Intriguing Photographs (1) – Some Answers
Posted on 4th July 2017
My thanks to Gareth for coming up with an answer to my query so promptly and pointing out that the castle in question is on Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, and known as Branksome Castle. The two photographs above are taken from the same angle. Brownsea Island is now owned by the National Trust and Branksome Castle is leased to the John Lewis partnership and is used as ‘a corporate hotel by their employees’. Brownsea Island has a very interesting history and more can be found on the National Trust website.
The house in the background to the men standing by the Italian wellhead is The Villa built originally as The Rectory, and also on Brownsea Island. The Italian sculpture was probably collected by the Hon. George Cavendish-Bentinck MP, owner of the island from the 1870s until his death in 1891. During his tenure he concentrated on improving agriculture introducing Pedigree Guernsey and Jersey cows and arable crops. His memorial, outside the church, is an Italian wellhead very similar to the one the men are seen with in the photo.
I believe our photographs were taken after the death of Cavendish-Bentinck as I have found a later photo dated 1891, via the Francis Frith Collection, which I cannot reproduce here due to copyright but can be seen here.
The island was sold to Maj Kenneth Balfour, another MP, but during his time there was a disastrous fire, followed by rebuilding, eventually leading to the sale. According to the National Trust website ‘In 1901 the well-connected van Raalte family bought Brownsea as their country retreat. The island entered a period of unparalleled prosperity and grandeur’. I think that these photographs may have been taken during the van Raalte family’s tenure. The Francis Frith photo of the villa held the key for me as in 1891 the hedge that has grown up along the front of the house in my photo is not there and a narrow terrace, with a wall along the front of the house, is visible. There are also some rustic looking fencing posts along the pathway which appear to be long gone by the time of my photo. The dress of the men is hard to date but another photo, grouped with the two photos in the original album, may have had a connection and may possibly even have been taken on the same day. They show a young woman with a boy and their style of dress looks to be appropriate to around 1910.
The NT website explains ‘Those who were brought up on Brownsea in the early years of the 20th-century remember it as an idyllic time’. Like many country estates WW1 ended this Edwardian idyll when many went away and six men of the island were killed. These men were originally commemorated on a now lost memorial near the statue of St Christopher on the Quay. A new memorial, in the Remembrance Garden at St Nicholas, Studland, was dedicated on Remembrance Sunday, 13 November 2016, and includes the six men of Brownsea Island.
The estate was sold in 1927 when the new owner, in effect, pulled up the drawbridge and the people left, abandoning the estate to wildlife which has since flourished.
Barbara Elsmore 4 July, 2017