Europe at War

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Europe at War: A Hidden Record

Bath’s Holburne Museum has in its archive a remarkable piece of hidden history. A panel of wood discovered during the Holburne’s redevelopment project in 2009 reveals a moment when the Museum’s past was entwined with that of the First World War.

Three carpenters working on the panelling of the Museum’s picture gallery made a personal record at a pivotal moment in history. They marked a piece of wood with a pencil inscription of their names and a record of the outbreak of the war that read:

“France Servia Montenegrins English Japan Russia at war with Germany and Austria August 1914
W. Black G. H. Nation J. Pearce (carpenters) for Hayward & Wooster Builders”

WWI Plank
The entire plank with the inscription as above

Detail of the plank

The workmen signed the plank before setting it into the wall panelling. There was obviously some discussion of the situation: Russia caused some confusion, listed first on the enemy side before being crossed out and added to the list of allies.

The Museum’s 2009 project was the second major alteration to the building that began life as the Sydney Hotel, gateway to the eighteenth-century Pleasure Gardens. In 1914 the first major re-working of the building was underway, transforming the building into the Holburne of Menstrie Museum under the architect Reginald Blomfield.

The Holburne’s Curator Catrin Jones said: “The message on this plank is a poignant reminder of three individuals involved in the Museum’s history. Capturing a historic moment, when it was discovered in 2009 builders likened it to a time capsule. We’ve been able to track down some information about the carpenters and would love to know whether a century on, any of their relatives are still in the area.”

Bath Postal Directories records reveal the residences of the three men. In 1919 William James Black, originally from Country Antrim, resided at 11 Melrose Terrace, Whiteway. George Herbert Nation lived at 23 Brunswick Street, moving to number 21 Brunswick Street by 1919. Joseph Pearce is recorded at 44 Maybrook Road, South Twerton in 1914 but but 1919 had moved to 3 Lyndhurst Road. Nation and Pearce both originally came from West Somerset. Too old for conscription, they were employed as carpenters until at least 1919. Woodworking was vital to the aviation industry, with three aircraft factories operating in Bath during the war.

Carpenters often marked their work in this way, knowing their words would be concealed as the building was completed. The personal message that was revealed in 2009 captures a momentous time in Bath’s history.

The Holburne’s record of this small historical footnote marking the centenary of World War I will be on display in the Museum’s Picture Gallery, where admission is free, until the end of the year.

Bath in Time
Image of soldiers outside the Holburne Museum in 1915 with thanks to: Bath in Time


Media Enquiries For further information or images please contact: Katie Jenkins, Communications Manager, the Holburne Museum tel | email


The Holburne has joined nationwide contributions to where you can discover First World War activities, events and exhibitions in your area as part of global commemorations to mark the First World War Centenary. All events are offered by members of the First World War Centenary Partnership led by Imperial War Museum (IWM) working with thousands of organisations around the world. The website is managed by IWM. Events and organisation listings are provided by Culture24 (

The Holburne Museum houses an important art collection formed by Sir William Holburne in the nineteenth century, which includes paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and porcelain of national and international significance. Artists in the collection include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany.
The Museum reopened in May 2011 after ambitious renovations and a new extension by Eric Parry Architects. The Holburne has fast gained a reputation as one of a number of outstanding regional museums in the UK.
• Winner of the Museums & Heritage Award for the re-display of the permanent collection.
• Winner of RIBA Building of the Year, south west.
• Winner of the Civic Trust’s Michael Middleton Special Award for a restoration/extension project within a conservation area.

The Holburne Museum, Great Pulteney Street, Bath BA2 4DB
Open daily, free admission 10am to 5pm (11am to 5pm Sundays and Bank Holidays)
Tel: | email: |
Admission to temporary exhibition £6.95 | Concessions
In Partnership with Bath Spa University