Famous family left lasting legacy to Hastings

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Brassey 6 SUS-150712-120543001

This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the Strand magazine’s interview with Lord and Lady Brassey in 1894.

He writes: The Strand Magazine was a monthly magazine of short fiction and general interest articles first published in 1891 and for sixty years it was very popular until rising costs brought about by paper shortages led to declining circulation and the magazine format to changed to the smaller digest size in October 1941 with publication ceasing in March 1950.

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Brassey 5 SUS-150712-120526001

The magazine had run to 711 issues with its first edition selling nearly 300,000 copies and sales soon reaching around half a million copies and staying there until well into the 1930s.

The Strand aimed at a mass market family readership and the content was a mixture of factual articles, short stories and serials most of which were illustrated to some extent. Despite expense and production difficulties, the Strand aimed at having a picture on every page – a valuable selling point at a time when the arts of photography and process engraving were in their infancy. The magazine’s original offices were in Burleigh Street off The Strand in London and the magazine’s iconic cover was an illustration looking eastwards down towards St Mary-le-Strand, with the title suspended on telegraph wires. In 1998 the title was revived as a quarterly ‘Murder Mystery’ magazine in the USA.

The Sherlock Holmes short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle were first published in The Strand with illustrations by Sidney Paget, E. W. Hornung’s stories about A. J. Raffles, the “gentleman thief”, first appeared in the 1890s. Other contributors included Grant Allen, Margery Allingham, J. E. Preston Muddock, H. G. Wells, E. C. Bentley, Agatha Christie, Mary Angela Dickens, C. B. Fry, Walter Goodman, E. Nesbit, W. W. Jacobs, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Morrison, Dorothy L. Sayers, Georges Simenon, Edgar Wallace, Max Beerbohm, P. G. Wodehouse, Dornford Yates, Winston Churchill and even Queen Victoria.

Lord Brassey’s father was Thomas Brassey (1805-1870), the world-famous railway contractor who built a large part of the railway system not only of England but also of Europe, India, Canada and Argentina. When he died at the Royal Victoria Hotel, St Leonards, in 1870 he left a fortune of over £5 million to his family (over £500,000,000 today).

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Brassey 4 SUS-150712-120023001

Thomas II, (1836-1918), was his eldest son and studied law, but his interests were political. In 1860 he married Annie Allnutt and they went to live at Beauport Park, Hastings. Thomas was elected Liberal MP for Hastings in 1868 and two years later he and Annie moved into Normanhurst Court, a mansion at Catsfield, Sussex, built for them by Thomas Brassey I.

During World War I it was used as a military hospital for wounded soldiers and, then having been used as a girls’ school between the wars, it was used as a prisoner of war camp during World War II and the house was demolished in 1951. The grounds are now used as a caravan park.

Thomas gradually moved up the political ladder, joining Gladstone’s government in 1880 as Secretary to the Admiralty. He received a knighthood in 1881, became Baron Brassey of Bulkeley in 1886 and Earl Brassey in 1911. Among other appointments, he also was made Governor of Victoria, Australia and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. In 1888 Lord Brassey presented The Brassey Institute, with its free reference library and school of art to the town, in 1890 the Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association was founded and its museum opened there in 1892.

The interview with Lord and (the second) Lady Brassey took place at their home in London’s famous Park Lane in the latter part of 1894 and covered his many achievements and descriptions of the interior decorations of his house, his yacht and his country home at Normanhurst but our interest lies in what we now know as the ‘Durbar Hall’ which was located at 24 Park Lane at that time.

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Brassey 3 SUS-150712-120004001

The woodcarving and furnishings of the Durbar Hall were originally created for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition held in South Kensington in 1886 and had been designed by a noted authority on Indian art, Caspar Purdon Clarke.

The work took from June 1885 to April 1886 to complete, made from teak, Himalayan cedar or deodar, and shisham the work was carried out by Muhammad Baksh and Muhammad Juma, two skilled craftsmen from Bhera Shahpur in the West Punjab.

After the Exhibition closed in 1889 the first Lord Brassey, one of the Commissioners, acquired the Durbar Hall and had it rebuilt to incorporate other artefacts from the same exhibition, including a triple arch from Lahore, (now the entrance to the building from the main Museum), a door from Saharanpur, North- West Provinces, panels of pinjra work, and other carvings from Tibet, Bombay and South India.

Used as a smoking room and museum at the back of his house at 24 Park Lane, it was known as the ‘Lady Brassey Museum’ and housed the collection of ethnographic material acquired by Lady Brassey The layout of the building was quite similar to that seen today in Hastings. In 1919 the second Lord Brassey presented the building and many of its contents to the town of Hastings where it was re-erected as an extension to the Museum in 1931.

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Brassey 2 SUS-150712-115643001

The Durbar Hall displayed many of the objects collected by Annie and Thomas Brassey on their voyages around the world and surviving registers show the Brasseys’ collection to have amounted to more than 6,000 items of European and Oriental Art, ethnography, archaeology, and natural history. The ethnographic material was given to Hastings Museum with the Durbar Hall and some of the natural history and geological collections were donated to Bexhill Museum. As with the Brighton Pavilion, The Durbar Hall is seen today as a cultural hybrid, representative not of India or the east but how such places were perceived.

In July 1876, Thomas Brassey, an enthusiastic sailor, set sail with his first wife Annie, their four children and two pugs in his steam yacht, the Sunbeam, on a cruise which was the first circumnavigation in a steam yacht around the world.

Built at Seacombe in 1874, it was 157 feet long and carried a crew of 30. Although prone to frequent sea-sickness Annie kept a detailed account of their journeys, which she sent as letters to her father and were later published as books. It was her third book, ‘A Voyage in the Sunbeam’, which made her famous. It was a best seller, running into nine editions and translated into seventeen languages. The Sunbeam’s first voyage took place in 1876-77 and Annie Brassey also wrote books on four later voyages. In 1886 they set sail for India, Borneo and Australia and, on 14 September 1887, during the journey from Darwin to Mauritius, Annie died of malarial fever and was buried at sea.

Thomas finished her book and it was published in 1889 as ‘The Last Voyage’. In 1890 he married his second wife, Sybil, daughter of Viscount Malden.

All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion’s own collection and there’s more local history on his website, www.historichastings.co.uk

Why not visit the Brassey collection on display at Hastings Museum, details on www.hmag.org.uk/collections/durbar/

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Brassey 1 SUS-150712-115627001

Captions:

Carved Door, Pillars and Staircase in Lady Brassey’s Museum

The second Lady Brassey

Normanhurst Court

Part of the Gallery Arcade in Lady Brassey’s Museum

The Sunbeam - taken in Calcutta

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Carved Door, Pillars And Staircase in Lady Brassey’s Museum

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Brassey 7 SUS-150712-124711001