When you visit a museum that incorporates items of military history such as Les Invalides in Paris, or less romantically the Royal Armouries in Leeds, then you’re likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer volumes of weaponry and armour on display there, and picture huge forces of well prepared men whose equipment glinted in the morning sunlight on the day of a great battle.
But think about this for a moment.
Many of the “landed gentry” of England were raised in status as thanks for their support in such conflicts, and whereas they may have had the wealth to furnish their men with purpose made armaments once they had achieved some status, when they first committed themselves to one side or another in say the English Civil War, they were probably farmers with a small force of labourers who had no choice but to fall in with their employer or face financial ruin. (Historians please correct me if I’ve got this wrong!)
One such family who lived in North Yorkshire were the Pennymans, and although they bet on the wrong side during the time of Henry VIII by supporting a Catholic protest against the reformation, they were firmly on the side of Royalty in the century that followed. As reward for this, one branch of the family were given the status of Baronet by Charles II and took up residence in Ormesby, which is now part of Middlesbrough.
In the years since then the Baronetcy died out and the estate diminished (the stable block was given over to the horses of Cleveland Police) but members of the Pennyman family continued to live there so consequently the house feels like a family home to a large degree, albeit one with some rather splendid plasterwork.
There is a real surprise in store however, and one of the National Trust’s making rather than the Pennyman’s.
Faced with large unfurnished spaces in what had been servants quarters someone decided that the perfect solution would be to install some model railways. Advertising for donations they were delighted when one of the country’s leading modellers was persuaded by his daughter to donate his entire layout, and so the house contains a miniature England in gentler times when milk was still delivered in churns and before Beeching savaged the rail network.
Model trains were never my thing, but you can’t help but be impressed by the craftsmanship that was put into this recreation over 35 years. It seems there are easier ways of acquiring land than entering into a civil war.