The history of the Hall spans over 950 years. Although I have been working here for two years and have a good understanding of elements of it; I still enjoy discovering new information pretty much every day. I studied the First World War whilst at university but hadn’t looked at the Battle of Jutland in any great detail. It is the 100 year anniversary of the battle today and perhaps unsurprisingly it is part of our 950 years of history.
I first learnt of the link between the Hall and the Battle of Jutland when one of our very knowledgeable volunteers asked me if I was willing to take a trip to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to have a look at their new exhibition and take some notes for her. Having obviously responded with quite a puzzled look she explained more, and a few weeks later I found myself at the National Maritime Museum.
Some background: The Battle of Jutland was the largest naval battle of World War One and was fought in the North Sea just off the coast of Denmark on 31st May and 1st June 1916. 155 British Navy combat ships lined up against 99 German vessels. The battle lasted two days but was tactically inconclusive, neither side clearly winning the engagement. The British, however, claimed it as a strategic victory as they managed to maintain their naval blockade of Germany and to keep the German fleet away from their own supply lines. During the battle 14 British and 11 German ships were sunk. One of these British ships was HMS Indefatigable (pictured below).
HMS Indefatigable was hit at 16:02, during the ‘Run to the South’ phase of the battle, by three 11 inch shells fired by SMS Van der Tann, detonating a magazine and she started to sink. Soon after another shell fired by SMS Van der Tann hit and plunged through through HMS Indefatigable’s thin upper armour piercing another magazine the ensuing explosion ripped the ship apart. She sank immediately with her crew of 1,018 officers and men, leaving only three survivors. One of the men that died when she sank was Commander Henry Ernest Digby Hugh Willoughby.
Henry was born in 1882, the elder son of the 10th Baron Middleton. Henry became a Commander in the Royal Navy in 1896 and was an officer on HMS Indefatigable at the Battle of Jutland. Very little else is known about Henry to the outside world, he was one of eight children and his younger brother Francis also died on active service in the First World War. The Willoughby family had owned Middleton Hall since 1435 and throughout the centuries members of the family had fought and often died on notable battlefield across the country. If you are interested in finding out more about our recent past, the Battle of Jutland and those that fought I can definitely recommend a visit to the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition. Changing exhibitions are a great way for museums to share their often vast collections and help us mark important anniversaries in our history. We are in the planning stages of our own new exhibition to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and Middleton’s links to 1066, this year. Watch this space for more information…