Betty Ratcliffe, artist in service

Model of the classsical ruins at Palmyra, created by Betty Ratcliffe in 1773 from mother-of-pearl, mica and glass and loosely based on illustrations in Robert Wood's 'The Ruins of Palmyra' (1753). ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

In response to a previous post on pagodas, a reader asked about the artist who created the model of the pagoda at Erddig. So here are some more of her works.

Needlework picture by Betty Ratcliffe, c. 1770, showing a spray of flowers including roses, honeysuckle and jasmine. ©National Trust/Susanne Gronnow

Elizabeth Ratcliffe (c. 1735-c. 1810) was the daughter of a Chester clockmaker. She became a lady’s maid and companion to Dorothy Yorke, née Hutton (d. 1787), who spent her long widowhood in the family’s London house in Park Lane.

Pencil drawing by Betty Ratcliffe after Hubert Drouais the younger, depicting the sons of the Duc de Bouillon as Montagnards, 1765. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Yorke family recognised Betty’s talents and paid for her education. She seems to have excelled at fine and detailed work.

The Yorke family arms in cut paper, by Betty Ratcliffe. ©National Trust

There is a fascinating collection of servant portraits at Erddig, although sadly no picture of Betty – but she obviously lives on through her work.

14 Responses to “Betty Ratcliffe, artist in service”

  1. Parnassus Says:

    Betty Ratcliffe must represent the zenith of handcrafts. I have seen many models of classical ruins at auction houses, but they are often of cork–perhaps more dignified, but not as spectacular as this one. I would like to see it in person.

    The cut paper is also extremely fine. In Taiwan there are many Chinese examples of large-scale, detailed cut paper and leather; I can never understand how anyone has either the skill or the patience to do it.
    –Road to Parnassus

  2. deana Says:

    Your site is a guilty pleasure of mine… I can’t wait to read each new installment and this is another gem… I so want to see Ratcliffe’s work in person now… what an elegant creature.. how fortunate that her employers recognized her talents and nourished them.

  3. Susan Walter Says:

    I love these minutely detailed pieces and the level of skill that went into them – and it wasn’t even her day job. I’d never heard of her before your post, which is a shame. I never made it to Erddig, also a shame. Thank you Emile and thank you to the sharp eyed and curious reader who inspired you to write about Betty Ratcliffe.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Parnassus, yes the patient carft mindset is amazing, isn’t it? To focus completely on physically making something has the attraction of exotic ‘otherness’ to a virtual worker like me 🙂

    This model of Palmyra is defintely romanticised – in the spirit of the time – for instance with its fanciful covering of trailing vegetation.

    Deana, thank you for your very kind words. Yes her work is so diverse as well as being so skillful.

  5. style court Says:

    I have an interest in ‘ladies drawing room arts’ of the 18th and 19th centuries, so I’m really happy to see Betty’s work highlighted here. And her background is a bit different than, for example, Mary Delany’s, making this even more interesting. Were Betty’s works usually signed in some way? She could have easily been lost in history as ‘anonymous.’

    Love how the needlework is juxtaposed against the wallpaper!

  6. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, some of the works have her name or initials and dates written on the back, but I am not sure whether she or someone else inscribed them.

    The embroideries on silk may have been framed later – some of them have elements of embroidery that seem to wander beyond the frame, suggesting they were originally made to decorate furnishing fabrics of some kind or another.

    The fact that Betty Ratcliffe’s talents were apparently nurtured may be an example of the relatively informal relations between the Yorke family of Erddig and their servants In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This is also evident in the many portraits of servants surviving at Erddig, often with approving inscriptions in charmingly excruciating verse. Some research suggests that in parts of Wales and the Midlands the master-servant relationship was generally slightly more informal than in other parts of the country.

    Yes a wonderful juxtaposition of embroidery with frame and wallpaper – very dix-huitième 🙂

  7. ldm Says:

    Thanks very much for the follow-up post on Betty Radcliffe.

    The ruins are as remarkable as the pagoda, and her other work (especially the drawing imho) is also evidence of quite a remarkable talent.

    How wonderful not only that she was given the opportunity to use her talent, but that her work has been preserved.

  8. style court Says:

    Emile, thanks so much for the bonus information. The details about the master-servant relationship hark back to one of your previous posts. Fascinating as usual.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Idm, thank you for requesting/suggesting this additional post 🙂

  10. ldm Says:

    You’re quite welcome, but actually, the thanks are due to you for this post. She was a very talented woman and it’s great that you have given her some much deserved recognition with this post.

  11. Andrew Says:

    I had meant to reply to this last week. Apologies for the length 🙂

    There are a few snippets about Betty in Google Books. For example, there seems to be a whole chapter on her in “The servants’ hall: a “downstairs” history of a British country house” by Merlin Waterson – – from which it seems clear that her model of a pagoda was based on William Chamber’s illustration of the one in Kew (skilfully juxtaposed in the previous blogpost).

    She was clearly very talented and valued by the Yorke family. I believe she received an annuity of £100 in Dorothy’s will, quite a significant income for a maid.

    The cut paper arms are apparently Yorke quartering Hutton and Meller, impaling Cust, and created to commemorate the wedding of Dorothy’s son Philip Yorke to Elizabeth Cust on 2 July 1770.

    Dorothy was the daughter and heir of Matthew Hutton, and was the wife of Simon Yorke. His father (and Philip’s grandfather), also Simon, married Anne Meller, sister of judge Sir John Meller, and inherited Eddig on Sir John’s death in 1733. He had never married.

    Elizabeth Cust was the daughter of Sir John Cust, Speaker of the House of Commons, who died in January 1770. Elizabeth and Philip had 7 children before she died in 1779.

    Yorke’s arms are “argent, on a saltire azure, a bezant” (silver diagonal cross on a blue field, bearing a gold coin).
    Cust is “ermine, on a chevron sable, three fountains proper” (black chevron on an ermine field, bearing three watery blobs).

    Interestingly, the other two do not look quite right (perhaps we can speculate that they were less familiar to Betty?).

    Hutton is “gules, on a fess or, between three cushions ermine, tasselled of the second, three fleur-de-lys of the field” (this means that the fess – a gold central bar in a red field – should three red fleur-de-lys, but the ermine cushions with gold tassels should be either side of the fess; the fleur-de-lys should not be on top of the cushions – see

    Meller (or Mellor) is “argent, three blackbirds proper, a chief dancettee sable” (silver with three blackbirds, and a black top with a zig-zag edge, so one blackbird – canting, merle in French – is missing; could it have fallen off at some stage, as there seems to be a space it could have occupied to the left of the other two, or just been left out?).

  12. Andrew Says:

    Oops, should have proofread again. I meant “Erddig”, and a “blue diagonal cross on a silver field”, otherwise the gold coin on the cross would arguably break the rule of tincture (gold on silver would be metal on metal).

  13. Andrew Says:

    And now I look, I see you have some of her father’s works – – and a second cut paper arms – – this time Yorke quartering Meller and impaling Hutton, which has three birds in each rendering of Meller and but it is not possible to see the fleur-de-lys for Hutton. This seems to refer to Dorothy’s own marriage to Simon.

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, thanks for that, and I apologise for not replying to your earlier message. I will relay your interesting armorial comments to some relevant colleagues and see if they have any views on the matter.

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