Silver at Belton: new, old and recycled

The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A thread of silver runs through the history of Belton House. From the time the house was built in the 1680s by Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt. (1659-97), silver was an integral part of the interior. Even the staff of the porter, shown in a painting of about 1720 (but still surviving in the house), had a silver pommel and ferrule.

One of the set of four silver gilt 'pilgrim bottles' at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the set of four silver gilt ‘pilgrim bottles’ at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the third Baronet’s acquisitions is the rare set of  silver gilt chained water bottles, sometimes known as ‘pilgrim bottles’.

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Later generations of the Brownlow and Cust families continued to add silver. John Cust, 2nd Baron and 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853), was one of the first collectors of antique silver. He bought a considerable number of late-seventeenth-century silver items from the royal silversmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. These had been recycled from various royal palaces, where they were considered outmoded. As a result, some of the silver gilt sconces now housed at Belton give a flavour of the decoration of king William III’s palaces.

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

This year there is even more emphasis on silver at Belton than usual, with silversmith Angela Cork working as artist in residence, sponsored by the Goldsmith’s Company.

3 Responses to “Silver at Belton: new, old and recycled”

  1. Michael Shepherd Says:

    I recall that the Silver display previously in the rooms leading from the State Dining Room (with the Hondecoeter paintings) at Belton House was being updated a few years ago. Has this been done as yet: the silver and silver gilt in the Brownlow Collection was always impressive but not always easy to see and deserved a better arrangement.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly Says:

    I wrote my thesis on Huguenot silver artists from 1690-1725, the most amazing topic in the entire art history world. But how did the 3rd Baronet know that these pieces would one day be hugely valuable – he was advised well by a silver expert? he had an endless supply of money? he was collecting silver in any case and thought he might try his luck with the pilgrim bottles?

    I would give my eye teeth for one of your sets of silver gilt pilgrim bottles. 1690 was my exact era!

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Michael, the silver dining service of Sir John ‘Speaker’ Cust (1718-70) is on display, and there is an exhibition on studio silver today, organised in collaboration with the Goldsmiths Company: http://bit.ly/1olCzKv

    Helen, indeed the tastes of the third Baronet and his wife Alice seem to have been somewhat above their station. In addition to what I already mentioned, there were solid gold cups and cutlery for him and silver dressing plate for her, plus a silver chamber pot and bed warming pan – more typical of a ducal household than of that of a baronet, as James Rothwell writes in a recent article about Belton in Country Life.

    But then the Brownlows were very wealthy, beginning with Richard Brownlow (1553-1638), a successful lawyer who invested in land. His son, ‘old’ Sir John Brownlow, 1st Bt. (1594-1679), invested in sheep as well, the wool trade being very profitable at the time. So the next generation, ‘young’ Sir John, the 3rd Baronet, and his wife could afford to live it up.

    They also rebuilt the house, and its exterior still reflects the grand but sober classicism of the Restoration period. The chinoiserie tapestries at Belton that came from the Vanderbank workshop were again commissioned by the third Baronet (see http://bit.ly/1mMlWMA and http://bit.ly/1mBOdE6).

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