Archive for the ‘Calke Abbey’ Category

Interwoven globe

October 8, 2013
The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The state bed at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The ever-stimulating Style Court blog has recently been featuring the exhibition currently on at the Metropolitan Museum in New York entitled Interwoven Globe, about how the international trade in textiles the early modern period influenced design across the world.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

The Chinese embroidered silk inside the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millarthe Chinese silk embroidered hangings on the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

I am perusing the catalogue at the moment, and it is fascinating to read how European motifs ended up in Chinese silks, and how Chinese and Japanese motifs were in turn copied in Europe. Some ‘exotic’ textiles, such as Indian painted cotton palampores, actually combined elements from China, Persia, India and England.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

Phoenix embroidered onto the white silk covering of the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar the State Bed at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

This important exhibition is a suitable excuse for me to show some images of the rather gorgeous state bed at Calke Abbey, which is hung with Chinese embroidered silk. The bed was probably made for King George I in about 1715, and seems to have been given to Lady Caroline Manners by Queen Caroline when she married Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt, in 1734. Since the bed was hardly ever put up at Calke (it was too tall for most of the rooms in the family part of the house) the silk has been quite well preserved.

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Qilin embroiderd onto the blue silk covers on the state bed at Calke. ©National Trust Images/John Millar

The blue material is like taffeta and is relatively light, while the white silk is heavier and has a satin finish. Tightly rolled peacock feathers were used for the knots in the tree trunks and the markings on the butterfly wings.

Books as social history

March 26, 2013
View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

View of Gardner Wilkinson Library at Calke Abbey. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mark Purcell and Nicola Thwaite have recently published a fascinating collection guide to the libraries at Calke Abbey.

Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Some of the library shelves at Calke with books on exploration and travel. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Calke Abbey was acquired by the National Trust in 1985 and was consciously preserved as a house on the brink of ruin, a snapshot of a moment in time and a multi-dimensional archive of the history of a particular family.

Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bookplate of Sir Henry Harpur, 5th Bt (1708-1748). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

As Mark and Nicola demonstrate, the books at Calke are a record of the tastes and occupations of various generations of the Harpur-Crewe family, including ‘music, novels, big-game hunting, spiritual anguish, exotic travel, improving the estate, suing the neighbours, saying your prayers, learning Latin, catching rats, or choosing the upholstery.’

The Library at Calke. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Library at Calke. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Certain generations of the Harpur-Crewe family suffered from extreme shyness and other forms of unsociable and obsessive behaviour, which today we might describe as symptoms of hereditary autism.

Bookplate of Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt (1680-1741). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Bookplate of Sir John Harpur, 4th Bt (1680-1741). ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

This family trait expressed itself, for instance, in the huge collections of geology and taxidermy assembled by Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe (1846-1924). But it is also evident in the progressive transformation of the house into a time capsule – which, poignantly, makes it all the more valuable for us today.

Calke Abbey revisited

March 10, 2010

The chimneypiece in the Drawing Room at Calke Abbey. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Several blogs have been talking about Calke Abbey recently. A few weeks ago I shared some images of the magnificent state bed at Calke with Courtney Barnes. Janet Blyberg then showed us some beautiful pictures taken during her visit to Calke. Now Hannah has quite independently posted her own atmospheric photographs of the house.

Calke Abbey, late nineteenth century, artist unknown. ©NTPL/Christopher Hurst

Hannah mentioned that she had forgotten to photograph the exterior, so I thought I would show an image of it here. I found that we have this nineteenth-century painting on file, artist unknown. It seems to capture the brooding presence of the house in its wooded hollow.

Detail of a scrap screen in Lady Harpur Crewe's Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As everyone has been discussing, what strikes you at Calke is the evidence of past generations, the seemingly untouched strata of objects and surfaces.

Geological specimens collected by Sir John Harpur Crewe in the nineteenth century. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Paradoxically, it took a huge amount of work by National Trust curators and conservators to preserve and display the house in this way. The aim was to prevent the building and its contents falling apart altogether, while taking care not to over-restore anything.

Even the objects that are strewn about in apparent disarray have all been inventoried and, if necessary, treated. This is the subterfuge – or, if you like, the magic – of conservation at work. 

Lady Frances Harpur Crewe with her son Henry, the future 7th Baronet, by Tilly Kettle. ©NTPL/Derrick E Witty

This double portrait shows Henry Harpur Crewe (1763-1819) as boy with his mother. Henry was the first of the Harpur Crewes to display the profound reclusiveness that was to characterise succeeding generations of the family.

The wearing of skirts, by the way, was common for small children of both sexes. Janet has recently posted a photograph from the second half of the nineteenth century of a little boy in similar attire.

Most of Sir Henry’s descendants shunned society, preferring the company of their gamekeepers and tennants. Sir John Harpur Crewe (1824-1886) and his son Sir Vauncey (1846-1924) developed a passion for natural history and accumulated a huge and very diverse collection, much of which is still at Calke.

Now where did I put that glass dome? The Drawing Room with its mid-Victorian decoration. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Henry Harpur Crewe (1921-1991), who inherited Calke from his brother, was determined to preserve the house with all its layers of history intact. After an intensive publicity campaign, and following complicated negotiations, the ownership of Calke passed to the National Trust in 1985. 

The estate was accepted by the Government in lieu of tax and handed to the National Trust (about which more in a future post). Grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, from the Historic Buildings Council, a special grant from the Treasury and gifts from many private donors made this rescue a truly national effort.

And so Calke remains suspended in time, reminding us of the mystery of the past.


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