National Trust archaeologists who help look after and discover the stories of the places cared for by the charity have a knack for solving mysteries. Earlier this year they carried out a condition survey on the plaster ceiling above the marble staircase at Kingston Lacy house, in Dorset.
This important work led to the fascinating discovery of two names written in pencil on a wooden joist. Douglas from Clivedon Conservation found the name ‘James’ when looking under the floor in the third Tented Room above the ceiling.
One of the National Trust’s own archaeologists, Nancy Grace, who was with the team at Kingston Lacy that day, had been looking under the floorboards, between joists and down the cracks between the boards, for objects lost or hidden on purpose. With the discovery of the name ‘James’ she then also started to look on the faces of the joists for more writing.
Despite struggling with poor lighting and difficult angles she eventually found that with the help of torches and various camera settings, she could make out one full name, a part name and a date. The complete name was James Game, followed by the name Isaac and something illegible, presumably a surname, and then the date November 25th 1837.
Nancy said: ‘We know that William John Bankes commissioned Charles Barry in 1835 to remodel Kingston Hall. The work was completed around 1841 and so this 1837 date fits in with the remodelling.
‘With access to the 1840 census, we now know that there was a James Game living at Hillbutts, a small group of dwellings beside the boundary of the parkland around Kingston Lacy house. But best of all, his occupation was listed as a joiner. Also, although Isaac’s surname was illegible, but looked like Michell, we discovered that there was an Isaac Mitchell on the 1841 and subsequent censuses in the nearby village of Shapwick. Isaac is listed as a carpenter and on the 1851 census he is married to a lady called Love (52 years old) and his son Dennis (23 years old) is also listed as a carpenter. It is interesting to see his mother-in-law, called Hester Jefferies, also lived with them and is an amazing 95 years old.
‘We are thrilled that our conservation work, which is so important and ensures the house will remain accessible to everyone forever, can also reveal such fascinating stories about the people who helped to create it. With so much more work to do, who knows what we might find next.’