26 March – 26 October 2014
Inspired by the stories of the evacuees who lived at Waddesdon during the Second World War, photographic artist Jan Dunning has created a trail of images and installations round the manor, providing an alternative perspective on its collection and history.
Dunning's research uncovered that no custodian from the Rothschild family had ever produced a natural heir to the Waddesdon estate and that as such, children had rarely set foot within the walls of the house. The only exception to this was during the Second World War when the house was used to accommodate 100 evacuee children under the age of five.
Having spent time listening to interviews and reading correspondence from the former evacuees who found refuge at Waddesdon during the war, Dunning overwhelmingly discovered that they described the manor as a magical haven during a frightening and anxious time.
She also took inspiration from Mrs James Rotschild's accounts of this period, in which she describes the children as 'lovable rascals'. Revealing that nearly all of the manor was given to the children's use, she bemoans the damage they inflicted on the Red Drawing Room with their sticky fingers and coloured chalk.
But it was the archival photographs that first set Dunning to thinking about the trail which she has now created. Contained inside three small albums which were handmade by one of the nursery teachers and given as a Christmas gift to Mr and Mrs James de Rothschild, the candid shots show the children going about their daily life in the house and grounds.
Deciding to recreate the photographs, Dunning built models of four of Waddesdon’s great ground floor rooms and reshot the scenes, but rather than being merely representational, she crosses into a world of fairytale, creating the imagined memories and projected fantasies of an evacuee child that has been transplanted into the manor's fantastical surroundings.
Dunning believes 'at the end of the hunt there should always be treasure', so by following the photographic trail visitors will reach a walk-in camera obscura, hidden in the top of one of the turrets. Once inside, and as eyes become accustomed to the darkness, images of the Parterre and fountain and the beautiful stone façade of Waddesdon can be viewed.