Historian’s treasures shed light of life at Annesley Hall

Dick Starr of Underwood describing some of the famous objects he has collected from the Chaworth Musters family of Annesley Hall.
Dick Starr of Underwood describing some of the famous objects he has collected from the Chaworth Musters family of Annesley Hall.

On the coffee table at historian Dick Starr’s home sits a collection of objects which he was given when he worked as a handyman for the well-known Chaworth-Musters family at Annesley Hall and Felley Priory.

There is a delicate Wedgwood coffee cup from the 1700s, when coffee was so expensive that people would only have tiny cups, and a piece of oak dating back to the 1100s when Annesley Hall was just a hunting lodge, which was salvaged after a fire broke out there in 1997.

Dick, who lives in Underwood, says he was ‘just a village lad’ who had found himself immersed in the lives of the landed gentry - but that did not stop him forming a strong friendship with the Chaworth-Musters and he was given many personal items including a pair of coat hangers which belonged to Sophia Chaworth-Musters who died in a car accident at the age of 14.

Among his treasured possessions, 69-year-old Dick, who worked for the family between 1960 and 1965 before joining the Coal Board, also has a cut-glass ink well which was once owned by Lord Byron.

The Romantic poet, who used to spend time at his ancestral home Newstead Abbey as a young boy, would regularly visit Annesley Hall to see his cousin Mary Chaworth with whom he had fallen in love.

Dick says: “She was very pretty but she rejected him. She said that she wouldn’t marry the ‘lame-footed boy from over the hill’.

“He had suffered polio and it was very hurtful to him. He didn’t come back to Annesley for many years.

“Mary married the fox-hunting squire of Colwick Hall, Jack Musters.”

But Lord Byron did return to Annesley Hall after he had made his name as a poet when he attended a party organised by Mary.

“At the party, they did not speak,” says Dick.

“Mary broke the silence by saying that her young daughter wanted to meet her famous relation.

“Byron sat her on his knee and made up a poem.”

Mary later left her husband to try and win back Byron’s affections - but he rejected her and went to Greece.

Perhaps the most striking object in Dick’s collection is an intricately-carved, wooden cane which was given to Commander George Chaworth-Musters in 1865 during his trip to Patagonia in Argentina.

The cane, which has images of animals carved into it, once had a human skull for its handle although Dick later replaced it with a stag’s antler and it was given to Cmdr Chaworth-Musters because of the strong links he forged with the communities in Patagonia.

“They really took to him,” says Dick.

“He lived with them and first they made him a blood brother and then they asked if he would become king. He did not have a crown so they named him the uncrowned king.

“At Annesley Hall there were all sorts of things he had collected from South America and this was amongst them. I had always taken a fancy to it.

“I don’t understand why he isn’t as famous as Lord Byron or D.H. Lawrence. He was the first European to trek right through South America - they even named a lake after him in Argentina, Lake Musters and they called him Marco Polo.”

The Chaworth-Musters moved out of Annesley Hall in 1973 but before that, many of the valuable objects and artworks - including paintings by Joshua Reynolds and George Stubbs - were sold at auction.