Somme installation reveals tragic past of Powis Castle

    Powis Castle, Somme
    Powis Castle Credit: National Trust, Steve Rawlins

    Visitors to Powis Castle in Wales can be transported back in time to experience life in the trenches during the First World War with a new installation marking 100 years since the Battle of the Somme.

    Powis, Somme
    Painting of Percy Clive at Powis Castle. Credit National Trust, Steve Rawlins

    One hundred years after what would be the bloodiest conflict of the First World War began on 1 July 1916, the castle has transformed its empty basement rooms into a full-scale replica trench and officers’ mess to tell the story of Viscount Percy Clive, the eldest son and heir of the 4th Earl of Powis.  An officer in the Welsh Guard, he was fatally wounded during the battle. 

    Gareth Sandham, Powis’ House and Collections Manager, said: “With an 800-year history, Powis Castle has so many stories to tell about the families who lived here. In this anniversary year of such a momentous event as the Battle of the Somme, we wanted to pay tribute to Percy Clive and invite our visitors to learn more about his life as they explore the house.

    “When visitors weave through the trench surrounded by the sound of gunshots, they are able to reflect on the oppressive environment which Percy and the soldiers in his regiment would have endured and see how they would have spent their time waiting for the call to battle. 

    “Drawing on a wealth of original letters and diaries, the team at Powis Castle alongside a group of dedicated National Trust volunteers, have been able to piece together the story from the battlefield and the emotions of Percy’s family who remained at home.

    Excerpts from the hand-written documents have been displayed throughout an exhibition to allow visitors to piece together the story as it unfolded.

    Powis Castle, the Somme
    A view of the trenches at Powis Castle. Credit National Trust/ Steve Rawlins

    In one letter written by the sister of Percy Clive’s mother, Violet, she describes the moment the family were told that Percy wouldn’t recover from his wounds: “Violet and I were called up about 12 o’clock (midnight) and Violet ran down the street in a thin dressing gown… Our darling was unconscious and dying. My poor sister knelt by his side, his hand in hers, her head on his pillow… Dearest Clive never rallied.”

    Powis, Somme
    The officers’ mess at Powis Castle exhibition. Credit National Trust, Steve Rawlins

    Percy’s death is a significant moment in Powis Castle’s history, not least because it was the first of a sequence of family tragedies that led to the castle passing into the care of the National Trust in 1952.

    The installation at Powis Castle is open until 30 September. Acts of commemoration will be taking place up and down the country marking each day of the battle, including at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.


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