever’.

Just one shelf lower is another incredible sight, a bespectacled rook reading a sermon. The sign states that it was found in a Cotswold graveyard and what strikes me is that it was created as recently as 1960.

Rook reading a sermon at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

Rook reading a sermon at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

Another case features the fragile skeleton of a snake, so carefully coiled it seems to have merely paused for a moment while a brightly coloured bird of paradise perches alongside it.  Above them, a figurine featuring a family of happy cats seems slightly incongruous and, initially, it’s hard to find the thread linking all the objects together but, if you take a moment to step back and look at room as a whole, the theme soon becomes clearer.

Snake & Bird of Paradise Image Rachael Hale

Snake & Bird of Paradise Image Rachael Hale

At the heart of exhibition is the relationship between humans and animals and every wall is covered in images. Ranging from an anatomical drawing of a rhinoceros, to richly painted fine art scenes and the more cartoon like depictions of a large family transformed into monkeys, the exhibition also explores the need humans have to make animals appear more ‘human’.  Perhaps, initially, in an attempt to make the unknown more acceptable and less frightening or perhaps in an attempt to civilise the animal worlds less pc tendencies.

Close up of The Trimmed C**k by Charles 1812

Close up of The Trimmed C**k by Charles 1812

The display of preserved animals at the rear of the room raises the question of why the Victorian’s felt the need to stuff every animal they came across while the colourful illustrations of Dorothea Graff explore an alternative side to animal study.  Regardless of the reasoning, artists from all disciplines have been intrigued by animals for centuries and the entire room is filled with a carefully selected collection of fine art, natural history and everyday objects.  Several exhibits are on loan from the British Museum and although fairly small the exhibition is well worth a look.

So go on, be brave and take A Walk on the Wild Side. The exhibition is free to enter and is running until 20 September at the Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery.

Walk on the Wild Side Exhibition at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

Walk on the Wild Side Exhibition at Tunbridge Wells Museum Image Rachael Hale

The Terrible Crimes of the Chocolate Cream Poisoner

Christiana Edmunds in the Dock

Christiana Edmunds in the Dock with Dr and Mrs Beard behind her

I’m absolutely thrilled to introduce you to Kaye Jones. Kaye has been writing about Christiana Edmunds, the 19th Century ‘Chocolate Cream Poisoner’, for Pen and Sword Books and when I learnt the killer had been born in Margate, I had to know more.

Hello Kaye, thanks so much for stopping by. How did you find out about Christiana Edmunds and what made you want to write about her?

I found about her by accident, really. I was reading a newspaper article about another case when I saw the headline ‘The Brighton Lady Poisoner’ on the same page. Intrigued, I read the excerpt from her trial and immediately wanted to know more. I was already in talks with Pen and Sword about a book commission so I pitched her story and, fortunately for me, they were equally fascinated with the case.

In a recent blog post you mention that Christiana was born in Margate and grew up in Canterbury – can you tell us about her family life?

Yes, Christiana was born in Margate in 1828. She was the oldest child of William Edmunds, a locally-renowned and very successful architect, who designed St John’s Church, where she was baptised, and the Margate lighthouse. Because of his successes, the family were able to live very comfortably: they owned a beautiful house in Hawley Square, had three servants and could afford to privately educate their children. But in 1847, when Christiana was 19, the family’s life changed dramatically. Without giving too much away, William Edmunds died in Peckham House Lunatic Asylum, where he had been confined since 1845, and the taint of his madness forced the family to leave Margate and start afresh in Canterbury.

Christiana Edmunds former home at 16 Hawley Square

Christiana Edmunds former home at 16 Hawley Square

Christiana’s poisoning spree actually took place in Brighton, why was her family there and what spurred her into action?

After a fairly uneventful two decades in Canterbury, the Edmunds family suffered two tragedies. The first came in January 1866 when Christiana’s youngest sibling, Arthur, died in the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Idiots in Surrey. Arthur was epileptic and had spent the last six years of his life in confinement. The following year, one of Christiana’s sisters, Louisa, died unexpectedly at the age of 36. She had been plagued by depression and hysteria since her teen years and had once tried to throw herself from an upstairs window. Probably wanting to escape these tragedies, Christiana and her mother, Ann, left Kent and headed to Brighton to start a new life. Within a few months of her arrival, Christiana became a patient of Dr Charles Beard, a highly-respected local physician, with whom she quickly fell in love. The only problem was, Dr Beard already had a wife and Christiana soon began plotting her demise.

Christiana chose strychnine as her weapon – how easy was it to get hold of this in 1871?

It was surprisingly easy for two reasons. Firstly, strychnine was a commonly-used substance throughout the nineteenth century and was widely available to buy in the nineteenth century. Despite being so lethal to humans, it was a staple ingredient in many medicines, for example, and was also used as vermin killer. Secondly, the rules which governed the sale of strychnine, and other deadly poisons, were incredibly easy to get around. Under the Pharmacy Act of 1868, for example, strychnine could only be sold if the buyer and seller knew each other, or if the transaction was witnessed by a third party, and if the details of the sale were entered into the chemist’s poison book. In theory, this made all sales of poison traceable but it relied on the buyer being honest. When Christiana purchased strychnine in March 1871, all she had to do was use a false name and address and conceal her true intentions from the chemist and the witness. Nobody suspected that such a respectable-looking lady would lie about her identity and so Christiana was able to buy enough poison to kill dozens of people in just a few minutes.

Having failed to kill her initial victim, Christiana set out to divert attention away from herself using a terrible scheme – can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes – her scheme really was as ingenious as it was terrible. When Dr Beard discovered that Christiana had tried to poison his wife, she initially blamed it on a bad batch of chocolate creams. But Dr Beard wouldn’t believe her and so she thought up something even more sinister. She decided to frame John Maynard, the manufacturer of the chocolate creams, by poisoning random batches that she bought from his shop and dispersing them around Brighton. It was her belief that as the unsuspecting public fell ill, Dr Beard would have to believe that Maynard was the guilty party and come running back to her with open arms – and an apology.

An appeal in the Times for information about the mysterious ‘Chocolate Cream Poisoner’ offered a £20 reward for information – did anyone ever claim it?

To my knowledge, nobody ever claimed this reward but Dr Beard finally came forward and reported Christiana to the police around the time that it was issued. There were a few other events which alerted the police to her potential involvement but you will have to read the book to find out more!

In your book you reveal that Christiana was suffering from mental health issues, did she receive any help at any time?

Christiana was diagnosed with hysteria a few years after her father’s death and was sent to London to see a physician. We don’t know how she was treated, perhaps with the infamous genital massage, but it continued to plague her throughout her adult life. Christiana never confessed to nor apologised for her crimes and this contributed to her eventual diagnosis of moral insanity. After her trial, she spent the rest of her natural life in Broadmoor Asylum, the country’s first institution for the criminally insane, and the staff were utterly convinced of her insanity, though unable to ever cure it.

What surprised you most about her case?

Her family history probably surprised me the most. When I first started looking into her life in Kent, I had no idea that she had experienced so many tragedies. Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but finding out about her early life and the fates of her family completely changed how I viewed Christiana and the case, more generally. As a result, I changed the structure of the book so that the narrative begins in the 1840s, a time which I believe has great significance for Christiana and strongly influenced the woman she would eventually become.

If you were able to ask Christiana a question what would it be?

There are so many! But if I had to choose, I would ask her how she felt when Sidney Barker died. Sidney was her only (recorded) victim and I would love to know if she any remorse about his death or if she really was as cold-hearted as others have portrayed her.

What did you enjoy most, and least, about writing this book?

This book took two years to complete and there were a lot of ups and downs in this period! I loved researching the treatment of the mentally ill and the development of the asylum system. Reading Christiana’s case notes from Broadmoor was a particular highlight because they offer such a rare glimpse into her character and of her behaviour. Of course, these notes weren’t designed for public viewing or written to entertain but you can’t help but laugh at some of the frank descriptions of Christiana: for example, she arrived at Broadmoor wearing false hair, false teeth and rouged cheeks and used to hide make up and other contraband in cushions in her room to evade detection by the matron. On the flipside, because there are so few traces of Christiana, it was really difficult to find out about her life before the poisoning spree. I hit so many brick walls in my research and have had to (very reluctantly) accept that some questions about her will remain unanswered.

The Case of the Chocolate Cream Poisoner: The Poisonous Passion of Christiana Edmunds will be published later this year by Pen & Sword Books. Do you know when it will be published and do you have any talks or events lined up?

The book is being edited at the moment so no fixed dates as of yet. But there are plenty of events in the pipeline and I will update my Facebook and Twitter with any upcoming dates.

And finally, what are you working on next?

I am about to start another book for Pen & Sword which is due out in 2017. It is called ‘Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Workplace: An A to Z of Victorian Jobs’ and will explore some of the worst occupations of the 19th century.

Author Kaye Jones

Author Kaye Jones

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me Kaye, I really appreciate it and I can’t wait to read more about the ‘Chocolate Cream Poisoner’ very soon. 

And if you are anything like me, and can’t wait for the book, you can find updates on Kaye’s website, her facebook page and on twitter.

Readers Poll – Where do you look for museum information?

If you’re looking for your local museum’s information, what’s the first thing you do? Whip out your phone or wander over to your bookcase and grab a guide book?

I suspect it’s the first and, following this morning’s buzz on Twitter regarding museums moving into the digital age and Visit Kent’s events on digital tourism, I would be extremely grateful if you would let me know your answer.

And just so you know, there’s far more than mere nosiness linked to this poll, it directly relates to a regional museum project I’m working on, so every vote will make a difference and I’ll let you know the results at the end of August.

Thank you and happy clicking.

Rachael

PS Please click the VOTE button on each one otherwise your first choice won’t be recorded.

‘Meet the Monkeys’ – Museum objects for kids in Kent

Monkeys at The Toy Museum, Penshurst Image Rachael Hale

Monkeys at The Toy Museum Image Rachael Hale

The Toy Museum at Penshurst Place is perfect for a family day out.  As you may expect it’s filled with brilliant museum objects for kids ranging from rocking horses and dolls houses to miniature trains and puppet shows.  It also has the most amazing animated drinking bear but it’s these two little monkeys who have been causing a bit of trouble.

You see, I recently had an opportunity to talk to Verity Clarke, the museums’ curator, about some of her favourite objects and she chose this cute couple as her ‘museum object with a Kent connection.’ As almost everything inside the museum has a direct link to the Sidney family who have owned Penshurst Place for the last 463 years that wasn’t a problem. It was the story behind them that caused a bit of chaos.

The original sign stated that Lady De L’Isle and Lord De L’Isle gave the monkeys to one another after their engagement in 1980, go on, you can say ‘ah’ if you want to, and Verity clearly has some affection for them.  But when I asked what month the engagement occurred, it sadly led to an unravelling of the tale.

They certainly did belong to the family but, for now, there is the mystery of whom. For me that adds a little bit of museum magic and they remain a great museum object for kids to see.

Take a trip to see them at The Toy Museum, Penshurst Place Penshurst, Tonbridge
Kent TN11 8DG

Many thanks to Lord De L’Isle for allowing me to use this image and to Lucy McLeod and Verity Clarke for their continued support.