Friday, 21 June 2013

Textiles from The Hermitage - a time capsule in Northumberland!

Today, Friday,  I have been to the last of the 4 day Country House sale of the contents of a very unique house. The Hermitage is a large house in Northumberland near Hexham which has been the home for the same family since 1922. Nothing unusual in that, as many homes remain in a family's possession for that length of time or even longer, however this is a rare survival of a house on a grand scale where two generations of the Morant family lived for ninety years and threw little away. 

The house was let, in 1922, to Brigadier General Hubert Horatio Shirley Morant, who had married Isabella Helen Coppin Straker in 1914. Their three children, Doreen Shirley (1915–2013), Alice Bettine (1918–2008) and Major John Locke Straker (1919–1971) all remained unmarried.  

These circumstances lead to a time capsule of a house. Time stood still and the house took on the qualities of a museum. 

The children’s toys in the Nursery packed away when their interest waned. Wash sets and chamber pots removed to the attics once more modern facilities had been installed. The cellars locked up, still with unopened champagne bottles from 1919, some in their original tissue paper and packing cases. Pharmaceutical items from the 1920’s, including chemicals now regarded as poisonous, crowded the medicine cupboard.

Diaries and household accounts giving insights into a bygone age of servants, whilst fishing and hunting records spoke of house parties.

Items no longer required were neatly wrapped in newspaper, tied with string and stored in the extensive attics.

Linens, baby clothes, lace, furs, evening gowns and other clothing were stored away in many of the bedrooms or in the attics.

One of the items that I bought was a box of over 150 Irish linen tea towels....all unused!

Another was a box of Harris and other tweed and wool fabrics.

It will take me a while to get through all the linens and lace as they have to be sorted, examined and then photographed ready for listing for sale. 

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Irish damask linens

This week I have come across a large cache of Irish linen damask - tablecloths and napkins. I have started to list a few on Ebay and wondered (again) at the huge variation in designs that were produced in the past. Now it seems that it is only possible to buy new damask linen with either an Ivy or a Chrysanthemum design and, of course, the Shamrock so synonymous with Irish linen. However the cloths that I have acquired have Roses, Peonies, Scrolls, Acorns, Lily of the Valley, Pineapples, Fruit and more unusual pictoral designs of Birds, Stag and Deer.

                                   Monarch of the Glen to the centre of one cloth

                                         Acorns, oak leaves and ribbons
                                            Lily of the Valley
                                                       Laurel wreaths
                                      Pineapples - quite stylised!

Obviously the pictoral designs were produced for a purpose - Stag and deer or Pheasants for a shooting party lunch. The pineapple design was probably intended to impress your guests with your familiarity with a new exotic fruit. But why the other designs?  Maybe they were very obvious to the Victorian and Edwardian dinner guest as they would have been familiar with the "Language of Flowers"  - Roses indicates Love, Ivy - dependence & endurance, Laurel - ambition & success, Lily of the Valley - sweetness and trustworthy. Or maybe the designers just made up patterns from flowers that they could see! The photos above show mainly late Victorian - 20th century damasks. However, there is a very interesting article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Art Materials and Techniques: Linen Diaper and Damask about how the very early damask linens evolved and the different styles and types of designs. I do have a few collectors of Damask Linens who buy from me and I know (from the high bids that they place!) that some of the early & pre 1800's damask linen is very sought after. Even small pieces such as napkins and towels can be very interesting - so maybe check on your old linen in the cupboard!
Read more: