Archive for the ‘Hopper, Thomas’ Category

The library at Penrhyn

July 23, 2010

The library at Penrhyn Castle. The billiard table is made of slate from the nearby quarries. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mark Purcell, the National Trust’s libraries curator, has just produced an article in The Book Collector about the library at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, which has now been fully catalogued. The books at Penrhyn were allocated to the National Trust in lieu of inheritance tax in 2002.

The exterior of the library and the passage to the keep at Penrhyn Castle. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

Like the rest of the house (some of which has been shown in previous posts), the library was designed by the architect Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) in the neo-Norman style. This particular room was inspired by the Norman architecture of the church of St Peter, Tickencote, Rutland. The library still contains a book by John Carter of 1796, Ancient Architecture of England, which illustrates the church.

One of the neo-Norman bookcases in the library. ©NTPL/Michael Caldwell

The house was built for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant (1764-1840), whose wealth came from slaves, sugar and slate. As Mark has found, however, his taste in books, and that of his immediate family and descendants, was not particularly nouveau riche. It is an attractive nineteenth-century gentleman’s library, with a mixture of grand and ordinary books that reflect the family’s interest at the time. 

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The books reflect a number of themes that Mark characterises as: ‘power politics, and high finance; art collecting; geology; a controversial inheritance, based on slaves and slate and on money which some even at the time thought to be tainted; self-sufficiency in reading matter in a remote and mostly Welsh-speaking district.’

The mysteries of Chinese wallpaper

May 12, 2010

The Lower India Room at Penrhyn Castle. The Chinese wallpaper probably dates from about 1800, but the room was put together in the 1830s. ©NTPL/Michael Caldwell

A little while ago we were speculating about the similarities between different panels of Chinese wallpaper, and wondering whether they might have come from the same workshop. Ming Wilson, senior curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum, has now told me that hardly anything at all is known about the workshops that made these wallpapers. So far no records about them have been identified in China. The only available documentation relates to their importation and use in Europe.

Eighteenth-century Japanese lacquer cabinet in the Lower India Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Chinese art historians are certainly interested in these wallpapers, so hopefully they will discover some sources sooner or later. But until then the best thing we can do is conserve and study the surviving examples, so that we can at least identify what they were made of and how they were made.

Late eighteenth-century Chinese wallpaper in the State Bedroom at Penrhyn. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

On that point, my colleague Andrew Bush (paper conservation adviser for the National Trust) has just told me that some of the decorative elements on these wallpapers were in fact printed onto the paper, with wooden blocks. This may account for some of the similarities between different papers. The designs would then be filled out and finished by hand. 

Penrhyn Castle, with the Cambrian Mountains in the distance. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

The examples shown here are from Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd, Wales. This extraordinary fantasy castle was built by Thomas Hopper in the 1820s and 1830s for George Hay Dawkins-Pennant, who had inherited the extensive Penrhyn estate from a cousin. He also inherited West Indian sugar plantations, and the income from those, as well as from a nearby slate quarry, allowed him to build the castle. 

Detail of the State Bedroom showing a Louis XIV desk and an English Rococo mirror hanging against the Chinese wallpaper. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Hopper designed the castle in Norman style, using examples surviving  elsewhere in Britain as his models. He designed the furniture and fittings in the same style, and these were combined with antiques and works of art to create a dramatic and rich ensemble.