‘Sole to Soul’ Croome Redefined – Croome Court, National Trust
I have recently been working as a creative resident at ‘Croome Court’, which is part of the National Trust’s ‘Croome Redefined’ project. This is a four-year project where the house is to undergo repair and restoration as well as involve creative practitioners of all disciplines to work and respond to the heritage site. This will ultimately improve the experience for the visitors and re-launch the property in a stimulating contemporary way.
‘Soul to Sole’ is an intricate installation where creative practitioners have been offered the opportunity to encapsulate a character as they explore themes of ‘loss and survival’ within a pair of shoes. With decades of history, Croome still holds an echo of its former self and everyone who has ever lived there. The two micro installations I have made are sited within the shoe-rack housed in the basement of Croome Court.
As a creative resident I have worked collaboratively with shoe designer Maud van den Broecke, who made the leather shoe construction, which I have combined with glass, ceramics and enamel screen-printed imagery to support my interpretations.
Wendy and George Hogarth are the inspiration for my contribution to the ‘Soul to Sole’ project. George Hogarth was a fighter pilot in the RAF during WW 2 and Wendy was in the Wrens working as a radio mechanic. It was whilst they were both based at Croome they met when Wendy was a bridesmaid at her friend’s wedding. George was the bridegroom’s pilot and the bride was the daughter of the estate manager for the Earl of Coventry.
My two pieces explore the relationship between story telling and factual history, as I have been able to meet Wendy Hogarth and listen to the lucid memories of her experiences at Croome with her future husband. These have provided a window through which to experience and imagine the day-to-day domestic challenges of living at Croome at this period in history.
‘Our hot water bottles at bedtime were used for washing in the morning, and the loos were flushed when necessary with a bucket of water. (My husband who was a pilot living in 7 Site remembers his batman melting snow for shaving purposes). Once a week we were taken by transport, piling into the back of a naval lorry, to Malvern Wrennery for baths.’
I have valued working collaboratively with other practitioners in this beautiful heritage site which has allowed my work to be viewed by a diverse visiting audience and encouraged a challenging discourse.
I give below some of my memories of Defford which may be of interest to you.
Wrens at Defford 1943 to 1944
To begin with there were very few Wrens in the Naval Section and the majority were the first Wren Radio Mechanics to be trained in Radar. These consisted of girls who had a good school certificate and we had about 3 months training in Physics and Wireless at Chelsea Polytechnic and about 5 months radar work at HMS Aerial near Warrington. After which we were able to service Radar equipment in Fleet aircraft. Several of those who did well in the courses were drafted to RAF Defford supposedly to help the Boffins in the Naval section – I remember Mr. Banner and Roy Hodges.
When I arrived there were about 20 of us mostly Radio Mechs with 2 M T drivers and a writer who was L.Cdr. Milward’s secretary and I think a steward to look after the Wrenery which was the other side of the cross roads opposite the guard hut and main entrance to the Airfield. There was one big room with our double bunk, an equally large one for a recreation room, ablutions and a kitchen which wasn’t used so we had to cycle up the hill to the RAF canteen near Marble Arch which we hated. However, in the summer we had a cook join us and could eat in the Wrennery. Also. A Wren officer came, 3/O Doubleday, so we began to be a bit more ship-shape, but we still had a very free and easy life compared to the WAAF. There was a shortage of water, due I think because the local supplies could not sustain the size of the camp while a new system was being connected. Water to the Wrennery was delivered by tanker and rationed. Our hot water bottles at bed time were used for washing in the morning, and the loos were flushed when necessary with a bucket of water. (My husband who was a pilot living in 7 Site remembers his batman melting snow for shaving purposes). Once a week we were taken by transport, piling into the back of a naval lorry, to Malvern Wrennery for baths.
Apart from working with Boffins in the Naval Section some of us went by the aforesaid lorry to TRE at Malvern. I don’t think we did much more than do odd jobs for the Boffin we were attached to such as soldering bits and pieces of equipment, clearing up and making cocoa. I remember holding aerials up for testing on the cold playing field of the school with I think a young man called Mr. Gwilliam. We also did stints in the Cable shop which was dead boring- soldering coloured cable to plugs.
We did go to the camp cinema and cycled down the ‘Burma Road’ to Pershore, caught trains to maybe Stratford and the ‘Blue Bus’ at week-ends to Worcester. I was lucky getting to know a farmer and also the daughter of the Estate manager for the Earl of Coventry which enabled me to enjoy a bit of local life. This girl married an RAF observer from SIU in Croome Church with me as a bridesmaid which was where I met my future husband, the bridegroom’s pilot.
I went on courses on BABS, a radio altimeter and ASVX, and after nearly a year regretfully left the somewhat unusual life at Defford to join a Fleet Air Arm training Squadron, servicing the new ASVX.