A United Effort on Both Sides of the “Pond” – Securing a Plaque for Juliette Gordon Low’s Wellesbourne House

by Karen Schillings

In the January 2023 historian blog post that I wrote, From Savannah to Wellesbourne, The Story of Juliette Gordon Low in Warwickshire, England, I told the story of why Juliette Gordon Low’s Wellesbourne House was so important to her. I also shared that the dedication of the plaque, which identifies the house for its historical significance, had been rescheduled. Having recently returned from the dedication ceremony that took place on April 15, I will now share the journey for obtaining the plaque and what other individuals did as they accompanied me on the way.

The saga began in July 2017, when my husband Denny was planning an upcoming trip to the English countryside for that August. He had prepared a fascinating itinerary that took us to Canterbury, the Cliffs of Dover, Highclere Castle, Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

When he shared his plans for our excursion, I thought that maybe when we reached Stratford, we would be close to Juliette Gordon Low’s country estate. This is probably something only an enthusiastic Girl Scout historian would ponder. Anyway, I searched the internet for the location of Wellesbourne and used Google Maps to determine its proximity to Stratford. I realized that the distance between the two towns was a short 15 to 20-minute drive, and I shared my findings with Denny.

Since he is a meticulous planner, he wasn’t thrilled when I indicated that I wanted us to take a short trip to Wellesbourne. His response was that his plan was for us to go to Conway from Stratford, and Wellesbourne was in the opposite direction, so that would cause a disruption to the schedule. After I explained to him how important it was for me to see Juliette’s house, he agreed to deviate from the set-in-stone itinerary only if I could acquire the house’s exact location. He would not travel around the countryside looking for it since that would put us behind on his rigid timetable. I told him I would find out the house’s exact location, making it possible for us to be in Conway by his designated time. However, after he agreed to this proposition, I had yet to learn how I would obtain the exact location. Enter Ben Earl, the webmaster at Our Warwickshire.

When I found the Our Warwickshire website, I had the option of contacting the webmaster for further information. I wrote a lengthy message to Ben, explaining my predicament. He was unfamiliar with Juliette Gordon Low and her Wellesbourne connection, so he had to do some research in the county record office catalog. Ben successfully found the house’s location, and he relayed that information to me. I could now tell Denny how to find it.

When we got to Wellesbourne and located the house, I was thrilled. Even though it was a Sunday morning, and the gates were locked, I could at least get a photo of the home’s exterior and of the replicated gates, which are copies of the original ones that Juliette forged and are now on display at the Birthplace in Savannah, GA. I kept trying to see if there was anything on the house that identified it as once being the home of Juliette, but to my disappointment, I could not find anything. I was quite concerned about the house not having something to recognize its historical importance. In the meantime, Ben had asked me to write an article for Our Warwickshire describing Juliette’s time in Wellesbourne, which I did when we returned to Illinois. I asked Ben how I could get a plaque placed on the house. He gave me some suggestions as to where I might start.

This next pursuit found me contacting My Wellesbourne, which gave me the web address for the Wellesbourne Local History Group. It was through the local history group that I found Michael Dane. Michael was very receptive to my idea of having the house identified with a plaque and offered to help with this endeavor. His first task was to acquire permission from the owners to place a plaque on the house. This was no easy task. He had to do a considerable amount of research to locate that information.

He discovered that a property investment company had recently purchased the house and some of the other buildings, which would be converted into condos. He was finally successful in contacting the owners and was able to gain their approval to place a plaque on the house once the construction was completed. Michael then set to work getting bids for the fabrication of the plaque. On my end, I solicited my fellow Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (GCNWI) historians and the Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois historians for the funds to pay for it. Michael received the plaque and gave it to the owners, who were to install it after the renovation was finished. 

In the advertising brochure for the condos, the history of the property and Juliette’s time in Wellesbourne were highlighted, with much of the information taken from the article that I had written for Our Warwickshire. While this was all happening in September of 2018, several of my fellow historians and I went to Our Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland, for an adult program. To my delight, a group from the Warwickshire Trefoil Guild was there with us at the same time. They were very supportive of my pursuit to have a plaque placed on Juliette’s house, and I appreciated their enthusiasm for this undertaking. Initially, Michael thought the project might be completed in time for me to stop by Wellesbourne on my return trip from Our Chalet, but that didn’t happen. The remodeling was taking much longer than anticipated. However, I felt very hopeful that everything would eventually fall into place. Then we hit a slight bump in the road. Somehow the plaque had been lost during the construction, and Michael informed me of this unforeseen setback in October 2019. 

At first, the owners wanted me and the historians to come up with the funds for the replacement. However, Michael and I convinced them that they were responsible for losing the plaque, so they needed to pay for another one. This time, Michael kept the replacement plaque until he was sure it would be mounted. In January 2020, Michael sent me a photo of the plaque attached to the house.

So, after much angst, Juliette’s Wellesbourne House finally had a plaque to properly identify who had lived there.

Plans were set into motion to have an unveiling of the plaque at the end of March 2020.

Denny had made all the arrangements for us to be in Wellesbourne on March 28. However, our plans came to a screeching halt. This time the COVID-19 pandemic put us in lockdown, and everything had to be canceled. It was such a disappointment. We were ultimately able to have a proper dedication on April 15 of this year, and it was such a joy to see the plaque affixed to the house.

Lesley Goodhead from the Warwickshire Trefoil Guild and the local historian Michael Dane made all the arrangements for the day. Michael secured permission for the event to take place on the property. He also arranged for me to have the opportunity to enter the house and see the front parlor, which has been modernized, but the same wrought iron railing still adorns the upstairs hallway. 

Lesley informed local Girl Guides and Trefoil Guild members of the event. Additionally, she organized a luncheon to take place after the dedication in a nearby church hall and involved volunteers in preparing and serving the meal. I brought 12 boxes of Girl Scout cookies donated by GCNWI to serve and be enjoyed by all those in attendance. It was a gesture of our worldwide friendship, too.

At the dedication, I welcomed the Girl Guides and community members who came to the ceremony and thanked all those who supported the effort to have the house identified with a plaque. Since so many in the community were unaware of Juliette’s time in Warwickshire, I also explained the history of her journey that brought her to Wellesbourne House.

At the end of the ceremony, I presented Michael with the GCNWI Girl Scouts Hero Award for all his efforts in acquiring the plaque. Although Ben could not join us that day, he was approved for Girl Scouts Hero Award as well, and Michael agreed to take the award to him. In addition, I gave out to all the Girl Guides in attendance a Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana patch.

I, in return, received the Warwickshire Girl Guide Service Award for volunteers from the Girl Guide County Commissioner.

After the ceremony and luncheon, some of the Trefoil Guild members took me to Chedham’s Yard, the local blacksmith’s forge that has been in the same location since 1856.

It is believed that this is where Juliette was taught how to shape the iron to create the gates for Wellesbourne House.

The day’s international spirit was very evident, and it was heartwarming to be part of this effort to have Wellesbourne House properly identified for its historical importance.

Karen – Girl Guides – Trefoil Guild

So, in the end, why all the fuss over getting a plaque put on Wellesbourne House? It’s because Juliette Gordon Low’s vision has meant so much to girls for over a hundred years, and this particular house, is the one she considered to be her own. She imagined a movement where all girls could come together and embrace their unique strengths and passions—and as Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have done ever since, she made that dream a reality.

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