Items that belonged to Cannon Hall’s famous family are returned

A group of items that once belonged to the Spencer Stanhope family have been donated to Cannon Hall Museum and are set to go on display for the first time in many years.

Donated by James Fraser, a descendant of the family, the objects offer an insight into the fascinating history of the Spencer Stanhopes who owned the Hall until the 1950’s and tell many captivating stories about their lives.

One of the most exciting items is a longbow that is reputed to have belonged to Little John, companion of Robin Hood. The bow, made from yew, is longer than a standard longbow which is possibly why it became associated with the well know character who was said to be very tall. Although the bow is unlikely to be old enough to have been used by Little John, the romance and mythology of that period still makes it a must-see item.

Linked to the family’s prestigious military history is a large urn which commemorates the local militia mustering in 1805 under the leadership of Walter Spencer Stanhope. A series of beacons around the country were used to warn of impending invasion during the Napoleonic wars. Unfortunately, the beacon was lit accidently, however, hundreds of men answered the call unaware of this fact. Their bravery and commitment was commemorated by the urn which was later presented to Walter Spencer Stanhope and is now on display in the gallery.

Walter’s son, John Spencer Stanhope, later became involved in the Napoleonic wars whilst trying to travel on the continent. He became a prisoner of war, spending years in France before eventually being given a passport securing his release. The passport has recently been conserved and is an intriguing document from this period in history.

Visitors will also be able to see the KCB awarded to Sir Walter Spencer Stanhope in 1904. A portrait showing Sir Walter wearing his KCB will be shown in the galleries from Saturday, 14 May to celebrate the launch of a new exhibition based around the Spencer Stanhope family focussing on portraits and many of which were gifted by James Fraser.

Cllr Tim Cheetham, Cabinet Spokesperson for Place (Regeneration and Culture) said: “The history of the Spencer Stanhope family is fascinating and to have objects on display linked to key moments in their lives really bring the past to life.  We would like to thank James Fraser for his generosity in donating the objects which will be seen by thousands of visitors each year and add to the Museum’s outstanding collection of art and objects.”

‘When Spencer met Stanhope: Family Portraits at Cannon Hall Museum’ will run from Saturday 14 May until Saturday, 29 October 2022.