The Stewart Museum at Pocklington’s Burnby Hall Gardens has had a fascinating time over the last twelve months thanks to the ongoing success of its project in relation to Major Stewart’s brother Herbert.
As readers may recall, February 2014 saw the publication of a museum booklet, ‘Mr Stewart and the Romanovs’, based upon research into the life of Major Percy Stewart’s brother Herbert and his period as an English tutor to a branch of the Russian Royal family between 1908 and 1917.
The booklet, written and published for use in Burnby Hall Gardens’ visitor centre, featured photographs of the children of the Grand Duke Alexander Michailovitch, brother-in-law to Tsar Nicholas II, and pictures of the Tsar and his children, all taken by Herbert over this period. These were used with the kind permission of the National Media Museum, in Bradford, where the albums are housed in Herbert’s original wooden Harrods box.
At the time of publication, staff at the Stewart Museum were unaware of the interest that the research would generate but, in just over 12 months, more than 500 copies of the booklet have been sold or donated to visitors, local groups, secondary schools and private individuals, including some established authors.
There have been copies sent to the USA, Canada and Europe, to the University of Bradford library, and the National Media Museum, where they are placed with Herbert’s photographs to assist in providing further context to their own collection. Copies were even sent to His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent and Her Majesty the Queen, both distant relatives of the children whom Herbert taught, and the museum received appreciative replies from their offices.
In addition to a small exhibition of copies of the photographs, there have also been presentations on the subject to groups throughout the East Riding, with these projected to run until at least early 2016. There has also been a great deal of media interest in his story, with features being recorded for local TV and radio.
Of course, the key factor in the success of this project was the chance discovery of the 22 photographic albums taken by Herbert. It established an until then unknown link between the National Media Museum and the Stewart Museum, with the former kindly allowing the Pocklington museum to use a selection of these fascinating and unique photographs, many of which had been unseen for several decades.
The research and the publicity generated led to a number of people being spoken to, each of whom had fascinating snippets of information to help build a picture of Herbert Stewart’s life. These included Penny Galitzine, a granddaughter of one of the boys whom Herbert tutored. She allowed the Stewart Museum to use a carefully preserved letter belonging to her grandfather which he had brought with him out of Russia when the family escaped the revolution in 1919 and which he had kept all his life. There was also Margaret Revell, Herbert’s niece, who provided anecdotes and personal items which have enhanced the story and, most recently, the grand-daughter of a sailor on one of the ships involved in transporting several of the family members to England on their escape from Russia in 1919. Her grandfather had kept a diary and she sent Peter Rogers, assistant estate manager at Burnby Hall Gardens and Museum, a transcript of the relevant entry he made in his diary at that time.
However, one of the most significant elements of the project to date has been the publication of Herbert’s story in the ‘Royal Russia’ magazine in Canada recently. This journal is read world-wide by people with an active interest in the period and has resulted in an illustrated account of Herbert’s life being published alongside other academic essays and short autobiographical pieces written by members of the Russian aristocracy in the years since the 1917 revolution.
A spokesperson for the Stewart Museum said: “To be invited to write for this prestigious magazine was a great honour and certainly a coup for the Stewart Museum here at Pocklington.”
The article included the first fully published transcript of his 1917 diary preserved at the Stewart Museum and has ensured that this unique document is now known to those with a serious interest in this period of Russian history and has helped put the Stewart Museum on the map in respect of this amazing story.
Mr Stewart and the Romanovs can still be purchased from the Stewart Museum at Pocklington. It costs £2.