A new exhibition at Sissinghurst Castle tells the stories of the French prisoners held there during the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763). These eerie infrared images seem somehow apropriate as an illustration of the dark flipside of this beautiful place.
In the exhibition the little-known history of Sissinghurst as a prison camp will be told in the prisoners’ own words, found in their letters home and in trial records.
Sissinghurst had been leased to the government by its then owner, Sir Horace Mann, for use as an internment centre for about 3,000 captured French sailors. It was a harsh place even by eighteenth-century standards.
On 11 July 1761 a soldier of the Kent Militia, John Bramston, fired into a group of prisoners without warning. As prisoner Arsille Coilou later testified: “I was walking with the man Bastien Baillie who was killed in the Garden. The sentry beyond the moat advanced two or three steps. He fired, and the man fell.”
The incident, depicted in the naïve painting that I posted about earlier, eventually led to an investigation of conditions at Sissinghurst. Poignantly, the word ‘castle’ was only added to Sissinghurst’s name at around this time, as the prisoners called their place of incarceration the ‘château de Sissinghurst’.
The exhibition is open from the beginning of July, Fridays to Tuesdays, 10:30 am until 4:30 pm.