Plea for help identifying people in war-time photograph at Hestercombe Gardens

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A public plea to identify some of the people in a photograph taken more than 100 years ago has been issued by archivists at Hestercombe Gardens.

The historic house and gardens in Taunton is known for its beauty and now a search is underway to identify those who looked after it before World War One.

Archivists are hoping someone may be able to help solve the mystery of the old photograph by recognising a relative.

The photo, taken in 1914, shows a team of gardeners.

The Great Uncle of the current Chief Executive of Hestercombe is one of the gardeners in the 1914 photograph. Credit: South West Heritage Trust

Eight of the 17 people in the picture have been identified, but staff are desperate to find out who the other nine are.

The Chief Executive for Hestercombe Gardens Trust, Philip White, said: “It's quite easy to find out about the owners of an estate like this but actually to find out the social history and the stories of the people who worked here is often much more difficult.

"So we're really keen to find family photographs, journals, letter, postcards even and anything which helps fill in the gap about the staff who worked here.”

Philip White, Chief Executive of Hestercombe Gardens Trust, wants to find the identity of the gardeners.

Philip White took an interest in solving the mystery when he realised there was a family connection to it.

He said: “I had a really strong emotional response to the place when I came here but it wasn't until sometime afterwards I discovered from my uncle that his son had been one of the gardeners here.

“It was my uncle who pointed out to me which of these characters was my own great-uncle and ever since we've been trying to discover who all the other gardeners were in that photograph.”

The photograph was taken just before the start of the First World War. Sadly, out of the 17 pictured only four of the people went back to work on the estate in 1918.

Head gardener Claire Greenslade said discovering how gardeners used to work is fascinating.

“We've got quite a lot of females in our gardening team, which just wouldn't have happened back then,” she said.

Gardeners at Hestercombe used to mow the lawn with a pony.

“But it would be really interesting to see what their backgrounds were, what their training was and its also interesting to see the different ways they worked. 

"There was more of them, but then perhaps they didn't have the machinery we have. Back then they would have had horses with leather shoes on and they would have pulled the mowers, so that would have been quite different.”

Anyone who recognises one of the gardeners from the photo or may have information is urged to contact Hestercombe Gardens.