Main image: Katie Taylor, House & Collections Manager at Dunham Massey working on costumes for ‘Dunham’s Lost Years’ which opens on 27 February ⓒ National Trust/Dave Jones
Staff at Dunham Massey are busy getting the Hall ready for new season opening on Saturday, 27 February, and are also putting the final touches to a new exhibition.
Unveiling the past – staff at Dunham Massey finalising displays ⓒ National Trust/Dave Jones
‘Dunham’s Lost Years – A Victorian Tale of Love and Abandonment’ charts a turbulent period in Dunham’s history, as Katie Taylor, House & Collections Manager explains:: “Over the next two years, we’re looking at love, courtship and marriage through the eyes of the Victorians” she says. “Our focus is the story of George Harry, 7th Earl of Stamford & Warrington – young, incredibly wealthy and very eligible – and his marriage to Catharine Cox, circus equestrienne – glamorous, beautiful – and in the eyes of Cheshire society, totallyunsuitable for such a match.
Catharine came from the working classes and her marriage to George Harry defied the rigid conventions which governed Victorian polite society. So, society metered out their punishment. The young couple were publically rejected, ostracised and humiliated whenever they were out and about in the Cheshire community, invitations to attend social engagements in the county were not forthcoming, and requests to attend similar events at Dunham went unanswered”.
Finally, it seems the couple’s patience gave way, and George Harry and Catharine decided they would leave Dunham – which they did in the late 1850s.
“They moved to their estate at Enville in Staffordshire, taking with them some of Dunham’s most precious items”  says Katie. “Here, not only were they very happy, they were also held in high regard by Enville’s local community – in total contrast to what had happened to them back in Cheshire”.
Archive photo of 7th Earl of Warrington and Catharine, Countess of Warington (centre) at Enville Hall, Staffs c 1860
Image by kind permission of Mrs Diana Williams
Following George Harry and Catharine’s departure, Dunham remained ‘abandoned’ for over half a century  until 1906 when the 9th Earl of Stamford and his family returned to the house. His son Roger, 10th Earl of Stamford was to spend many years and much money searching for and buying back parts of the Dunham collection which had left with George Harry and Catherine.
On Roger’s death in 1976, he left the house and its contents to the National Trust – which continues his life’s work of reacquiring Dunham’s treasures to this day.
“As love – and its consequences – form a pivotal part of ‘Dunham’s Lost Years’, we hope that visitors will reflect on some of their own stories of love or forbidden love, exploring whether customs and attitudes around the subject have really changed since Victorian times” says Katie Taylor.
“On occasion over the next two years, we’ll be taking the opportunity to ask visitors to record their own love stories, and hope to make these available digitally as an insight into 21st century love and marriage for future generations”.
‘Dunham’s Lost Years: A Victorian Tale of Love and Abandonment’ opens on Saturday, 27 February at Dunham Massey.
For details visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey.