ALMOST exactly a century after the Titanic sank a painter and decorator was given a spine-tingling reminder of that maritime tragedy as he carried out refurbishment work at an historic Yorkshire house.
On or around April 14 1912 two tradesmen at Harewood House near Leeds decided to use a spare moment to mark their names on a piece of wood as they filled in and redecorated an old doorway.
Exactly a century and one month later, on May 14, Harewood’s chief decorator Robert Kay was stunned into silence when he came across a handwritten note on a piece of board hidden in the door frame.
Written by one of Mr Kay’s predecessors, Edgar Sunderland, it said:
Sunday April 14th 1912
1503 persons drowned
705 persons saved
Commander Capt: Smith
This disaster happened near (illegible). The boat was the largest afloat and on her maiden voyage.
Mr Kay, who has spent 37 years at Harewood and seen many marks left by stonemasons, carpenters and decorators, was gobsmacked at the note and the timing of its rediscovery.
“I’ve never come across anything like this before. It sent a shiver up my spine. I was just a month out from uncovering it on the 100th anniversary – it was very eerie.”
Mr Kay already knew of Edgar Sunderland, having spoken to a colleague in the early 1970s who had worked with him as a teenage apprentice.
He now wants to find out more about the man and has welcomed the decision by Harewood House to put on display the piece of wood on which Sunderland recorded the Titanic news.
My Kay said: “He (Sunderland) was well known for leaving time capsules and notes around the house.
“It’s a wonderful way to enjoy and find out more about the legacy of people working at Harewood and we never know what we might find next.
“I started work on the door panel on May 14 and it was eerie finding this exactly 100 years and one month from the date of the sinking, particularly as this year sees the centenary.
“The person that I used to work with, Norman Davey, was a lad when he worked with Edgar Sunderland.
“He told me that whenever there was a major historical event he would write little snippets.
“For the Titanic mark to be discovered 100 years after it sank means a lot. It was a very strange feeling to see it 100 years and a month after it was written. I leave marks during work but I just leave my name and that’s all.
“Now I might start leaving important events like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
“I will find somewhere where nobody can see it, like on top of a door frame.”
It is not the first time Mr Kay has uncovered marks left by workers from days gone by.
A few years back he found a long list of the names of decorators from 1886 as well as some old newspapers.
On another occasion he uncovered some late 19th century drawings of a boat on a lake, a church, and an old house. And he knows of stonemasons who would leave a penny in the bottom of a wall.
Mr Kay does not know much about his predecessor other than he began work in 1912 and stayed for many years.
In 1912 Harewood was home to Henry, 6th Earl of Harewood, who would have been in his early 20s. The rooms continued to be used by members of the Lascelles family through the childhoods of the 7th Earl of Harewood, who died in July last year, and his son David Lascelles, the 8th Earl of Harewood and his brothers.
In the early 1980s, Harewood revealed its most extraordinary find when handpainted Chinese wallpaper dating back to 1769 was found.
Mike Schafer, chief executive of the Harewood House Trust, said discovering hidden items gave everyone the feeling that the building is ‘alive’.
“Harewood continues to surprise us. It seems to me to be almost a living-breathing entity that is bursting with stories on past lives. To come upon it unexpectedly is always a delight for the team here. The people behind the scenes, now and then, are a major element in its history and we’re also providing a legacy for those to find in the future every day.
“Finds are often re-covered or returned to their original position so that future generations will be just as surprised as we are. Harewood never stands still and every day is just another addition to the story.”