The Layard family has had connections with Canford for many years. Henry Layard, was the first cousin of Lady Charlotte Guest and a regular visitor to Canford. Through his travels and explorations, Henry was most interested in looking for Nimrud. He gathered funding and support from a number of sources and in the summer of 1845 started digging into the mound at Nimrud, 20 miles south of Mosul and, on the very first day, found the outlines of a royal palace. Within days, they had unearthed huge alabaster wall linings and sculptured panels, and within three years, he had revealed the ancient Assyrian civilisation, which until then had only been names in the bible.
Layard was keen to publish a book on his findings, and sought support from his cousin Lady Charlotte Guest. She was the ideal person to help as not only did she have a wealthy husband and connections to the right people, but she was also very interested in scholarship; and she did indeed sponsor his writing of The Monuments of Nineveh, much of which had been written at Canford.
In return, Henry promised to bring some Assyrian antiquities back to Canford. Most of Layard’s finds went to the British Museum but, as promised, others had been arriving at Canford from 1849. Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, had been employed by the Guests to remodel Canford Manor and is responsible for the Great Hall and the Main Tower amongst other things. Together with Layard and Charlotte, he designed a new home for the Assyrian finds: the Nineveh Porch which was finished in 1852. These finds actually turned out to come from Nimrud, not Nineveh, but the name has stuck, and they formed what was the second largest collection of Assyrian works in the world after the British Museum.
For nearly seventy years the Assyrian collection was housed in the Nineveh Porch. When Lord Wimborne died in 1914, a large part of it was sold to pay his inheritance duties; much of it bought by Rockefeller for a ‘very moderate’ price who later gave it to the Metropolitan Museum in New York where it forms the basis of their collection. Some plaster cast copies were made of some of the friezes and hung where the originals once were and they stayed
there when, in 1922, Canford Manor was sold, becoming home to the school a year later.
For thirty seven years the young school continued to grow and it was not long before the Nineveh Porch became the school tuckshop (the Grubber). In 1956, Sir Leonard Woolley, an archaeologist of some note visited the school. He visited the Grubber and spotted some small reliefs embedded into the wall that he thought might be genuine. These were eventually sold through Sothebys generating £14,000 for Canford.
In 1992, Professor Russell, through his own research at Columbia University, identified that there was a missing panel which Layard had referred to. Following a visit to Canford, it was concluded that the Grubber was housing ‘Slab 6 from Room C of Assurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud.’ Valued at £750,000 the frieze was eventually to be sold at auction and after costs provided Canford with a windfall of £6,000,000.
A significant proportion of this income built the new Sports Centre (which is open to the public) and a new girls’ boarding house, the remainder was invested. A small part of that investment subsidises the annual trips that Canford 6th form pupils make to three orphanages and schools in India, Argentina and Ghana. The remainder has been used to provide bursaries for pupils who would not otherwise be able to afford a Canford education. Many pupils have gained from that far-sighted decision but this fund is now very limited in modern terms in the support it can provide.
The increased number of pupils that were then able to come to the school meant that, shortly after the frieze was sold, the school was able to build a new theatre and, rightly, it was named the Layard theatre, to honour the man who brought back the frieze.
It is clear from this historical account that access to knowledge, education and exploration has been at the heart of Canford for many years even before it became a school. Layard was from a middle class well educated family of limited means. Charlotte Guest was keen to educate her iron workers and worked hard to open schools in Wales. It is therefore fitting that we remember the legacy that Henry Layard left to Canford today which lends its name to our legacy society – The Nineveh Legacy Society.