Wednesday 25 November 2015

Researching an Early 19th Century 'Old Sheffield Plate' Wine Coaster

My Old Sheffield Plate Wine Coaster
appropriately paired with a
Georgian Era Glass Decanter.

Amongst my collection of antiques and collectables is a Georgian era 'Old Sheffield Plate' wine coaster which I have recently been researching. I was not left lacking in some detailed information from a number of sources as to the manufacturing process, the manufacturer, and confirmation of the period of manufacture, all of which proved most interesting. 

This item is not of the modern electro-plated variety but used a much earlier form of plating hence the prefix "Old" to differentiate it from the more modern mass-produced variety. [Old] 'Sheffield Plate', being a sheet of copper between two thin layers of sterling silver (known as a "double sandwich") was manufactured by fusing the three layers together with heat then hammering and rolling out in order to then create whatever object was desired. 

A view of the floral and gadrooned border.

This process had been accidentally discovered in 1743 and enabled silverware to then be manufactured in a more cost effective manner rather than using expensive solid sterling silver. Cheaper silver electro-plating generally took over after 1840 so the majority of Sheffield silver plate primarily dates from the Georgian era. 

So firstly, we need to identify this piece as 'Sheffield Plate' rather than electroplated copper. A tell-tale sign is always the seam where the two ends of the plate were fused together to form a perfect round. This is clearly visible.

Close up of the seam where the two edges have been fused together.

Looking closely at the edge of the decorated border with a magnifying loupe clearly shows where the cast decorative gadrooned (convex curves in a series) and floral border has been fused onto the Sheffield Plate rim with a very small but tidy amount of overlap with some copper visible. A small amount of copper is also showing through where areas of silver have been rubbed off with cleaning but this is by no means excessive nor does it really affect the value. Such minor wear is fairly typical for Sheffield Plate and usually confirms that the item has not been electro-plated at a later date which would actually detract from its value. Collectors of Old Sheffield Plate generally like to see a little copper exposed, being termed "bleeding".

Side view showing the moulded ridges on the side

A button set into the centre of the wooden base is engraved with an armorial crest in what can best be described as an almost complete but upturned crescent on a base. Just below this is the sole makers mark, being the letters 'RG' set into a slightly rectangular cartouche. The turned wooden base is of a light colour and may possibly be cedar. The base cannot be removed as the Sheffield Plate was hammered and moulded over it to secure it. The underside of the base is covered in the original green baize and is still intact. Overall I would judge the quality of the workmanship to be very fine.  

The underside showing the rim moulded over the
 wooden base as well as the original green baize.

And now we need to identify the manufacturer. Only four silverware manufacturers appear to have used the initials "RG" during the early 19th century, being :

R.G (Richard Garde [Dublin] ) - first half of 19th century.
RG (Robert Gainsford [London] ) - first half of 19th century
RG (Robert Gray [Edinburgh & Glasgow] - c.1776 to 1802
R.G (Robert Garrard [London] ) - 1802 to 1818

While I had been hopeful that my wine coaster may have been made by the renowned Robert Garrard (1802 - 1818) of London, having been known to have produced fine items in Sheffield Plate, his cartouche is identical to mine but would appear to always include a 'dot' between his initials which mine does not. Likewise, Richard Garde of Dublin, while also in the correct cartouche, includes a dot between his initials. The cartouche of Robert Gray, although basically the correct pattern and lettering, appears too early for my wine coaster.

A close-up of the Armorial Crest
and cartouche with initials "RG"

The cartouche used by Robert Gainsford of Sheffield, and by the above process of elimination, is however the most likely. He appears, according to expert research by professionals, to have used the initials 'RG' within a rectangular cartouche from around 1818 to 1822. Thereafter he used an oval cartouche. While even the experts attribute the mark "probably" to Robert Gainsford (as it does not appear in the Sheffield Assay Office Register) it appears plausible given that the other makers can be discounted. Unfortunately, markings on Old Sheffield Plate tend to be minimal at best, and are usually not helped by a paucity or total lack of historical records.

I note that another wine coaster with a less ornate border but attributed to Gainsford and dated 1820 was recently sold by a reputable English silverware dealer and this provides a very useful comparison, both as to manufacturer and date. The images on the dealer's site show the turned wooden base and style of the central boss, including the cartouche and initials, to be identical to mine.

A Wine Coaster identified as made by
Robert Gainsford, Sheffield, c.1820
[Source :]

An item such as this would be used to place a wine bottle or decanter on, not just as a decorative piece but also to protect the dining table, sideboard or serving table from marks and / or stains. While not of any great value, perhaps only UKP £75 to £85 retail, ascertaining and researching the provenance and history of any piece is all part of the fun of antique collecting. And this item, after around 195 years, still usefully fulfills the purpose for which it was originally designed.

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Two Antique Baptismal Gowns

A Baptismal gown, circa 1882
[From my own collection]

The 'Baptismal Gown', as we know it today, appears to have evolved in the mid eighteenth century, being in common use by the 19th century. In my family collection are two such treasured gowns, having come from Scotland and both dating from the 19th century Victorian era.

The Ordnance of Baptism being covertly dispensed in the open
air during the time of the Scottish Covenantors, mid 18th
 century. The 'Covenantors' fought hard to maintain their
established Presbyterian forms of worship and sacrament,
often at some considerable risk to their own lives.
[Source : Google Books]

The Sacrament of Baptism with water is part of Christian tradition dating back to the time of Christ. This rite is most associated with John the Baptist who is generally acknowledged to have baptised Jesus. Baptism of adults had, by around 200 AD, evolved to include the rite of infant baptism. The 16th century Reformer Martin Luther considered baptism to be a Sacrament thus ensuring that post Reformation this rite remained an important ritual within the Protestant Church. The Scottish Presbyterian Reformer John Knox wrote in 1560 that; "By baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted."

My Grandfather's Baptismal Certificate
from the Bread Street United Presbyterian
Church Edinburgh, dated 22nd April 1851.
Elaborate certificates had not yet come into vogue.
[From my own Collection]

My forebears, adhering strictly to the beliefs and practices of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, took the baptism of their infant children very seriously. The baptism of a child was treated not only as a solemn holy ceremony but also as a celebration. As part of this important religious rite the infant would be dressed in a traditional white baptismal gown specifically reserved for this sole purpose. While the two gowns featured on this Blog are made of finely woven white cotton cambric, silk was also a commonly used but obviously more expensive fabric for such gowns. But ironically cambric is a more durable fabric than silk so both of my gowns are in excellent condition for their age.

A Baptismal gown, c.1844
[From my own collection]

Both these gowns have a known provenance going back to the 19th century and come from my maternal Grandmothers family. Quite why there are two is a mystery, I am strongly assuming the second and more detailed gown was purchased at a later date when the next generation of my family were born. Baptismal gowns generally became more elaborate as the Victorian era progressed so this is another guide as to age. These gowns are now around 130 to 170 years old.

Close up of the c.1844 gown and showing
the small amount of Ayrshire Lace detailing.

The first gown, and I believe the earliest, is of fine white cotton cambric, 42 inches long, and in a plainer tucked style with a wide neck with narrow ribbon ties, very short sleeves but having a small amount of “Ayrshire” style embroidery in a “V” pattern on the back of the neck and with a simple embroidered edge running down the back, finishing off with more “Ayrshire” embroidery at the bottom.

The Ayrshire Lace detailing added
to the bottom of the c.1844 gown

I am strongly assuming that this plainer gown is the older of the two, possibly dating to the baptism of family children from 1844 onwards. We do know that baptismal gowns in this same style were in common use from at least the early 19th century.

Close up of the more elaborate c.1882
gown showing the Ayrshire Lace
detailing and multiple tucking

The second gown is also of fine white cotton cambric, being slightly shorter than the first at 39 inches, but almost the whole front is decorated with “Ayrshire” style hand embroidery and fine tucking. Again, the neck is wide and the sleeves very short. This would have been a more expensive gown and would be used even if the child were a boy so that does not mean that the other slightly plainer gown was reserved exclusively for boys. I believe this gown was first used in 1882. 

The baby would also have worn an embroidered bonnet and wrapped in a shawl when taken to the Church, almost certainly also wearing undergarments as the gowns themselves are quite thin. None of these items have survived in my family as they would have been in normal use.

A New Zealand Presbyterian Church
 Baptismal Certificate dated 1922. Such
colourful certificates were designed
to be kept as treasured reminders of
this very special event.
[From my own collection]

Being no doubt well wrapped up on a Scottish winter's day in January 1854 did not however prevent the death of little Mary Dykes, a relative from Avondale Parish in Lanarkshire, who was taken by her parents to the local Presbyterian Church at Strathaven for baptism but unfortunately caught a chill and died soon afterwards. Her family would however have taken some spiritual comfort from the fact that their infant child had been baptised prior to her early and untimely death.

A New Zealand Presbyterian Church
 Baptismal Certificate dated 1942.
[From my own collection]

As baptismal gowns were only worn for the ceremony then carefully stored away they have usually survived in good condition, thus becoming treasured family heirlooms through each generation. Such gowns should be stored boxed but well wrapped in acid free tissue paper in a dry environment and kept away from light. They should never be stored in plastic bags. I keep mine lightly folded with extra tissue padding in a wax-lined archival grade cardboard box. But if you are able to obtain an acid-free box, as well as plenty of acid free tissue paper, that would be well worth the added expense. As with any antique fabric they should only be handled with clean washed hands. Some excellent professionally written resources are available on Internet to assist with the care and conservation of old textiles, eg cleaning, pressing, storage, what to avoid or be aware of etc.

Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collection and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

The Discovery and Opening of the Coffin of King Charles I, 1813

"Meditations Amongst the Tombs" 1813 - A satirical cartoon by
Cruickshank showing George, the Prince Regent, examining the
body of Henry VIII, while the Physician Henry Halford cuts off his
beard. At rear the body of Charles I raises up his decapitated head
as a warning to George. A sinister figure, accompanied by the devil,
whispers in George's ear about the prospect of losing his own head.
[Source : Pinterest]

At St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on the 1st April 1813, there occurred the opening of the coffin of King Charles I who had met his fate by execution in 1649. But why was this deemed necessary and what took place at the opening? And why was the vault re-opened yet again in 1888? Let us look at the facts.

A search had been made for the burial place by his son King Charles II, "Yet such had been the injury done to the Chapel, such were the mutilations it had undergone, during the period of the Usurpation [Cromwell's rule], that no marks were left, by which the exact place of burial of the King, could be ascertained."

The Choir of St George's Chapel, as
published by William Pyne in 1819.
[Source : University of Glasgow]

The published accounts of those who had first hand knowledge of the burial also proved unsatisfactory thus the matter rested. But Sir Henry Halford, Physician to the King and the Prince Regent, writes in 1813 that "an accident has served to elucidate a point in history, which.... had [been] involved in some obscurity."

After construction of a vault under the 'Tomb-House' [now the Albert Memorial Chapel], it was in 1813 found necessary to widen the passage to it from under the Choir of St. George's Chapel. In constructing this enlarged passage an aperture was accidentally made into a vault through which the workmen could see three coffins. It was then assumed, from published accounts, that these were the coffins of King Henry VIII, his Queen Jane Seymour, along with that of King Charles I.

A sketch drawn in 1888 by Alfred Young Nutt, Surveyor to the
Dean and Canons, of the vault containing the coffins of
King Charles I (left), King Henry VIII (centre)
and his Queen, Jane Seymour (at right).
Upon Charles' coffin is the small coffin of a still-born child
of the Princess George of Denmark, later Queen Anne.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

"On representing the circumstances to [George] the Prince Regent, His Royal Highness perceived at once, that a doubtful point in history might be cleared up by opening this vault... ... This was done on the 1st April last [1813]...., in the presence of His Royal Highness Himself, who guaranteed thereby the most respectful care and attention to the remains of the dead, during the enquiry.

His Royal Highness was accompanied by HRH Ernest the Duke of Cumberland, Count Münster, the Dean of Windsor, Benjamin Charles Stevenson Esq., and the King's Physician, Sir Henry Halford who wrote the published account. 

Sir Henry Halford, 1st Baronet, GCH
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

The arched vault itself lies directly under the flagstones of the choir floor, being half a brick in thickness and measuring seven feet in width, nine feet six inches in length, and four feet ten inches at its maximum height.

"On removing the pall, a plain leaden coffin... and bearing an inscription 'King Charles, 1648', in large legible characters, on a scroll of lead encircling it, immediately presented itself to the view. A square opening was then made in the upper part of the lid, of such dimensions as to admit a clear insight into it's contents."

A close-up of the lead coffin of King Charles I, as 
sketched by Alfred Nutt in 1888. Upon Charles' 
coffin is the small coffin of a still-born child of the 
Princess George of Denmark, later Queen Anne, and 
the leaden box of 1888 referred to below. The 
"scroll of lead" with the King's name is clearly visible.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

"These were, an internal wooden coffin, very much decayed, and the Body, carefully wrapped up in cere-cloth, into the folds of which a quantity of unctuous or greasy matter, mixed with resin, as it seemed, had been melted, so as to exclude, as effectively as possible, the external air. The coffin was full [and] great difficulty was experienced in detaching it [the cloth] from the parts which it enveloped..."

"...At length, the whole face was disengaged from its covering. The forehead and temples had lost little or nothing of their muscular substance; the cartilage of the nose was gone; but the left eye, in the first moment of exposure, was open and full, though it vanished immediately; and the pointed beard, so characteristic of.... King Charles, was perfect. The shape of the face was a long oval; many of the teeth remained; and the left ear... was found entire."

Henry Halford's pencil sketch of the head of
King Charles I, as viewed in 1813.
[Source : National Portrait Gallery, London]

At this point all agreed that the countenance bore a strong resemblance to that of the late King, there being no doubt left in their minds as to his identity. Respect for the Royal dead should perhaps have ended proceedings here (if not upon the lead coffin being identified) but the investigation continued.

"[The head]... was found to be loose, and, without any difficulty, was taken up and held to view... The back part of the scalp was entirely perfect, and had a remarkably fresh appearance; the pores of the skin being more distinct...; and the tendons and ligaments of the neck were of considerable substance and firmness. the hair at the back part of the head, and, in appearance nearly black. A portion of it, which has since been cleaned and dried, is of a beautiful dark brown colour. That of the beard was a redder brown..."

"...On holding up the head, to examine the place of separation from the body...; and the fourth cervical vertebra was found to be cut through its substance, transversely, leaving the surfaces of the divided portions perfectly smooth and even, and appearance which could have been produced only by a heavy blow, inflicted with a very sharp instrument, and which furnished the last proof wanting to identify King Charles the First."

Without any examination of the torso necessary, the head was replaced, the coffin re-soldered, and the vault enclosed.

A close-up of the  coffin of King Henry VIII, as 
sketched by Alfred Nutt in 1888.The damage to
the lead coffin is clearly visible.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Neither of the two other coffins carried any inscription upon them. The larger one, believed to contain the remains of King Henry VIII, measured six feet in length and had been enclosed in an elm coffin two inches thick although the latter was much decayed. A portion of the lid being damaged and open [most likely due, as per my previous Blog, to explosive gasses], "exposed a mere skeleton of the King. Some beard remained upon the chin but there was nothing to discriminate the personage contained in it."

The smaller coffin, believed to contain the remains of Queen Jane Seymour,  remained untouched, "...mere curiosity not being considered, by the Prince Regent, as sufficient motive for disturbing these remains."

Halford noted  "a very small mahogany coffin, covered with crimson velvet, containing the body of an infant, had been laid upon the pall which covered King Charles. This is known to be a still-born child [a son born 15th Sept 1698] of the Princess George of Denmark, afterwards Queen Anne." This does at least confirm that the location of the vault was known at the time of this latter burial.

The roughly bricked up west wall of the vault, as noted by
Halford in 1813. From a sketch by Alfred Nutt in 1888.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Halford also notes the roughly bricked up west wall of the vault, "[which] had been partly pulled down and repaired again, not by regular masonry, but by fragments of stones and bricks, put rudely and hastily together without cement." This would no doubt date to the hurried 1649 burial.

Here our story would finish were it not for another partial opening of the vault on the 13th December 1888 and the curious reason this took place.

It appears that in 1813 the Royal Physician, Sir Henry Halford, took with or without permission certain "relics" from the body of King Charles I. This included the fourth vertebra, which bore the marks of the axe, as well as a tooth and a portion of his beard.

Halford (died 1844) gave a detailed account to his grandson of how he came by the vertebra, claiming "that after the examination of the body and the coffin had been closed three items were not replaced—the half vertebra, a tooth, and a portion of King Charles' beard. The Prince Regent said that it was not worth re‐opening the coffin, and handing them to Halford said, '…these are more in your line than mine, you had better keep them'".

One medical writer, Mr JF Clarke, relates in his autobiography published in 1874 that "a Physician of high repute... now lately deceased" had informed him that Halford "purloined" the items as a curiosity, passing the section of vertebra round the table for examination as an after dinner curiosity. We shall probably never know the true facts but at the end of the day the right and proper thing was done by Halford's heirs.

In 1995 a lock of the King's hair was sold to an American collector in 1995 for £3,910 with the original source being Sir Henry Halford who had gifted it to Hans Busk, the eldest son of a Radnorshire [Wales] landowner and whose descendants consigned it to sale. But as the Prince Regent also kept at least one lock of hair it appears that all were equally complicit in removing 'artefacts'.

Alfred Young Nutt, Surveyor to
the Dean and Chapter, who sketched
the 1888 (and only known) view of
the Royal vault at St George's Chapel.
[Source : University of Leicester]

In 1888, the 'relics' in question were finally given to an apparently "reluctant" Prince of Wales by a grandson of Sir Henry Halford, being contained in an ebony box with an engraving in silver, ‘En Caroli Imi REGIS Ipsissimum os cervicis Ferro eheu intercisum 1648 Et regiam insuper barbam’. The Prince duly advised the Dean of St. George's Chapel that, having obtained permission from his mother Queen Victoria, he desired to return these artefacts to the vault.

Two days later the Prince handed Dean Davidson the ebony casket in which he had himself had placed the following memorandum, "These relics of King Charles I are deposited by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, in the vault containing the coffin of the King, on December 13, 1888."

The Dean arranged for a leaden casket to be made, engraved on the lid being the following inscription, "The relics enclosed in this case were taken from the coffin of King Charles I on April 1st, 1813, by Sir Henry Halford, Physician to King George III. They were by his grandson, Sir Henry St. John Halford, given to H.R.H. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales. On December 13th, 1888, they were replaced by H.R.H. in this vault, their original resting place."

The memorial stone set into the floor of the
Choir of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
This stone had only been laid in 1837 by
order of King William IV.
[Source : Wikipedia]

At 6 pm, after Evensong on the 13th December 1888, Dean Davidson, along with Canons Philip Eliot and J.N. Dalton superintended the removal of the inscribed pavement stone above the vault and six of the black and white marble squares on the south side of the pavement stone.

Only about twenty bricks were removed, care being taken that no debris should fall on the coffins. This work was carried out by three workmen under the supervision of Mr. Alfred Nutt, Surveyor to the Dean and Chapter, the latter recording the event and making the drawing of the vault reproduced on this page. No one else was present in the Chapel. The Prince of Wales arrived just after 7pm and performed the task of lowering the box of relics through the aperture, placing it about the centre of the coffin of King Charles I. The Prince then departed and the closing up of the vault immediately commenced, being under the supervision of the Dean, Mr Nutt and two Canons, with the work being completed about 9.30 p.m. All was conducted with the utmost decorum and reverence.

A gold and enamel locket containing hair
taken from King Charles I's head in 1813
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Another artefact still exists in the Royal Collection which relates to the 1813 exhumation, being a beautiful gold and enamel locket apparently given by George to his daughter Princess Charlotte (1796 - 1817). An inscription confirms that it contains the hair of King Charles I, having been removed from his head in 1813. Princess Charlotte was, until her untimely and much lamented death four years later, the heir apparent.

Since 1813 the remains of King Charles I, King Henry VIII, and of his Queen Jane Seymour, have remained undisturbed. May they all now rest in peace for the ages.

To read my Blog relating to the events which took place immediately after the execution of King Charles I in 1649 please click HERE.

Bibliography :

- "Athenae Oxonienses", Vol II, Woods, 1721
- "History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England", Vol III, Clarendon, 1807
- "Memoirs of the Last Two Years of then Reign of King Charles I", Sir Thomas Herbert, 1813
- "An Account of what Appeared on Opening the Coffin of King Charles The First", Sir Henry Halford, 1813
- Various Internet resources