Monthly Archives: October 2011

‘Old English Furniture’. A Connoisseur Booklet.

          Occasionally you come across those odd finds in charity shops or the crevices of secondhand bookshops which you end up buying because it’s something to read on the bus home. This is my logic anyway, since 50p for a book rather than £3.99 for a magazine seems quite reasonable really. This is one of those finds.

          Old English Furniture from Tudor to Regency by F. Gordon Roe came into my hands at a community book fair for about 20p or thereabouts a few months ago. I thought it would make for a good bit of reference material, and yet it is a little more interesting than that because it seems so dated. F. Gordon Roe (1864-1947) was a distinguished painter in his own right, gaining recognition and fellowships with his large historical compositions. He later went on to become a leading expert in antiques with specialisms in oak furniture. The Connoisseur Booklets were published around the middle of the twentieth century and covered a range of topics suitable for the ‘collector’ of antiques: pottery and ceramics, pewter and silverware, furniture, watercolours and clocks. The tagline for these little pamphlets read, ‘A preliminary guide for the collector’.

          The booklets are illustrated towards the end in black and white mainly and include advertisements for reputable antique dealers; presumably according to antique type and relevant to the particular topic of the booklet.

         In Old English Furniture, Roe describes the evolution through materials used in common furniture types from about 1530 to about 1810. He starts with the oak age and discusses examples of this type from church and private collections with acknowledgment of earlier medieval pieces. From the start the pamphlet reveals its age (apart from its pre-decimal era price in shillings and pence on the cover!), as Roe’s use of language asserts, ‘On the other hand, such extreme abnormalities as Elizabethan cabinets in mahogany (!) – one has heard highly dubious rumours of such – may well impose too heavy a strain on our credulity.’ The Connoisseur Booklets clearly had a highly regarded place in the world of antique collecting, afterall they were the product of The Connoisseur – a magazine produced from the turn of the twentieth century under title variations, the main one being The Connoisseur. An Illustrated Magazine For Collectors. Many a country house will have some editions stashed away somewhere, whether it is privately owned or otherwise. Perhaps this is quite ironic for later generations of country house owners since they had to sell vast quantities of household contents to meet growing debts. However, these pamphlets do prove useful and it is interesting to observe the purpose of them within the world of twentieth-century collecting.

Table-desk of 'Nonsuch' type, late sixteenth century (V&A Collection)

      I first thought that this was a good example of the kinds of things you would find at any country house in terms of furniture. On closer inspection Roe uses images from several sources which highlights the importance of antique furniture throughout several layers of society. For example, there are pieces photographed from the private collections of Roe himself and that of a Mr. William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate and amongst other things, builder of Hearst Castle, California. Then there are images of pieces from prominent antique dealers including Phillips of Hitchin Ltd, M. Harris and Sons, and Leonard Knight Ltd. Finally there are pieces which could be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (see above image, also p.23 in Roe). The exclusivity of certain pieces as collector’s items, and the subsequent arenas of purchase highlight the top end of the market. The museum pieces on the other hand mark out the accessibility of pieces for a slightly wider audience, albeit as exhibits.

          What I like so much about this little booklet though, is its place in time. The collectors, the dealers, the specialists, and curators are all part of a fading world which was a predominantly male one. It’s antiquarian and authoritarian – and therefore distinctly ‘connoisseurial’. And there is nothing wrong with this, indeed this type of specialism has delivered many scholarly tomes on various aspects of the decorative and fine arts. Moreover, this connoisseurship helps drive the itineraries of all historical societies today who frequent country houses and galleries in search of craftmanship and examples of specific designers and artists. We can’t all have decorative art degrees, and so where better to start than from the sources themselves? As Roe says, ‘Often one may learn something from such inspections that might be vainly sought in public collections, though these, and especially the great array of furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, can be of the utmost value to collectors and students.’ (p.17)

          Again, the language of the Connoisseur Booklets is tremendously dated, but their content is very useful. Once Roe completes his travels through the ages of English furniture, he carefully points out the value of knowledge in recognising fakes, a piece’s pedigree (provenance), and pests. I was once told that even the smallest of wooden objects infested with wood worm should never be brought into the home because it spreads! The ever anecdotal Roe adds, ‘…one has heard of a primitive method of treatment involving the placing of the infected item in a stone-floored cellar or outhouse with a piece of fresh sap-wood, to which the pest would (presumably) transfer its attentions … a device sometimes more remarkable for quaintness then for efficacy.’ (p.20) At the time of writing, Roe was well aware of proper chemical preparations in ridding wood worm.

        Perhaps these booklets could be put back into print? There are many books and magazines for the modern collector of antiques, some may even contain well-researched essays on decorative art topics. Antiques are extremely popular, and we only need see a rundown of daytime television programmes where about 80% are concerned with period furniture, paintings, textiles, and tableware. There is still a sphere for the collector and antiquarian in modern times since their techniques for learning are still practiced at universities and colleges. The writers of these booklets are almost as significant as the pieces they enjoyed writing about, so maybe their texts could be left unaltered and we could visit this faded world whilst learning a thing or two about objects we never really noticed before.


Search the Collections at The Victoria and Albert Museum

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Book reviews, Collections

A Harewood House Inventory, 1795.

          The following details are from a copy of an inventory taken upon the death of Edwin Lascelles, Lord Harewood in 1795. [1] The inventory itself is vast and covers the entire house from bottom to top and back again. Inventories of country houses are fascinating because of the depth of information you can retrieve from them simply by discovering the types of items belonging to specific rooms. Not only do you get a sense of how the house was used overall, and by whom, but also their tastes, interests and personal routines. And within the country house specifically, it is possible to view the social microcosm established through owner and staff members. The richness of textures, ornament, the variety of goods, and the storage of chattels reveals the very ordinary day-to-day routines, but highlights the contemporary trends of the time at which the inventory was taken. 

          The very obvious value of this document lies with the fame of those involved in creating the house. Shortly after the death of his father Henry Lascelles in 1753, Edwin commissioned John Carr (1723-1807) to design a new house on the Harewood estate; by 1759 the foundation stone was laid. Robert Adam (1728-1792) was working on designs for the interiors by the mid 1760s and Yorkshire-born Thomas Chippendale  (1718-1779) was made responsible for the furniture and furnishings. For the latter it would be his most grand of commissions, and it no doubt helped in elevating his name as cabinet-maker amongst the elite and aristocracy. However, getting the commissioner to pay for work could be along drawn-out affair. Questions over a substantial payment from Lascelles arose in 1771 (a sum of £3,024 -19 – 0d was still outstanding), but were not settled until 1777. Chippendale’s work is evident throughout the entire 1795 inventory of Harewood House and some of these pieces are highlighted below, indeed many are still in situ within the house. Yet, it would be repetitive to include too much discussion on Chippendale’s large contribution to Harewood. Much research into attribution continues today and The Chippendale Society provides many talks and tours of key collections. The motive here is to examine the diversity of goods at a universally renowned British country house at a significant moment in its history. As the guidebook states, ‘… Edwin Lascelles inherited a manor, spent carefully and left a mansion.’


There are over 90 rooms at Harewood, including closet spaces and passageways. To give an idea of the layout of the inventory, this is a sample of the goods and chattels for the Dining Room.

1   Grate, Fender, Tongs,  Poker & Hearth Brush      

Harewood dining room guidebook

Harewood House Dining Room (Harewood House Trust)

1   Turkey Carpet and green serge cover

3   Crimson Damask Window Curtains

3   White Canvas Window Blinds

2   Mahogany Sophas covered with Red Leather

20  Mahogany Chairs ditto

2   Sideboard Tables with inlaid Tops and brass ornaments

2   Pedestals & Vauses to suit ditto

1   Oval Winekeeper with brass ornament

1   Face Fire Screen

3   Urns upon Pedestals


          The dining room at Harewood received a massive overhaul during the nineteenth century when Sir Charles Barry was called in to make alterations to the house in the 1840s under the watchful eye of Louisa, Lady Harewood wife of Henry, 3rd Earl of Harewood. For this reason, the dining room as viewed today against the 1795 inventory offers an insight into how the room has changed depending on the needs of a household. Barry raised the ceiling and by deepening the room abolished an arched recess making the space more symmetrical and clearly larger in order to accommodate the 3rd Earl, his wife, their thirteen children and any guests. Adam’s original plans for the room – including the arched recess (originally where the fireplace wall is pictured above) had niches for the urns on pedestals, space for a sideboard and wine-cooler. Before the room was completed, the fireplace was given prominence within the recess instead and the sideboards, urns on pedestals and wine-cooler were placed against flanking walls where they remain today. As is also visible in the image , the 20 mahogany chairs covered with red leather still remain too, albeit surrounding a nineteenth-century dining table!

          In later years, some of the contents were sold or broken up. Take for example furniture from the the Couch Room (now part of the Watercolour Rooms or East Bedroom) where the 1795 inventory lists 1 French Couch Bedstead with Dome Top in burnished gold and crimson damask hangings. The dome top was ornamented with a crane about two feet high in gilt

Harewood Library Writing Table now at Temple Newsam House

lime wood, but when the bed was broken up in the nineteenth century, many pieces were lost or discarded. The crane eventually reappeared at a minor sale and was acquired by the Chippendale Society to be put on display at Temple Newsam House in Leeds. As the home of the Chippendale Society, Temple Newsam House holds a good deal of furniture from the original Chippendale commission at Harewood. The most magnificent is surely the library writing table, listed in the 1795 inventory as 1 Large inlaid Library Table with Brass Ornaments. The table was sold in 1965 to help pay for Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood‘s death duties.

          The compiler of the inventory entered the house at basement level starting in the kitchen, scullery and larders, he then turned back on himself to get to the still room and housekeeper’s room on the other side of the main basement passageway. Next came the steward’s rooms, butler’s room and pantries, closets and some servant bedrooms including private entertaining space used by Edwin Lascelles – the coffee room and billiard room. The coffee room contained a wild mixture of delicate and sturdy objects which suggest the taste and interests of Lascelles before his death. There were 45

19th century versions of Wedgwood black basalt sphinxes

Copperplate & Metzotinto Pictures with Frames and Glasses, 2 China Flower Pots over the Fireplace, 2 Small Jars over the door, 4 Small Beasts, 4 Shells, 2 Mahogany Pedistals, 2 Lions on pedistals, 2 Mahogany Dining Tables, 2 Breakfast Tables, 1 Two headed Couch with 2 Bolsters, & 1 Cushion Covered with Needle Work, 10 Oval backed Satton Wood Chairs covered with Needle Work, and 1 Old Easy Chair with leather bottom & covered. Similarly, the billiard room contained amongst other things, 1 Turnup Bed with Moreen Hangings, 2 Pillows, 3 Blankets, 1 Counterpane, 6 Mahogany Armed Chairs with Red leather Bottoms, 1 Mahogany Library Table, 2 Bookstands painted green, 3 China Jars, 4 China Figures, and 2 Black Wedgwood Sphinxes.

          From these rooms, the compiler entered into the passageway and on towards the maids area of the basement including stores, cleaning rooms and dairy. He lists several more bedrooms and storage spaces until reaching the

Harewood State Bed

servants’ hall before ascending the staircase (probably the main staircase) to get to the Great Hall on the principal floor. Most of the rooms on this floor are open to the public today, and as with the example of the dining room above, much of the furniture still survives from the time of the 1795 inventory. Some pieces have been moved to other rooms, some have stayed in the room for which they were intended like the State Bedroom with 1 Bedstead with Dome Top in burnished Gold & green Damask Hangings, 1 Green Damask Counterpane, and 2 Green Damask Window Curtains. Travelling in the opposite direction to the modern-day visitor route, the compiler came back to the main stairs where he noted 2 Vauses, 6 Green & gold Pedestals & Lamps, 1 Clock & Mahogany Case, and 1 Model of a Ship and a Stand. From here he ascended the main stairs to the attic storey or lodging rooms. A total of 14 lodgings with corresponding dressing rooms are recorded and all named according to the design of the wallpaper and furnishings; for example the Purple Cotton Room, the Blue Stripe Room, the Feather Cotton Room, the Bamboo Room, the Red Lodging Room, the Yellow Chintz Room, the Pea Green Room, and the Crimson Room. These form part of the private quarters of the Lascelles family today.

          But what of the more ordinary or extraordinary objects? Throughout the house there are assorted everyday items like clothes horses and racks, night tables (bedside tables sometimes including room for a chamber pot), shaving stands and flower pots. There are those which would also be very familiar to the country house visitor like boot jacks and mahogany ‘toilet’ tables (dressing table). Mixed in with these are those more unusual items which are the gadgets of their day, or form earlier versions of what we take for granted in our own homes today like weighing scales or a bidet.

Possibly a late 18th century bidet

For Edwin’s brother Daniel Lascelles, a bidet was kept in his own apartments at Harewood. In each of the lodging rooms there was a boot jack, a night table or pot table, a washing stand, clothes horse, a pier glass and perhaps a sofa amongst other things.

A Gouty Chair c. 1800 (V&A Collection)

On the principal floor, and placed in a closet next to the dining room, there was a weighing machine. The presence of which conjures up all kinds of images of hypochondria and paranoia about weight. Yet the Merlin’s Gouty Chair in the coffee room below may serve to remind us of how rich eighteenth-century diets played havoc with the body. 


The significance of this document in discovering more about a newly built eighteenth-century country house should be examined further. What is discussed above only scratches the surface of social and decorative art histories associated with a country house. I have not even got close to the ‘below stairs’ section of the inventory with its 36 small stew pots, 65 small moulds, or 174 pewter plates! Within the constraints of copyright, I hope it may be possible to return to other aspects of this in later posts.



Assorted 18th century household paraphernalia. A boot jack is in the centre and a weighing 'machine' is on the right (copyright Christies)

 [1] I acquired a printed copy of the Harewood inventory 1795 at a previous employment whilst helping to shift piles of old educational papers and tatty exhibition related stuff years ago. Apparently the inventory used to be a part of the Harewood House website learning and access pages but these seem to have disappeared. More curious is the actual location of the original document. The Harewood and Lascelles family papers were for many years held at the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS) in Leeds. I made several fruitless searches on the National Archives and WYAS websites, and a Google search brought a footnote up from S. D. Smith’s Slavery, family and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic (2006) which listed the document as ‘Inventory of Edwin, Lord Harewood, 27 October 1795 IB 11/3/85’ with no clue to its location. However, the National Archives lists the Harewood Papers as belonging to the Harewood House Trust which indicates the return of the papers to the house itself. With no real intention of appearing churlish, I find this a disappointing move for those interested in exploring more of Harewood House, and the Trust seems reluctant to reveal the contents of its archives without an appointment, phone call or email.




Clive Edwards et al., British Furniture 1600-2000, Intelligent Layman. (2005)

Harewood, Yorkshire: A Guide (2000)

Mary Mauchline, Harewood House: One of the Treasure Houses of Britain (Revised 2nd edition, 1992)

Simon David Smith, Slavery, family, and gentry capitalism in the British Atlantic: the world of the Lascelles,1648-1834. (2006)



Harewood House website (see also the Treasure Houses of Britain) and the restoration of the Harewood State Bed

Biographies of People and Place: The Harewood Estate 1698-1813, by Timur Guran Tatlioglu


Filed under Architecture and Design, Building the Country House, Men and the Country House