Up­hold­ing mag­nif­i­cence

Be­hind Ick­worth’s dazzling col­lec­tion of sil­ver are in­trigu­ing sto­ries about do­mes­tic life, grand en­ter­tain­ing and diplo­matic ri­valry, says James Roth­well

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Caro­line Bu­gler

James Roth­well re­veals the sto­ries be­hind Ick­worth’s for­mi­da­ble col­lec­tion of sil­ver

ICK­WORTH in Suf­folk con­tains one of the most im­por­tant aris­to­cratic col­lec­tions of sil­ver to sur­vive in­tact in Europe

(Fig 2). It ex­tends to nearly 1,000 in­di­vid­ual pieces of the high­est qual­ity, style and ex­u­ber­ance by the finest mak­ers of the lat­es­tu­art and Ge­or­gian pe­ri­ods. The foun­da­tions of the col­lec­tion were laid by the 1st Earl of Bris­tol, John Her­vey (1665–1751), who, by the time he in­her­ited the Ick­worth es­tate in 1700, had al­ready mar­ried two wealthy heiresses in a row and elab­o­rately fur­nished a fash­ion­able Lon­don house in St James’s Square.

The Earl’s metic­u­lously kept di­ary and ac­counts sur­vive and, along with ex­ten­sive cor­re­spon­dence, they give a de­tailed pic­ture of his and his fam­ily’s daily lives. Among the di­ary en­tries are de­tails of his to-ing and fro-ing be­tween Suf­folk, Lon­don and else­where and such sig­nif­i­cant events as fam­ily births and deaths and even his own near fa­tal­ity at Ick­worth: ‘Oc­to­ber 25th, 1717. Fri­day, I nar­rowly es­caped from be­ing drowned in my new Canall… for which & all other Gods great & won­der­ful mer­cies… to­wards me his most un­wor­thy ser­vant, his holy Prov­i­dence be for ever adored.’

The ac­counts, laid out on the op­po­site page to the di­ary in the same leather­bound vol­umes, record a con­stant stream of sil­ver pur­chases from Oc­to­ber 1689, when, as a young fa­ther, John Her­vey bought a sil­ver hang­ing can­dle­stick for the nurs­ery for £5 11s. Over the next 62 years, up to his death, he ac­cu­mu­lated pretty much ev­ery type of sil­ver ob­ject that would have been ex­pected in an aris­to­cratic house of the time. In­cluded among them was the mag­nif­i­cent cis­tern of 1680 by Robert Cooper (Fig 9), bought sec­ond hand in 1697 and part of the equip­ment for serv­ing wine dur­ing din­ner.

A more per­sonal piece is a choco­late pot by Pierre Pla­tel, prob­a­bly made in 1708,

which bears signs of in­ten­sive use. Both the Earl and the Count­ess, El­iz­a­beth Fel­ton, were fond of the drink, con­sum­ing 100lb of it ev­ery year in the 1720s, and it was a par­tic­u­lar favourite at break­fast. In a let­ter Lord Bris­tol wrote to his wife on Septem­ber 6, 1721, he grum­bled about his ‘un­govern­able’ ser­vants at Ick­worth al­low­ing hounds into the kitchen and the bread be­ing ‘left all night in the oven and ut­terly spoyld, and not so much as a toaste left for me to eat with my choco­late’. Two years later, Lady Bris­tol, who was on her way to Bath, wrote ‘tis 8 a clock, & I am just go­ing to drink your dear health in choco­late, and then set out’.

Judg­ing by the pieces that sur­vive, and the prices paid, much of the 1st Earl’s sil­ver was of the sim­ple, rel­a­tively un­or­na­mented style fash­ion­able in the early 18th cen­tury. He did suc­cumb to the greater elab­o­ra­tion of the French Ré­gence in at least one case, how­ever, be­cause, in 1737, he bought what must have been a mag­nif­i­cent épergne (cen­tre­piece) from the es­tate of the 4th and last Earl of Scars­dale.

The only sur­viv­ing pieces are the cen­tral dish, dated 1724, and two sets each of cast­ers (Fig 3) and cruet frames with bot­tles, all dated 1723 and bear­ing the mark of the most fa­mous early-18th-cen­tury Lon­don maker, Paul de Lamerie. Although more than a decade old when it en­tered the Bris­tol col­lec­tion, the épergne would still have been con­sid­ered fash­ion­able and by buy­ing sec­ond hand, the Earl saved him­self about a third of the cost of com­mis­sion­ing anew.

The other de Lamerie piece at Ick­worth, also Ré­gence, is a bread bas­ket of 1731 (Fig 7), which was most prob­a­bly ac­quired by the 1st Earl’s son and heir, John, Lord Her­vey (1696–1743). It is one of an ex­ten­sive group in this oval, nat­u­ral­is­tic form pro­duced in 1731–2, the great ma­jor­ity marked by de Lamerie, and is sim­i­lar to one bear­ing the arms of Sir Robert Walpole which is now in the Gil­bert Col­lec­tion at the V&A. Her­vey was a mem­ber of the Prime Min­is­ter’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and cer­tainly dined with him, so per­haps he was in­spired by the sight of his mas­ter’s new and su­perbly crafted bas­ket?

‘The 2nd Earl adapted what he could of his fa­ther’s and grand­fa­ther’s sil­ver’

Also likely to have been Lord Her­vey’s, and even more lav­ish in style, are two ice pails by Philip Rol­los II (Fig 6) that are un­dated, but may well have been pur­chased at the same time. Such pails are associated with in­ti­mate, af­ter-din­ner drink­ing and po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue and they are prob­a­bly in­dica­tive of Her­vey’s gov­ern­men­tal as­pi­ra­tions.

Fol­low­ing Lord Her­vey’s death in 1743, the 1st Earl of Bris­tol kept his grand­son and ul­ti­mate heir, Ge­orge Wil­liam Her­vey (1721–75), on a tight leash and out of pol­i­tics. Im­me­di­ately af­ter suc­ceed­ing as 2nd Earl in 1751 (Fig 5), how­ever, Ge­orge Wil­liam be­came, ac­cord­ing to his brother Au­gus­tus, ‘to­tally in­clined to go [over] to the Court’ in or­der to pur­sue a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, prefer­ably in diplo­macy.

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously of­fended both Ge­orge II and his long-time chief min­is­ter, the Duke of New­cas­tle, the new Lord Bris­tol had to work hard to achieve his aim and, as part of that cam­paign, he sent his sil­ver to the work­shop of Frederick Kan­dler to be fully over­hauled and up­dated to make it im­pres­sively fash­ion­able. The Earl was far from ex­trav­a­gant, how­ever, and adapted what he could of his fa­ther’s and grand­fa­ther’s sil­ver, uni­fy­ing a dis­parate se­ries of dishes by the ad­di­tion of mag­nif­i­cent shell han­dles, ad­ding Ro­coco chas­ing to plain can­dle­sticks and du­pli­cat­ing such richly or­na­mented pieces as the de Lamerie

épergne and bread bas­ket. He re­served his big­gest in­vest­ment, of more than £300, for a pair of oval tureens of 1752 (Fig 4), which rank among the most sculp­tural pieces of plate of the mid 18th cen­tury. The heav­ily cast Bris­tol arms are promi­nently dis­played on ei­ther side of the bil­low­ing and wavy bases and the lids are lib­er­ally scat­tered with three-di­men­sional veg­eta­bles; their finely mod­elled han­dles are in the form of the Her­vey crest of a chained snow leop­ard or ‘ounce’.

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion was, un­doubt­edly, their prom­i­nent role as the fo­cus of at­ten­tion at the be­gin­ning of the meal. They would have been placed at ei­ther end of the ta­ble and have con­tained two dif­fer­ent soups, such as the ‘Craw­fish soop’ and ‘Soop Lor­raine’ of­fered by the 1st Vis­count Jo­ce­lyn at a din­ner in July 1747.

Lord Bris­tol’s ca­reer fi­nally took off in 1755, when Ge­orge II some­what be­grudg­ingly sent him to Turin as Bri­tish En­voy and he ar­rived there to find that his chief ri­val, the Mar­quis de Chau­velin, the French am­bas­sador, was giv­ing din­ners for 30. In the 18th cen­tury, it was the habit to eat di­rectly from sil­ver plates, so sev­eral were re­quired for each diner and the Her­vey sil­ver couldn’t com­pete. The Earl, en­cour­aged by a vi­tu­per­a­tively ex­pressed loathing for Chau­velin, com­mis­sioned an ad­di­tional 48 plates (bring­ing the to­tal to 120) from the best Turin gold­smiths, An­drea Boucheron and Paolo Antonio Paro­letto. He also found that cir­cu­lar tureens were needed as well as oval ones and that the fash­ion on the Con­ti­nent was for them to stand on dishes rather than di­rectly on the ta­ble. Fur­ther pieces were ac­quired, to­gether with nu­mer­ous other items, and, as a con­se­quence, Ick­worth pos­sesses one of the largest as­sem­blages of Turin sil­ver out­side north­ern Italy.

In 1758, Lord Bris­tol was trans­ferred to Madrid as am­bas­sador, a rank that en­ti­tled him to an al­lo­ca­tion of sil­ver and sil­ver-gilt amount­ing to just un­der 7,000oz. In the­ory, this was a loan to up­hold the dig­nity of the Crown, and thus all the pieces were en­graved with the royal arms, but, in prac­tice, it was al­ways granted per­ma­nently to the re­cip­i­ent af­ter a short de­lay. Lord Bris­tol was no ex­cep­tion.

As he was al­ready well pro­vided with din­ing plate, he de­voted much of his al­lowance to a set of 12 four-light can­de­labra by James Pel­tro and Si­mon Le Sage (Fig 1). They are per­haps the largest and most ex­u­ber­antly Ro­coco set to sur­vive from the pe­riod and would have been in­tended for a great en­ter­tain­ing room—a saloon or gallery—where they would have been placed on fur­ni­ture around the sides dur­ing evening func­tions.

The Earl and his sil­ver had to make a rapid exit from Madrid when Bri­tain de­clared war on Spain in 1761, but his de­vo­tion to Wil­liam Pitt the El­der led to a dis­tin­guished po­lit­i­cal ca­reer at home and, for a brief mo­ment in 1766, it looked as if he might even be­come Prime Min­is­ter. The plate thus con­tin­ued to play an im­por­tant role up to his death in 1775, by which time he was Groom of the Stole to Ge­orge III.

The di­verted at­ten­tions of his ec­cen­tric broth­ers, suc­ces­sively 3rd and 4th Earls— the for­mer mar­ried to the big­a­mous Duchess of Kingston and the lat­ter was the in­fa­mous Earl-bishop of Derry—saved the col­lec­tion from be­ing re­fash­ioned again

‘The pub­lic would visit Ick­worth for the house, the gar­dens and the plate

and the care­ful ten­ure of the 1st to 4th Mar­quesses of Bris­tol meant that the 18th­cen­tury sil­ver sur­vived vir­tu­ally in­tact, with some fine early-19th-cen­tury pieces by Paul Storr added when it was passed to the Na­tional Trust in 1956.

H. D. Molesworth of the V&A, ad­vis­ing the gov­ern­ment at the time, ac­cu­rately pre­dicted that ‘the pub­lic would visit Ick­worth for the house, the grounds and the plate, and be well re­warded for their trou­ble’.

James Roth­well is the Na­tional Trust’s ad­viser on sil­ver and has re­cently pub­lished ‘Sil­ver for En­ter­tain­ing: The Ick­worth Col­lec­tion’. For in­for­ma­tion about vis­it­ing Ick­worth, Bury St Ed­munds, Suf­folk, visit www.na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/ ick­worth or tele­phone 01284 735270

Fig 1 above left: Can­de­labra by Si­mon Le Sage, part of a set or­dered by the 2nd Earl while am­bas­sador to Spain. Fig 2 above: The 2nd Earl’s din­ing plate set out at Ick­worth

Fig 4: Round tureen (left), made in Turin in about 1756, and oval tureen (right) by Frederick Kan­dler, 1752

Fig 3: Set of cast­ers by Paul de Lamerie that were part of an épergne of the 1720s

Fig 5: The 2nd Earl of Bris­tol (1612–77) in a por­trait at­trib­uted to Zof­fany

Fig 7 left: Or­nate Ré­gence bread bas­ket of 1731 by de Lamerie, sim­i­lar to one for­merly owned by Robert Walpole

Fig 6: One of a pair of lav­ish 1710 sil­ver wine pails by Philip Rol­los II

Fig 8: Din­ing à la française: The Sup­per of Prince de Conti at the Tem­ple (1766) by Michel-barthéle­mey Ol­liver

Fig 9: A mag­nif­i­cent wine cis­tern of 1680 by Robert Cooper, ac­quired by the 1st Earl

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