Heligan – The Thunderbox Room

Welcome to ‘The Thunderbox Room’, one of the more unusual war memorials I have stumbled across (but fortunately not into) on my travels.

The thousand-acre estate at Heligan, near St. Austell in Cornwall, had been the seat of the Tremayne family for more than four hundred years, and was still flourishing into the early years of the twentieth century.  However when the current squire, John Tremayne, died without children in 1914 the house and grounds, like so many others, began falling into disrepair.  The Great War would see many of the estate’s workforce enlist for the duration, some never to return, while, from 1916 to 1919, the house was used as a convalescent hospital for wounded officers.

After the war, in the 1920s, but this time unlike many others, the Heligan estate was neither developed nor sold, and in fact it was only in the 1970s that the house itself was sold to convert into private apartments, by which time the gardens, untended for decades, had become ‘lost’.  The rediscovery of these gardens following the devastating storm of 25th January 1990 is not the subject of this blog, but the simultaneous discovery of the Thunderbox Room is.  This little room, buried under fallen masonry in the corner of one of the walled gardens when uncovered, revealed not only the signatures of some of the gardeners, written in pencil on one of the walls, but a scrawled date of August 1914.  It would seem that these men all signed the wall shortly before (and presumably because) they joined up to see off the Hun in France and be home for Christmas.

WWI Brodie helmet and Cornish spade.

Those of you still wondering exactly what a Thunderbox is, well it’s a privy, to be precise.  A loo.  A Thunderbox.  The signatures are behind perspex on the far wall.

And inside…

…this plaque explains all.

Some of the names are still just legible,…

…although for how long now,…

…who knows.  One day they’ll be gone.

“Don’t come here to sleep or slumber”.  As for the August 1914 date, I couldn’t find it, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere.  Or was.  I did discover a cartoonish smiling face down in the bottom left corner of this photo, though.  Honest (enlarge it!).

As you can see, it’s pretty dark in there, and difficult to see what I was actually shooting!  Back outside,…

…here’s the Imperial War Museum ‘Living Memorial’ plaque in close-up…

…and…

…here’s another information board.  Worth reading.

Elsewhere on the estate…

…faces to put to names.  Note the name William Guy.

If anyone can match any of these names with those in my photos, do let me know; the only two I have so far matched are W. Durnsford & W. Guy*, both at the top of one of the photos I took of the signatures on the wall.

*as I said, note the name William Guy.

Anyway, I thought you might find all this of interest.  This post will find its way into the ‘Back in Blighty’ Section of the site in due course.

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4 Responses to Heligan – The Thunderbox Room

  1. Steven Hearnden says:

    Yes, very interesting indeed, M.F. Thanks.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Steven. Actually, the missus discovered all about the Thunderbox Room before we visited the Lost Gardens – so I wouldn’t get bored, I reckon. Sensible woman.

  2. Liz Tobin says:

    I was inspired by this post to start a community for gardeners at https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/community/4597

    • Magicfingers says:

      Liz, that is marvellous. A great idea, and I’m glad I helped ‘inspire’ it! I have mentioned it to a number of people already.

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