May 242016

caddy 1I make no apology for ‘plugging’ the website of what used to be Hamptons Antiques – now simply known as “Mark Goodger” – because some of the items really are of amazing quality. I think that this pair of tea caddies, decorated with Etruscan motifs by the doyen of 18th century japanners, Henry Clay, is a case in point.

caddy 2  caddy 3





Henry Clay specialised in decorating papier mache items, from trays to table ware, from knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. He was originally based in Birmingham but moved to London and established a workshop at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where he attracted a variety of royal and aristocratic clients. Eventually he was given no less a title than ‘Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’. One of the clients was Robert Child of Osterley. This gentleman was able to indulge his passion for fine things because in 1763 he became head of the family bank – Child & Co – and received an income of £30,000 for his troubles. Osterley Park, in Isleworth, was the estate which he inherited from his brother, and he had it extensively re-modelled by the architect Robert Adam. An inventory of 1782 specifically mentions ‘a Pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay’ on which this pair of tea caddies would have stood.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

It is extraordinary how the precise history of the caddies can be traced – the table itself was designed for the Etruscan Dressing Room, and is still on display. The caddies remained in the family until Osterley Park was given to the National Trust in 1949 by George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey.  At the same time, he gave his sister, Lady Joan Child Villiers, this beautiful pair of caddies. Lucky lady, I say. For the last thirty years they have belonged to an avid collector of tea caddies, and have recently come onto the market. They really are exquisite.

caddy 4The Mark Goodger website describes the pair as being “A rare pair of George III papier mache oval tea caddies, attributed to Henry Clay. Decorated using the grisaille method, with classical figures in the Etruscan style. Each caddy is decorated with bands of classical anthemions, one has a chevron pattern, the other a floral decoration on the lid. This was done purposely, probably to enable the caddies’ owners to distinguish which caddy contained green or black tea. Each features a solid silver handle stamped “HC”, bearing the assay office mark for Birmingham. The gilt metal-rimmed tops open to reveal tin foil lined interiors, which retain their original silver-handled floating lids.”

GrisailleA quick look online tells me that the ‘grisaille method’ is a classic style of decorating using nine shades of gray  – well, anything from white through to black, with everything in between – to give a monochrome effect. And if you don’t believe me,  this shows all nine of the variations.

The caddies were made in around 1790 and stand four and a half inches tall. And if I had rather a lot of money to spare (I am afraid you need £16,000, with postage on top…) they would be sitting on my dining room sideboard faster than you could blink…

Nov 012015

2 silverThis post owes everything to the information given to me by the award-winning author Lynne Connolly. As ‘Lynne Connolly’ she writes historical romance, and as ‘L.M. Connolly’ spicy contemporary and paranormal romance. From my point of view, her added significance is that she is a direct descendant of a most remarkable woman called Hester Bateman. Hester was not just a success in a man’s world, she is renowned as one of the greatest silversmiths of the eighteenth century. Hers is a most remarkable story and I am most grateful to Lynne for helping me tell it.

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down from where Hester had her workshop

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down the road from where Hester had her workshop

Hester (in all probability she dropped the ‘H’ in conversation and was known as ‘Ester’ within the family) was born in 1708, and was baptised on 7 October of that year. Her father’s name was either John Neden or John Needham and she appears to have had little formal education. It has been suggested that she was wholly illiterate, which makes her subsequent business success all the more astonishing. At the age of 24 she married a wire-maker and chain-maker called John Bateman and proceeded to bear him six children in a short period of time. This meant that when her husband died in 1760, probably of tuberculosis, she found herself at the age of 52 with half a dozen children to bring up, and a business in which she had had no formal training. Interestingly, John bequeathed the tools of his trade to his widow, suggesting that maybe she was already well-versed in the world of making silver. But Hester must have been a determined lady: she could have taken the easy option and have sold the business – probably not for very much, since gold chain makers were ten-a-penny, and once the stock had been sold there would have been little or no goodwill. Wire-making was one of those ‘background’ trades involving the drawing of silver through a narrow gauge to produce a thin wire. As the century progressed, more and more silversmiths used the output of people like John Bateman to supply ready-made panels of metal decoration which could be applied to other silver products. The skills of people like John Bateman were absorbed into a sort of mass production process – but it was an anonymous and not particularly well-paid skill.

5 hallmarkInstead of selling up, Hester decided to carry on the business on her own and to launch it in a completely new direction. Within months of her husband’s death she registered her initials ‘HB’ with the London Goldsmiths Company. This was on 16 April 1761 and the records show that she traded from 107 Bunhill Row.

3 caryThe actual premises no longer exist, but Bunhill Row appears on the left of the map by Cary dating from 1795. Little of the output from her workshop exists from the early years – quite possibly because she had yet to establish a name for herself and was reduced to selling her pieces to other silversmiths. They would then over-stamp the sponsors mark with their own. But what is clear that she moved the business away from making wire and chains and instead became a silver-smith, making items such as spoons, forks, tea pots and decorative objects. After 1774 she was joined in the business by two of her sons, Jonathan(1747-1791) and Peter(1740-1825). Hester continued to head the business until her retirement at the age of 82. She died four years later in 1794, but by then the dynasty was well established and involved her daughter-in-law Ann (married to Jonathan), their son William and grandson William II.

During the thirty-year period when Hester was at the helm the business developed into one of the most successful silver-smithing businesses in the country. Hester’s items are renowned for their neo-classical designs, often adorned with bright-cut engraving, and with beaded edges and piercing. Her mark appears on tea-pots, jugs, caddies and sauce boats. She made decorated wine labels and inkwells, she made salt cellars and mustard pots. Trays, salvers and a vast array of household goods were produced. All had one thing in common: Hester’s attention to design and her absolute dedication to quality. She may not have been able to read or write, but she certainly knew how to impose standards of excellence. Along the way she must have been able to pick up a knowledge of book-keeping and accounts because without this she would never have survived. The soaring price of silver ingots in the period when she was in business meant that she would have needed to have kept a close eye on stock levels, mark-ups and so on. She exploited the ‘added value’ which her skills could bring, and she quickly became highly respected in what was a somewhat closed world of male silver-smiths.

The family became experts at using the latest technology to roll thin-gauge strips of silver (useful in competing with the new process of making Sheffield plate). They were brilliant at machine-punching decorations through the metal, at hammering, raising, planishing, burnishing and engraving. The only thing they do not appear to have tried their hands at was casting (and hence no examples of cast silver candle sticks with the mark HB are known). The sons had their own separate maker’s marks (WB, PB JB etc) but it is the silver which carries the mark HB which is perhaps the most collectible of all. Indeed she is rated as one of the finest silversmiths of her generation – with good reason.

Photo by Fin Fahey

Photo of St Luke’s Church, by Fin Fahey

This remarkable woman was buried at St Luke’s Church, Old Street, London. Her legacy can be found in museums and galleries throughout the country. Her Verger’s Wand is apparently still in use at St Paul’s Cathedral, while examples of her work are found at the various Livery Companies in the City. She made her mark (literally) in a world dominated by men. As far as is known, she never left the very small area of London where she lived and died. She showed a gritty determination to succeed in a business where women were almost unknown, and all this despite an education which did little to prepare her for the challenges which she met and conquered.

Hats off to Hester – and a sincere ‘thanks’ to Lynne Connolly for bringing her to my attention.

Lynne’s next book is due to be published on 1 December and will be called Reckless in Pink, set in 1750’s London.  Her website is at

Finally, I am grateful to Daniel Bexfield Antiques (website here)  for some of the additional information about Hester and her family.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.


Jul 272015

S1Considering that I live less than twenty miles away from Saltram House I find it remarkable that I have only just got around to visiting it! It occupies high ground overlooking Plymouth, and although much of the original estate had long since been sold off, enough remains to provide a lovely area for walks and so on.

S2It really is a Georgian gem – which is no doubt why it was used in Ang Lee’s version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ starring Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

S14I visited on a wet and windy day so the gardens were not at their best, and the orangery looked somewhat forlorn, but the main building is  fabulous, with elegant symmetry, Robert Adam designed interiors, a fine display of early Worcester porcelain, enough paintings by local boy Joshua Reynolds to fill a gallery, a splendid library and some extraordinary chinoiserie not least in the form of hand-painted Chinese wallpaper and some remarkable mirrors which were apparently made in Britain, exported to China for “finishing off” and then re-imported in order to match the paper.

Reynolds pained by fellow Royal Academician Angelica Kauffman

Reynolds pained by fellow Royal Academician Angelica Kauffman


The link to the National Trust site is here.

Here are a few more images of this fascinating house:










S5   S7














I have always heard that chamber pots were "hidden" in pieces of furniture, and this proves it!

I have always heard that chamber pots were “hidden” in pieces of furniture, and this proves it!

The chinese rooms were especially impressive:




Mar 102015

I always look forward to getting the latest catalogue through from Hampton Antiques, because there are some wonderful and often original items to look at. As usual I drool over their apothecary’s box, complete with all the tools of the trade, and boxes containing all manner of goodies. But I think the item which most caught my eye in the current catalogue was  this watch box, dating from around 1815, in the shape of a castle turret. To me it is the epitome of High Regency – ornate to the point of being flashy, beautifully crafted, and of course highly functional.az1

It is only five inches high; the lid has a bone handle and can be lifted out in order to access the watch, and the whole thing is beautifully decorated with pen-work. I love it, so if anyone has a spare  £695 now is the chance for you to make me extremely jealous!



Aug 212014

I recently came across a marvelous web-page  for Amherst Antiques, who specialize in Tunbridge Ware.  It is run by Dianne Brick and her husband Ivor, and I immediately realized that there was no point in me trying to write a blog about Tunbridge Ware in the Georgian era  – so I asked Diane to do it for me! She kindly agreed to explain a bit about it, and to let me have some images  by way of illustration. This is what she has written:

“The wooden souvenir ware from Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells in Kent, known as Tunbridge Ware, reached the height of its production in the mid 19th century. This followed the introduction of a method of manufacture known as tessellated mosaic, which proved to be the perfect technique for adapting popular Berlin woolwork designs for marquetry.

Today Tunbridge Ware is mostly associated with tessellated mosaic work and many people regard Berlin woolwork designs as its main characteristic. But this is only part of the story. Tunbridge Ware existed throughout the whole of the Georgian period but around one hundred years of its history is sadly lost to us, largely because we simply do not know what it looked like.

The first known mention of Tunbridge Ware was in 1697, when Celia Fiennes visited Tunbridge Wells and wrote about “all sorts of curious woodwork” for sale, referring to it as “delicate, neate and thin ware of wood both white and lignum vitae”. This description was likely to have referred to turned items such as bowls and goblets, pepper and spice mills, which were probably made out of holly, sycamore or lignum vitae. (Lignum was first imported to England from the West Indies and mainland tropical America in the early 16th century).

Throughout most of the 18th century we only have tantalizing glimpses of Tunbridge Ware through surviving correspondence or through its mention in literature. Letter writers and diarists such as Mary Granville, Elizabeth Montague and Fanny Burney all wrote about presents they had bought at Tunbridge Wells.

In literature the most well known mentions of Tunbridge Ware occur in Fanny Burney’s Camilla in 1796 and in Jane Austen’s early 19th century novel, Emma, published in 1816.

We know too that Jane Austen herself owned some Tunbridge Ware, described by her niece, Anna Lefroy. Anna talked about a dressing room at Steventon Rectory, the Austen home up to May 1801, in wa 1 tunbridge ware poem copyhich there were “Tunbridge Ware work boxes of oval shape, fitted up with ivory bands containing reels for silk, yard measures etc.” (*) But this and other scanty descriptions from the 18th century do not really tell us what we should be looking for to identify Tunbridge Ware from that period.

Even this delightful advertising material taken from a song produced in The Lady’s Magazine & Musical Repository of 1802 does not give any clue to the nature of the woodenware on offer. It is only during the first twenty years of the 19th century that we can begin to identify Tunbridge Ware with any confidence, when, in many instances the items produced reflected the fashions of the day.












Whitewood was a popular choice at this period. It was often used for small souvenir items such as this simply painted combined tape measure and pincushion with an applied paper label – A Tunbridge Wells’ Gift. Many different labels with mottos were used during this period in imitation of inscriptions found on enamel boxes. These labels often originated from the Tunbridge Wells’ printer, Jasper Sprange (1745-1823).

a 2 Painted tape etc 1 copy














More elaborately decorated whitewood items were also made and were intended for wealthy customers. This needlework basket is finely painted with fruit and seashells, a popular motif in Georgian designs.


a3 Painted_Basket_fruit_L copya4 Painted basket foliage scroll 1 copyFollowing the interest in the theory of the Picturesque in the 18th century, Tunbridge Ware makers also used designs for rustic cottages with overhanging eaves. These perhaps were inspired by John Plaw’s pattern book for picturesque dwellings, which appeared in 1800.


Below, a rare spool box in the form of a cottage with documentary evidence detailing its journey to America in 1818.a5 Cottage for NEC copy


Another fashionable interest from the 18th century was the use of prints, which were also adopted by Tunbridge Ware makers to decorate their wares. Prevailing neo-classical ideals influenced the choice of prints used, as did an interest in topographical subjects.a6 Saturn_box_L copy













Needlework box with a print of Saturn. Circa 1820


a7 Brighton_basket_L copyFrom the same period, this whitewood basket has applied prints of Brighton, a location much favoured by King George IV.

a8 painted church box copyThe small spool box has an applied print of Bath Abbey Church and is attributed to George Wise Senior of Tonbridge, who was known for producing Tunbridge Ware with applied prints in the early years of the 19th century.

Other types of decoration such as chinoiserie designs and simulated finishes to represent tortoiseshell or japanned wares can also be found on Tunbridge Ware from the early 19th century along with popular veneered designs. Perspective cubes, starbursts and vandykes often featured on furniture, table cabinets and boxes. But perhaps the most intriguing example of veneered work is this inlaid tea caddy by John Robinson of London and Tunbridge Wells. It dates from 1795 and can only be identified from an applied paper label, without which, there would be no way of knowing it as a piece of Tunbridge Ware.

a9 robinson_caddy_L copy  a10









Its design does not distinguish it from any other caddy of the same period. Perhaps this is a clue to 18th century Tunbridge Ware as a whole. It may just not have been different from any other woodenware of the period and perhaps was only classified as Tunbridge Ware because of the geographical location from which it was sold.”

(*) Quoted by Margaret Wilson in Jane Austen and Tunbridge Ware with information from the Collected Reports of the Jane Austen Society 1966-75.


Thanks Dianne! For anyone interested, I do recommend her site ( )  here.  Amherst Antiques specialize in Tunbridge Ware, operating from the Edenbridge Gallery in Kent, and exhibit at many of the major antiques fairs such as Olympia and the NEC. Dianne is holding a major exhibition of Tunbridge Ware at Edenbridge Galleries – called “Flights of Fancy” – between 4th and 11th October.

Jun 092014

a card box 1I have blogged before about the fascinating treasure trove which is to be found on the Hampton Antiques site here. This month their news letter features a “Japanned polychromed card box with a chinoiserie scene depicting two figures in a garden with a Ho-Ho bird in a tree on the lid. The front and sides of the box feature inlaid gold floral designs. The Ho-Ho bird is said to bring luck and symbolizes good fortune.”

a card box 2 jpga card box 3Apparently the interior is lined with a navy blue and gold patterned paper which is a later addition, and most probably done in the the Victorian period. Traces of the original blue / green paper can be seen underneath this. There is a tray to the centre of the box which removes, which would have contained counters.It dates from 1820 – an interesting time in terms of design and fashion.

It got me thinking: you have had your guests round to dinner at a fashionable seven o’clock in the evening and have dined well. The first and second removes have come and gone, and the Ladies have withdrawn to play cards, leaving the Gentlemen to drink themselves into a stupor over the Port. The lady of the house produces this gorgeous little card box – but what would the actual cards have looked like?

In this I have been assisted by a great website called ‘The World of Playing Cards here. They have a mass of information about the history of cards. In particular I was interested in a number of sets from the Eighteenth Century which would already have been antique by the reign of George IV. I especially liked  the sets relating to the 1720 South Sea Bubble scandal – with scurrilous and often coarse pictures and verse about the people involved in this early Sock Market scam. Printed from copper plates, the red diamond and heart symbols would have been stencilled on afterwards.

a SS bubbleThen there were the Street Cries:

a criesMore recent sets might have been made by Gibson & Gisbourne, who had taken over the Blanchard card-making company in 1780 and who produced two-headed court cards which later came to be standard:

a blanchard

New out in 1820 would have been a set printed by Charles Goodall & Co, who went on to dominate the market. Jointly with arch-rivals Thomas de la Rue, they went on to produce 70% of all playing cards sold in Britain. Goodall had opened premises in London’s Soho area in the year that the Hampton Antique’s card box was manufactured. To begin with they struggled to meet demand for their  high-quality cards, Initially the backs were left plain white but in time they introduced backs with stars, fleur-de-lys and subsequently somewhat elaborate designs. Commemorative and royal images came into vogue.  More significantly, Goodall’s popularized the court cards we are familiar with today.

a court-faces

Fashions changed and Goodalls found themsleves no longer  able to sell two million packs of cards a year. They diversified into printing calendars and so on, but ended up merging with de la Rue in 1922. All this and more can be found on the World of Playing Cards site. More to the point if you are wanting to obtain replicas of these old card sets, so that you can faithfully re-enact your Regency card party, have a look at the site of  Harry Margary.

Meanwhile I will content myself with imagining that I own the lovely card box, complete with  either brass gaming counters minted to look like Spade Guineas, or else with mother-of-pearl fish-shaped counters which I can remember from when I played cards with my aged grandmother many moons ago!

a tokena counters