An Antiquarian's Tale Issue 29

Clinton Howell Antiques - April 2, 2018 - Issue 29
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The more I learned about the houses that dotted the English countryside, the more I wanted to get to them. Saltram, right next to the city of Plymouth in Devon was, for example, one of those places that required a special trip. Robert Adam created a series of rooms for Saltram that are well worth a visit. The neo-classical suite of furniture is great, but what I most remember are a group (in the stairway if I remember correctly) of reverse glass paintings by Chinese artists in original English rococo frames. Another far flung house is Culzean Castle in southwestern Scotland. This, too, was an Adam project (most English houses of note have usually had several notable architects if their history is long enough). What I best remember about Culzean, other than it was Dwight Eisenhower's headquarters during WWII, were the commodes by the furniture maker, Charles Elliott. At the time, I was ignorant of Elliott and so was delighted to learn about him. Clearly, Robert Adam supplied a good number of cabinetmakers with a substantial amount of work. In reading up on him in the "Dictionary of English Furniture Makers", you can see that Elliott had quite an illustrious career. Another far flung Robert Adam interior was Mellerstain in the Scottish borders. While the interior is clearly Robert Adam, the house was begun by William Adam, Robert's father. I don't remember it having magnificent furniture although there must have been some. What I do remember is spectacular plasterwork, but then, that is a signature of Adam interiors. 

I visited all of these houses on separate trips, sometimes because I would read about them or see them referenced in some catalogue. None of these houses are minor by any means, but then again, they aren't major either. By this, I mean that the scale of some of the great houses in the UK is just fantastic, hard to imagine. However, such grandiosity did not preclude smaller residences from having the odd spectacular piece of furniture such as the console table I found at Chirk Castle (Wales) by Mayhew and Ince, as well as a rather nice wrought iron gate. Other notable small places I visited that had great interest were Mompesson House in the Salisbury Close and Peckover which has a wonderful carved. rococo overmantel. As a life member of the National Trust (called the Royal Oak in the U.S.) I would travel with a road map where I had marked the houses I wanted to see. How many I missed is still a regret. Opening and closing times were the frustrations of these forays, but what an education all these places offered.