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Finding a piece of history at Knoll House

Ash Woods, a recent guest to Knoll House, was surprised to find benches from the SS Kenya Castle ship on the veranda. Below he tells his fascinating story.

We were overjoyed to receive an email from Ash Woods who recently visited the local area and also came to Knoll House for lunch where he was unexpectedly transported back in time to a fond memory. This fascinating read is an excerpt from a letter written to his young grandchildren about this particular day spent in Studland. Not only does it highlight some of the amazing artefacts we have here at the hotel, but also some interesting finds from the rugged coastline we are so lucky to be located on. Thanks so much to Ash for sharing this with us.

On the 7th May 2023 Paulette and I went to Studland near Poole, and we walked with Bumble to see Old Harry Rocks, which are in the sea near Ballard Down, a big hill nearby.

On the hill was a small forest, very dense with petrified trees (they were very frightened). The original trees had died and were rotten, but their roots had sent up new shoots, they died eventually and in turn sent up new roots, making clumps of decomposing tree surrounded by young ones.

The entire area was full of wild garlic flowers which smelt strongly on our warm sunny day. Bumble ran around madly without treading on the garlic and she started to dig into mole hills where the moles had dug up soil to build their tunnels. She then began to explore, sniffing the soil and scattering it around in case there was something for her to eat.

I noticed some bits of flint which the mole’s digging had brought to the surface; the first time they had seen the light of day for thousands of years – maybe millions, as they had been ‘knapped’.

The Stone Age in Britain ended about 3500 years BC, so that’s over 5000 years ago. The flint had been ‘knapped’ or chipped by stone age humans to make tools, arrows and spears to hunt animals to eat, also to cut and scrape the hide. No metal tools existed then. You can see from the photos that they are sharp and have been shaped. Does this make Bumble an archaeologist?!

The lumps of flint stone are common in the chalk soil and are formed by heated molten sand – like glass, but I’m not sure how it got mixed in with all the chalk - which was formed by the shells of sea life as they died and sank to the sea bed.

Later the same day a very strange co-incidence happened to me. First of all, the ‘back story’; in 1946, when I was just 6 months old I went to live in Kenya with my mum Elsie, dad Cyril, and sisters Heather and Hazel. In April 1953, when I was 6 years old my mum, dad and I were sailing on a big steam ship from Mombasa in Kenya to London, as they had been given a few months home leave. They were very excited because they knew that Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation was planned for 2nd June 1953.

The steam ship we were on was called S.S. Kenya Castle and had been made in 1952. I enjoyed being on it as it ploughed through heavy seas, I would go alone to the front of the ship to watch when it was rough. It took 3 weeks to travel from Kenya to England. I loved it.

I also remember often sitting on big wooden benches on deck, sometimes with my mum and dad or with some of my friends. For lunch we would be asked to sit on the benches by the waiters whilst we were given tomato juice with Lee and Perrin’s sauce – which I loved, and sandwiches.

The benches had rings on their ends and were tied to the deck to stop them moving in heavy weather. I liked the benches because the seats were rounded where they connected to the backrest. As the ship rolled quite a lot I used to lie along the length of the bench and exaggerate how I was being rolled; then I would roll off - onto the deck to make people laugh..silly boy!

So now back to 7th May 2023. We were just driving away from Studland and stopped at the Knoll Hotel for an hour for snacks and drinks. When we were leaving the hotel we walked along its veranda facing the sea. On the wall I saw a photo of a ship, the S.S. Kenya Castle and beside the photo were the actual wooden benches I had played on almost exactly 70 years ago. I took photos as seen below and you can even see the rings used to tie benches on deck.

So Paulette and I sat on the benches, but sadly no waiters appeared with tomato juice! It seemed weird that 70 years ago I was on The SS Kenya Castle, sitting on the benches just before the Queen’s Coronation, and now 70 years later I was on the benches again a day after her son King Charles III’s coronation! In the photos you can see brass badges. One says, The Kenya Castle was renamed Americana. I’ve looked this up and she was renamed on 1967 and used to sail from Greece to America.

Hope you have enjoyed my story.

Grandad, Ash Woods