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 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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.