An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 83

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 29, 2020 - Issue 83
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The next house on my list is pretty close to Wiltshire and therefore close to London and easily accessed from London (in a car, not so easily in a train). The house is very close to the M4 which is the main east/west road coming out of London going to the Severn Bridge and on into Wales. The house is Dyrham Park. and is just in Gloucestershire across the Wiltshire border. Like all of the Wiltshire houses, which I have visited two to four times, I have also visited Dyrham at least three times, each time focusing on yet another part of the house and, as I have interated often, was surprised on each visit. For example, there is a cedar staircase--really? And a bunch of documented furniture, of course, that seemed slightly less grand than what you might find at a Saltram or an Erddig. The problem with saying something like this, however, is that the furniture is no less grand than what is found in other houses. In the case of Dyrham, the house comes across more as a home and less as a grand country estate. The juxtaposition of a documented piece of furniture seems to have less weight in such circumstances. Contrast this with a visit to a house like Blenheim or even Wilton House, and the grandeur of Dyrham seems less. It isn't, in fact.

The film making team, Merchant and Ivory, used Dyrham Park, mostly the back of the house which has the driveway in the film, "Remains of the Day". Like most National Trust houses, the contents are documented extensively with photographs. There are close to 120 pages of photographs to look at and if you do, you will find such wonderful things as a Hans Memling painting, not to mention a photograph of Sir Anthony Hopkins taken during filming. (I'd rather have the Memling.) The photos show the documented furniture and although you need to be a furniture junkie like myself to go through all 120 pages, it is rewarding. For example, there are three mirrors documented as by John Linnell. As it happens, I have two mirrors in my inventory that are similar to two of the three at Dyrham--see the links below. The tall mirror is particularly interesting in that, at one point, two London dealers, Godson and Coles and Ronald Phillips had similar mirrors in their inventories. The mirrors reflect (no pun intended) the sophisticated furniture supplier's take on the rococo, which is not in any way similar to how the French or even the top English rococo carver, Thomas Johnson, would create a rococo frame. I find Johnson's work sublime, but I find Linnell's work (and his competitors) sleek and beautiful.

As for that cedar staircase, it isn't from Bermuda which tends to be the first word one hears when you hear about cedar as the Bermudians made a lot of "cedar" furniture. The cedar does come from the new world, likely North Carolina or Virginia. However, I would like it noted that there are four true cedars in this world and they all come from the Middle East, none from North America. Cedars have since been raised elsewhere, but in the early 1700's, when this staircase was built, it was built from juniper wood, because that is the "cedar" that comes from North America, as well as from Bermuda. That it was used to build a staircase in the UK makes is clear that cedar was not highly regarded as a cabinetmaking timber. Too bad, as I have illustrated two chairs made from Bermuda "cedar" from my inventory below that have wonderful color and which benefit by their difference in not being of walnut, oak or mahogany.

I am currently in an online show with the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America ( and if you want to see it just go to the NAADAA site. National Trust site Linnell pier mirror my mirror overmantel mirror at Dyrham my overmantel Bermudian "cedar" in my inventory