Nov 072012

I couldn’t resist this example of Yorkshire plain speaking, eighteenth century style:

It is entitled Comfort for an Old Maid and appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library. It first appeared in “The caricature magazine, or Hudibrastic mirror” by G.M. Woodward.

An old woman sits on a chair and says to her servant

“John – how do you like my fashionable Muff and Tippett – don’t you think I look charmingly to day”. 
The servant replies

“Why Ma- am, I be but a Sarvant and Sarvitude they say is no inheritance – but as a Yorkshire – man – I like to speak my mind then I do think you look for all the world like a Hog in Armour and I think it a sheame an Old Woman like you should be running after the Men at your time of life – you had better think of summat else – for you look Nation Sickly that’s for sartain”

The moral of course is: if you want shameless toadying and sycophancy, don’t ask a Yorkshireman. They may be blunt and to the point, but they will always tell it as it is!

Nov 052012

In a previous blog I touched on the topic of japanned ware – be it metal or papier mâché. Some of the illustrations were from a website belonging to an Antique Dealer in London called Antique Boxes at the Sign of the Hygra. They featured a quite superb table cabinet and although it is not to be found in their catalogue anymore it really is so marvellous that I have decided to give the box a blog-spot of its own! My apologies if this repeats some information already given…

Hygra describe it as a “Rare 18th C painted Papier Mâché table cabinet on gilded carved wooden stand. The two door cabinet with hinged top is decorated with chinoiserie themes on the outside and inside with wild flowers and butterflies.


The composition is an elegant orchestration of a sweeping path from pavilions to tall oriental figures. The left side counterbalances the heavier decoration on the right with fine depictions of foliage and airy trees.


The cabinet is constructed of flat panels which points to an early date when papier mâché was made as a substitute for wood and competing with panels of decorated oriental lacquer which were being imported and used by many of the respected designer makers.

Papier Mâché has qualities which made it superior to wood for the purpose in providing a smoother surface for painted decoration.


The methods used in this cabinet date back to an influential treatise from the previous century: Stalker, John. M.A., and (George) Parker of Oxford . A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing, being a compleat discovery of those arts … with … patterns for Japan-work … engraven on 24 … copper-plates. Oxford: 1688.

Inside there are eight drawers; the fronts have paintings of butterflies and flowers.

Chinoiserie decoration was the height of fashion during the 18th Century and early 19th Century, when the west was gripped by the glimpses of exotic cultures of the East (Cathay) which were introduced by the tales of early travellers and traders of the Silk Road. European artists accompanied formal delegations and brought back a treasure trove of art, which was exhibited, printed and generally disseminated amongst the people of inquisitive mind and eclectic taste.

This is a rare fine example of the genre in that it combines both skill and artistry in its graceful composition: it is both refined and luxurious in the best tradition of the period.

Origin: Circa: 1780 ; Materials: papier mâché, wood.

Size: 37 cm wide by 18 cm by 39 cm: (14.7 inches wide by 7.1 inches by 15 inches).





Types of japanning in an effort to reproduce lacquer had already been produced in many parts of Europe . Early forms of japanning on wood necessitated coating the wood before decoration. It was an inevitable step to extend the function of the coating to incorporate the basic material. This could reduce the necessary processes from three to two and give a new substance, which could be marketed as of superior quality and as quite distinct from oriental work.






As the 18th century progressed, it was realized that in order to render the material suitable for the making of superior objects, it had to be refined. Henry Clay is credited with the next big step of the process, but it is more accurate to go one generation back to his one-time employer, John Baskerville. Baskerville was a manufacturer of tin japanned ware at Birmingham . He was also a printer, with a passion for calligraphy. Henry Clay was apprenticed to him from 1740-49. Baskerville was an inquiring and talented man who made his own paper and ink. He already understood the principle of japanning. His printing work was reputed to be of exquisite taste. Everything was in place for the next logical step: that is, combining paper with japanning.

Baskerville and two other craftsmen had already experimented with making panels out of sheets of paper which were pasted together. In 1763, one of the other two men, Stephen Bedford, won the recognition of The Society of Arts for his superior varnish. It is likely that during the time when Clay was a young apprentice, experiments aiming at producing a superior form of papier mâché took place in Baskerville’s workshop.

Different makers did introduce different techniques and variations, but the principle remained as Clay described it. Sheets of paper soaked in paste were pressed together, on a flat plate, or board. Equal numbers were pasted on each side. The paper sheets were then separated from the plate, by planning or cutting the edges. They were then dried in a stove “…sufficiently hot to deprive them of their flexibility and at the same time are rubbed over, or dipped in oil or varnish…” The resulting material was used like wood, joining the parts by dovetailing or mitering. The final object was “…coated with colour and oils…and then japanned and highly varnished and can be brought to the highest polish by friction with the human hand”.

Chinoiserie decoration was the height of fashion during the 18th Century and early 19th Century, when the west was gripped by the glimpses of exotic cultures of the East (Cathay) which were introduced by the tales of early travellers and traders of the Silk Road.”

I think the box is exquisite. You can see more of what the lovely people at Hygra have on their books here. Suffice to say they have some beautiful tea caddies, writing boxes etc and details of a book written by them which I would love to get my hands on called Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies & Society —1700 – 1780. Do go and have a look at a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era!

A sincere thanks to  Joseph O’Kelly and Antigone Clarke at Hygra for letting me use their photographs and text.

Nov 022012

As a child I remember opening the curtains in the morning and marvelling at the frost pictures – whirls and fern-shapes spreading across the cold glass. Not something we get nowadays with central heating, but a reminder that our ancestors must have  taken extreme cold in their stride much better than we do – because they had no choice!

My favourite diary entry made by Richard Hall when writing about the cold was this one, when he remarks that it was so cold that it froze the water in the chamber pot:


Even with bed curtains to keep out drafts, nothing, but nothing could have prepared you for the icy cold sheets of a Georgian bed – unless of course you were fortunate enough to have had your servant warm the bed first with a bed warming pan.

By way of illustration, two etchings by William Heath, both shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site and dating from around 1828.

The first is entitled “A nice place in cold weather”

The second, part of the Man with umbrella series (see icon bottom left), is entitled “Do you please to have your bed warm’d Sir?” (presumably a reference to the bed warming pan she is carrying, but there again, maybe not!).


Great, great, great, great grandfather’s bed warmer!

Warming pans started to gain popularity in the 1600’s. The early pans were somewhat heavy, with cast iron handles and deep pans able to hold whole coals. The hinged lids were often pierced to allow oxygen to reach the burning coal (necessary to stop the fire going out – the drawback being a risk of fire starting under the bedclothes, and the certainty of a fume-filled room when you retired to bed). Also it wasn’t just a case of the servant using the tongs to collect a coal from the grate, and putting it in the pan which would have been hanging by the fireplace, and then going up the stairs and planting it between the sheets – the pan needed to be moved regularly to stop the sheets getting scorched (hence the long handle for maneuvering the pan around the bed).By the late Georgian era the pans were less deep, because the fashion was to use embers or charcoal in the pans – or even hot sand – so oxygen was less of a problem in keeping the pan hot. The pans became lighter as the iron handles were replaced with wooden ones, some of them elaborately turned. In general though, the older pans had straight plain handles (the Victorian ones were nearly always  turned like banister rails).The pan itself was either copper or brass, both metals being good for conducting the heat.

Not everyone thought that a warm bed was a good idea. A somewhat cranky and cantankerous Scottish doctor  called James Makittrick Adair opened a practice in fashionable Bath and in 1786 published a handily-entitled series of essays under the heading of  “Those Especially who Resort to Bath : Containing Essays on Fashionable Diseases : Dangerous Effects of Hot and Crowded Rooms : Regimen of Diet, &c. an Enquiry Into the Use of Medicine During a Course of Mineral Waters : an Essay on Quacks, Quack Medicines, and Lady Doctors……”

What the good doctor had to say about quacks and lady doctors is for another time, but about hot rooms he had this to say:

“People in health ought never to have their beds warmed; not only because the fumes of the coals are in some degree noxious, but because warmth thus applied enervates the body. If, however, invalids and sick persons cannot from custom dispense with bed warming, one or two quarts of sand, made red hot in an iron pot, and put into the warming pan, will be void of all offensive smell.”

Clearly there was less of a risk of fire, or scorching, if a hot water bottle was used instead. Made of metal, the user would first have had to slip the bottle into a ‘jacket’ of cloth to prevent burning the skin. These became popular in the Victorian era, made of copper and, later, from china.