An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 86

Clinton Howell Antiques - July 20, 2020 - Issue 86

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

My first and only visit to Leeds Castle happened in 1983. The castle dates from 1286 and is best known for housing Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, whist Henry was lusting after Anne Boleyn. (I'm reading Hilary Mantel's third in the historical trilogy about that era which includes, "Wolf Hall", "Bring Up the Bodies" and the final, "The Mirror and the Light"--superb reads) Leeds Castle is located in Kent, about an hour and a half from central London and qualifies as the classic castle of any Gothic fantasy as it is located in a lake and therefore has a moat, although not a drawbridge. In any case, I know that I visited in 1983, because I went before viewing the Christie's country house sale at Godmersham, the first sale where it was clear that the English decorative arts, and furniture in particular, were about to become the hot product that it remained for twenty-five years. Godmersham, like Leeds Castle, was a privately owned in the 1920's and was decorated with a vast array of some fine antique furniture. Leeds Castle was also decorated at this time and there were a few similarities that were hard to ignore including  a turret top lacquer center table. (A turret top means that the top had lobes at the corners and, in this case, also at the sides.) Curiously, I can't find it anywhere on line in Leeds Castle photos--it was a good looking table, but it could have been sold since the one at Godmersham made fairly good money if I remember correctly and it had no intrinsic link to the castle. (I have a link below to my own japanned center table which is earlier than the turret tops, but easily as stylish and worth a look.)

I can make out two very good pieces of furniture from the photos that I have found online. One is a neo-classical carved and gilded table (a similar table sold at Christie's about twenty years ago, if I remember correctly) that has rams heads at the tops of the legs--I don't remember seeing this in 1983 nor do I remember seeing the rather fine pedimented walnut bureau bookcase. (I include a link to it and to my own walnut bureau bookcase.) Most of the furniture seems to have been replaced, possibly because Leeds has turned into a destination site for weddings, conferences, etc., and short and long term stays, not in the castle, but in property abutting the castle. Virtually all of the properties I have visited have had to figure out ways of surviving the perpetual upkeep that old houses require so to expect everything to be fairy tale perfect is not in the cards. However, a site like Leeds (and West Wycombe that I wrote about last week) are repositories of history that are so extraordinarily unusual that I, for one, can only applaud when they figure out how to survive. And as to the furniture, learning that both Leeds and Godmersham (and West Wycombe) were decorated in the 1920's says something about trends and fashions. Curiously, one of the most famous 20th century tastemakers, Nancy Lancaster, had just moved to England in 1927. Lancaster was said to have had, "the finest taste of almost anyone in the world". I wonder if she ever made it to Kent?,g_1:insid side view of neo-classical console table,g_1:ins a poor shot of the the bureau bookcase, there are others that are better, but are very hard to find. my double dome walnut bureau bookcase with original glass plate mirror and an impossible to find hidden document drawer My lacquer center table--Nancy Lancaster would have loved this table. So do I.