Recycling in the grand manner

Silver basin by Anthony Nelme, 1692, subsequently engraved with the arms of Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh, 1st Bt, and his wife Sarah Lethieullier. ©Christopher Hartop

Recycling and retrofitting is nothing new. We have just acquired a silver basin with a connection to Uppark, West Sussex, from Christopher Hartop. This luxurious item was originally most likely used in the bedchamber, then became a christening bowl, and finally reverted to being a bedroom hand basin.

The Saloon at Uppark. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The bowl was made by London silversmith Anthony Nelme in 1692, and may have been commissioned by Sir Heneage Fetherstone, 1st Baronet (d. 1717). It was later inherited by Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, 1st Baronet (1714-1774),  and engraved with his an his wife Sarah’s arms.

The Althorp christening bowl, by Paul de Lamerie, 1723-1724. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. © V&A Images

Originally it may have bee intended for the washing of hands, for shaving, or perhaps as a punch bowl. In 1754, with the birth of Sir Matthew and Sarah’s son Harry, later the 2nd Baronet, it was used for his christening, which took place in the Saloon at Uppark.

Pair of silver salvers by William Peaston, 1746, purchased for Uppark at auction in 2010 with funds from gifts and bequests to the National Trust and with a contribution from a fund set up by the late Simon Sainsbury. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

During the Commonwealth baptismal fonts in churches were considered to be among the trappings of ‘Popery’, and grander families began to hold christening ceremonies discreetly at home. The practice persisted in some quarters even after the Restoration, but surviving christening bowls (like the Althorp Christening bowl in the Gilbert collection) are very rare .

Late 19th-century photograph showing Miss Frances Bullock-Fetherstonhaugh sitting on the south steps at Uppark surrounded by friends. ©National Trust

Both the 1st and the 2nd Baronet acquired silver for Uppark. Most of these pieces were dispersed during the twentieth century, although the National Trust has been able to repatriate a few in recent years.

The Tapestry Bedroom at Uppark. ©National Trust Images/Geoffrey Frosh

By the late 19th century, Sir Harry’s sister-in-law, Miss Frances Bullock-Fetherstonhaugh, was once again using the silver basin in her bedroom for washing her hands. It has now been placed in the Tapestry Bedroom to evoke that everyday use.

This acquisition was made possible by a grant from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

2 Responses to “Recycling in the grand manner”

  1. Hels Says:

    I am passionate about silver art from 1685-1725, at first concentrating on Huguenot pieces and since then increasingly on local English pieces.

    Your top Nelme basin is austere in the extreme, but elegant and totally perfect. The de Lamerie bowl also has all the qualities of the Huguenot taste, coming towards the end of the time in which silversmiths trained in France (pre-1685) were still working.

    How big was the de Lamerie bowl? A punch bowl and a shaving bowl were likely to be different sizes.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Helen, the Althorp (de Lamerie) bowl has a diameter of 20.2 cm, the Uppark (Nelme) one a diameter of 34.5 cm.

    The Uppark basin originally had a removable silver collar (according to an inscription on the base) which would have sat on the rim, and our silver expert James Rothwell thinks that that indicates it either would have been both a hand basin (without collar) and a shaving basin (with collar), or it could have been a smallish punch bowl (without collar) that converted into a monteith (with collar).

    As you say the Uppark bowl is relatively simple in shape, apart from its bold gadrooning. It would have appeared relatively old-fashioned by the time of Harry’s christening in 1754 (the salvers shown above would have represented a more up-to-date taste), but of course it may well have been appreciated for its venerable appearance, as an object exemplifying family continuity.

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