Exhibition looks at the house role in war

Exhibition at Wrest Park
Exhibition at Wrest Park

A new exhibition at Wrest Park tells the story of the important role the country house played in the First World War.

It was the first country house to take in convalescing soldiers during conflict, with the doors opening just two weeks after the Battle of Mons, the first major engagement of the war involving British troops, on 7 September 1914. It later became a hospital in November 1914.

In the drawing room of the house, visitors can discover how Wrest Park and its grounds were put to use. There are graphics and an audio-visual display telling the stories of the people who worked and convalesced there using historic photographs and vivid diary extracts.

The displays show how the rooms would have looked and how they were used during that time. A total of 1,600 men passed through the hospital’s wards. By 1916 it had a deserved reputation as the best country house hospital.

Wrest Park’s owner, Auberon Herbert, 8th Baron Lucas, was kept busy in London when war broke out so the task of preparing the house fell to his sister, Nan Herbert, who set to work with enthusiasm.

Hospital beds were acquired, nurses recruited and a feisty housekeeper, Hannah Mackenzie appointed. The renowned surgeon Dr Sidney Beauchamp, a family friend, agreed to act as doctor. Another friend, J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan, gave £1,000 to support the venture. He would later be a regular visitor to the hospital organising games and entertainment for the convalescents.

The Wrest Park At War exhibition is due to run for the next couple of years.

Wrest Park, postcode MK45 4HS, is three-quarters of a mile east of Silsoe off the A6 and 10 miles south of Bedford. The closest train station is Flitwick, four miles away. Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wrest-park for more information.