Eastnor Castle: the Sikh connection
20 January 2014
One of my Cocks ancestors was a colonial administrator in India during the 1840s, and he joined the staff of General Gough at the start of the Sikh War in1848. The outcome was successful for the British; the Sikh army was defeated and the Punjab became part of the Indian Empire.
Although not a trained soldier, Cocks must have distinguished himself in battle because General Gough presented him with his sword at the end of the conflict as a token of his appreciation. Cocks also brought back to Eastnor various items of Sikh weaponry, including armour, swords, guns, shields and other edged weapons.
They have been hanging recently on a back staircase, along with the head of a rhinoceros and some paintings of doubtful quality, as it was thought they would be of limited appeal to visitors. However, this is about to change.
I had heard about the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail from the HHA's involvement with the Black Environment Network and so, out of curiosity, I visited their website. I was delighted to find that the trail already includes a number of historic buildings and even HHA member properties. A visit from the Director, Harbinder Singh, and his colleague, Clare Gorst, followed and we were joined by Frances Garnham. Although modest in scale compared to the collection of armour at, say, the Wallace Collection, it is enough to appeal to the Sikh visitor, especially when combined with other items we have from the subcontinent, including carpets made for the house in Amritsar and an interesting miniature showing a spectacular parade of Indian and British officials.
We are less than one hour from the West Midlands but we have not attracted many Indian visitors to Eastnor in the past, although our first Indian wedding is booked for this summer. We hope this will change once we are included on the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail. It will be a good opportunity for us to widen our appeal in the visitor market and also to remind our traditional visitors how long and how intimately connected the British and Sikh nations have been.
Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail
History in order to remain engaging and relevant needs to be constantly refreshed. Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming obscure and even sterile. Yet history is the very thread which intertwines communities. Of all communities of India, the Sikhs have a remarkable historic association with these shores. The aim of the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail (ASHT) is to highlight the marginalised topic of this shared heritage - a relationship with origins in the 19th century. A guiding principle of the Trail is that shared heritage can be used to transcend perceived and entrenched differences and promote a harmonious future generation of citizens, based on commonality, not differences.
Conceived as a national initiative, and funded by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Trail draws together all relevant UK locations, institutions and artefacts into one inspirational project. From extremely rare and valuable early Sikh manuscripts in the British Library, to the throne of the legendary ruler Maharajah Ranjit Singh in the V&A, and the cremation sites of Sikh soldiers who laid down their lives for Britain, the Trail connects locations, objects and institutions through a series of themes which personify and demonstrate the centuries-long Anglo Sikh relationship.
Eastnor Castle holds the first private collection of Sikh artefacts to be included on the Trail. Harbinder Singh, ASHT's Director said: "We are delighted to have established an association with Eastnor Castle and the Historic Houses Association. The inclusion of private collections on the Trail will shed further light on the history shared by our two communities".
In explaining the Anglo Sikh relationship by way of a demonstrable presence within the heritage environment, the Trail is a major source of information, education and inspiration. Associated events include public lectures, displays of Sikh martial arts and traditional performing arts.
The Trail is fully documented on the ASHT website where visitors can follow the Trail through a series of locations, exhibits & institutions; plan actual visits; explore the themes which provide historical background and find out about up-and-coming events.