An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 77

Clinton Howell Antiques - May 11, 2020 - Issue 77
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
North Wales seems quite remote, and in the 18th century, it would have been, but England, Scotland and Wales are not a huge land mass. Indeed, if you combine Connecticut and New York, I believe you will have a larger land mass than that particular British Isle. Distance from London did not really mean much in the 18th century, either, as each country house was, more or less, ruler of its own domain. Visiting London became more of a "thing" when London became the home of both upper classes and middle classes. They needed each other in ways that almost seem quaint to us--the middle classes figured out niches of desire and the upper classes responded, or didn't. Furniture was most definitely a lure for the country house squires who knew that the more impressive their household appeared, the greater the esteem of the near and far hierarchy. England, Scotland and Wales were almost unique in Europe for having such a vast array of houses that sported fashions and trends that began, as a rule, in London and spread throughout the country.

This is not to say that local craftsmen were ignored as many local craftsmen left their marks on many country homes. I left Erddig and started south on the A483 and noticed that the next property that looked interesting was in Chirk, named Chirk Castle. I read the National Trust entry on Chirk and was not particularly inspired to drop by until I saw the Chirk Castle gates. (Chirk website is, This part of the country, the Welsh/English border is known for great metal work, and the gates at Chirk are exceptional. Made between 1719-21 by the Davies Brothers, a firm near Wrexham, they are a tour de force of great ironwork. The best known gate maker of a slightly earlier date was a Huguenot craftsman named Jean Tijou, whose gates are very beautiful and can be seen at many great estates, notably Hampton Court, but to find these locally made gates reinforced my understanding that English craftsmen were not all located in London. 

The gates were the enticement that commandeered my interest. Chirk is known as a Marcher Castle, which essentially means a frontier castle and was used as an outpost for people willing to confront the tribes of Wales for certain exemptions of taxes and duties to the English/Norman crown. Chirk dates from around 1295 and is not inspiring architecture--it is a proper castle after all--but with a dash of romance that almost any castle anywhere has. The interior of castles are, by and large, adapted to moment. I imagine that a late 13th century castle had different requirements than a 16th century castle and on through the ages with electricity, running water and gas being game changers as regards to layout. I was surprised to find, however, that Chirk did have some fine furniture. One of the finest pieces was a large scale inlaid console table by the London firm, Mayhew and Ince. I understand that Chirk has, and did in 2004, been selling some of what they own. I understand the economic necessity of such steps and it keeps my trade alive, but it is a sad reminder that the world continues to turn, our hopes and desires notwithstanding. (If you want to see any of the houses I talk about, please click the link that I put in the text.)