All through 2016 there was a buzz of excitement amongst staff and volunteers as we worked on this project, which focused on the Crimean War letters of Captain Thomas Basil Fanshawe of Dagenham.
By the end of July, when the boxes of books arrived, we knew we had completed the hardest task: the transcription and publication of Captain Fanshawe’s Crimean War letters, with added illustrations and editorial material. The result is a 172 page book available at Valence House and via Amazon.
The book was launched on 29 July as part of a Crimean War symposium at Valence House. It was a memorable afternoon with our Educational Room full of old friends and many new visitors who came to listen to expert speakers.
Our archivist, Clare Sexton, opened the event with an overview of Captain Fanshawe’s letters. She was followed by Scott Flaving from the Duke of Wellington Regimental Museum, Halifax. He gave to us a real sense of that regiment known so well by Fanshawe and he brought with him some original weaponry and kit of 1855.
Next, we heard from Elizabeth Anionwu about the work of the nurse Mary Seacole. Her hotel in the Crimea was mentioned by Fanshawe in his letters. Then, after a short break, it was time to listen to Dr Paul Huddie, an expert on the Victorian Army who has a particular interest in Ireland where the 33rd Regiment often were in barracks when in the UK.
Alastair Massie from the National Army Museum then described their Crimean War collection. An entertaining conversation and question and answer session followed, drawing in all the speakers and the audience.
We then moved outside for a drinks reception in the shade of our tulip tree before moving to the gallery for a preview of the Sebastopol to Dagenham exhibition, which opened to the public the following day and ran until the end of September 2016.
Working with Clare Sexton, the volunteers decided on a theme for each of the ten exhibition panels. Text and images were selected and passed to professional designers to be put on pull-up display stands.
We went through the Fanshawe family boxes in the Museum and Archives collections for objects, photographs, letters and documents. The portrait of Thomas Basil (he was always known just as Basil) was taken out of storage – we were pleased to be able to look at the young man we had come to know so well through his letters!
We concluded negotiations with a dealer who was selling Basil’s treasured Crimea Medal. Not an easy purchase, but it was an enormous pleasure when it finally arrived into our hands.
Volunteer groups made journeys to London to visit the Florence Nightingale Museum; Mrs Mary Seacole’s blue plaque; the chapel of the Royal Fusiliers in St Sepulchre’s Without Church; and also the Crimean War Memorial.
Nearer home we walked around old Dagenham Village. We saw the old vicarage, once Basil’s home (his father Thomas Lewis Fanshawe was the Vicar of St Peter & St Paul). Rosemary Rogers, a volunteer at both Valence House and Old Dagenham church, then gave us a fascinating tour of the church and churchyard.
As the exhibition closed we knew we had accomplished almost all of our aims for the Heritage Lottery project, but that we had to review and create a legacy for the work to be really worthwhile.
In the autumn three volunteers we took a selection of the pull-up displays to Cranbrook School in Kent and delivered a Crimea workshop to ‘A’ level history students. The students were able to read in ‘the first person’ Basil’s views and opinions, experienced as a young man on active service. Our presentation was received with enthusiasm and interest, and the sight of the Crimea Medal proved impressive to them all. This was a good beginning for the legacy of our project and there are other events planned to follow.
Towards the end of our project and the year, Clare Sexton left Valence House for a new post at Tate Britain – they are really very lucky! Our goodbye to Clare was with our close of project event, a musical evening performed by the talented Patricia Hammond (mezzo soprano) and Matt Redman. They performed songs from the era of the Crimean War, some of which were directly about the war. The finale, Home Sweet Home, can be viewed on YouTube.
- Two further collections of Basil Fanshawe’s letters are being transcribed for publication, so watch this space for more details!
- The exhibition Sebastopol to Dagenham is being booked to travel to other venues – if you know of a place that would be interested, please let us know.
- Our research has uncovered much information about the wider Fanshawe family of the 19th There is potential for further publications or exhibitions.
- Regular blog posting will follow as we delve through the archives…!
Deirdre Marculescu, volunteer and transcriber of Basil Fanshawe’s letters