The Chiddingstone Chronicles: What do a castle, collector, countess & our Hall of Ancient Egypt have in common?

Pour yourself a spot of tea, loves, have a biscuit and brace yourselves for a story of utmost British-ness.

If you’ve visited our esteemed new Hall of Ancient Egypt, you may have noticed that many of the items on display are on loan from Chiddingstone Castle in the United Kingdom.

The historic house is the former home of antiquarian Denys Eyre Bower, an avid collector and consummate gentleman, as you’ll soon see.

Bower bought the castle and its surrounding 35 acres in 1955 for 6,000 British pounds. Although the castle was rundown, Bower — 50 years old at the time — was attracted to its potential. It had the space to house and display the many artifacts he’d collected over the years, and before long, he had made it something of a local destination, opening a makeshift ticket window for passersby and manning tours himself.

Chiddingstone Castle

By and by, Bower found himself in love with a young girl who lived a few miles way. She was only 19, but she managed to convince Bower that she was a French countess.

When he sensed that her affections might not match his own, Bower brought an antique revolver from his collection ’round to her apartment and threatened suicide if his love wasn’t reciprocated. During the ensuing confrontation (these things are always dramatic), the revolver went off and the “Countess” was wounded. Beside himself with grief and ever the gentleman, Bower shot himself to even things out. Neither were mortally wounded.

When he had recovered, Bower asked how his Countess was faring and was informed that she was neither dead nor a countess — she was the daughter of a Peckham bus driver.

A six-year stint in a notorious London prison — Wormwood Scrubs — followed on charges of attempted murder and attempted suicide (a punishable crime in those days), but it was during this time that Bowers befriended a woman named Ruth Eldridge.

Over many visits, Eldridge worked on Bower’s behalf to organize his release from prison, recruiting her sister to restore and guard the castle at Chiddingstone in the meantime. Bower and Eldridge remained friends until Bower’s death in 1977, and it was Ruth and her sister who set up the trust that still exists today — from which all of our objects are on loan.

Pretty crazy story, isn’t it? Just the sort one can’t make up.

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