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Martyn Downer

The admiral’s carriage

On April 20th, 2016 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

The Armoury St James’s  are offering for sale this rare carriage panel decorated with the coat of arms of Admiral Sir Richard Bickerton (1759-1832) and his wife Anne (died 1850), daughter of James Athill of Antigua:

Arms: (on the dexter) quarterly, first and fourth, sa. on a chev. erminois, three pheons az. on a canton of honourable augmentation of the last, a mullet and increscent ar. within a bordure, embattled, or. (for Bickerton); second and third, quarterly, or. and gu. the quarterings divided by a cross, composed of pearls, ppr. in the first and fourth quarters, a cross az.; in the second and third, three lions, passant, guardant, two and one, or. over all, on the centre chief point, a roundle ar. theron a Turk’s cap ppr. (viz. crimson, trimmed with gold, and a green feather in it, for Hussey); (on the sinister) Ar. on a chevron Sa. three crescents Or (for Athill of Antigua)

Supporters: the dexter, a sailor ppr. habited in a blue jacket, with white lappels, trousers and shirt of the last, waistcoat red, stockings check, black neckerchief and shoes, a sword in it scabbard by his side ppr. and holding in his exterior hand a flag az. line and staff ppr. on the flag a pheon or. and underneath, the word “Egypt” in gold letters; the sinister, a female figure, crowned with three pyramids ar. habited in a white robe, with hieroglyphic characters thereon, across her a yellow sash, behind her a flowing robe, coming over her sinister arm green, face, arm, neck ppr. holding in her dexter hand a systrum (viz. a musical instrument) near her an ibis ppr.


Even by the extraordinary standards of his day, Richard Bickerton enjoyed a remarkable life at sea. Born in a naval family – his father was also an admiral – Bickerton’s name was entered on the muster of his father’s ship Marlborough in 1771 although his active career did not begin until 1774. Family interest saw rapid promotion to master in 1779 and post-captain in 1781. Much of his early career was passed on the West Indian station serving under Admiral Rodney then Admiral Sir Samuel Hood and it was in Antigua that he met his wife Anne Athill, daughter of a physician on the island. In 1792 he succeeded to his father’s baronetcy and soon afterwards returned to active service in the Channel fleet. After a period as second in command at Portsmouth, he sailed to join Admiral Lord Keith in the Meditteranean hoisting his flag in Swiftsure, 74 guns, with Benjamin Hallowell, a veteran of the recent battle of the Nile, as his flag captain.

Landau carriage, circa 1820. Science Museum, London.

Landau carriage, circa 1820. Science Museum, London.

In 1801 he sailed with the British expedition to Egypt conducting the blockade of Alexandria and supporting the land troops under command of Lieutenant-General Hutchinson. Following the capitulation of the French to Major-General Coote in August, Bickerton was created knight of the Crescent by the Sultan of Turkey, joining this exclusive and newly-inaugurated Ottoman Order of Chivalry which comprised Admiral Lord Nelson, Keith, Hutchinson and Coote. Bickerton’s service in Egpyt was recognised in the ensuing grant of supporters to his coat of arms.

Sir Richard Bickerton, Bt. from an original painting by an Italian artist in Malta, published 1 June 1805.

Sir Richard Bickerton, Bt. Rear Admiral of the Red, from an original painting by an Italian artist in Malta, published 1 June 1805. Bickerton is wearing the Sultan of Turkey’s Order of the Crescent for his service in Egpyt.

Bickerton remained as commander-in-chief in the Meditteranean during the short peace of Amiens then as second in command when Nelson returned with the resumption of hostilities.  The two men were in frequent contact and held each other in high esteem although a liver complaint would force Bickerton back to England a month before Trafalgar. On his return, Bickerton was promoted admiral in 1810 and eventually general in the Royal Marines. Like his father, he entered parliament and was also a fellow of the Royal Society. In 1823, he assumed his mother’s maiden name of Hussey before Bickerton on inheriting her estates in Huntingdonshire. He died in 1832 when the baronetcy became extinct. There is a monument to Admiral Bickerton in Bath Abbey.

See sale listing.

Martyn Downer

The Stowe Basket

On January 9th, 2016 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.



Shaped oval with gadroon borders, ribbed swing handle, fretwork sides and foot, centre later engraved with arms accollé, base inscribed with scratch-weight 34=4

14 ¼ in. long (36.3 cm.); 31.5 oz. (976 gm.)

The arms are for Richard Plantaganet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, KG, GCH (1797–1861) accollé with the arms of his wife Lady Mary, daughter of 1st. Marquess of Breadalbane (married 1819)

Richard Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos by John Porter, after John Jackson mezzotint, published 1841

Richard Grenville, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos by John Porter, after John Jackson mezzotint, published 1841

Richard Plantagenet Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville, second duke of Buckingham and Chandos (1797–1861) was woefully inadequate to oversee one of the great English mansions and estates at Stowe in Buckinghamshire. The heavy-drinking, womanising young wastrel at Eton and Oxford became the spendthrift, deceitful, litigious man who left a trail of destruction, broken hearts and furious creditors. His father the first duke, who had had to be sent overseas to avoid his creditors and many mistresses, had already encumbered an estate of 55,000 acres with debt. Yet within ten years of succeeding to the title in 1839, the debts had spiralled to nearly £1.5 million, with annual interest payments of at least £66,000 (at a time the entire estate income was less than £61,000). An earlier attempt to stem the flow of funds by marrying the unattractive but wealthy Mary Campbell (d. 1862) in hopeful expectation of a slice of the Breadalbane fortune had backfired into acrimony and separation, undone by the duke’s affairs, his illegitimate children and his suing of his father-in-law’s entailed estate.

Unable to comprehend or address the looming calamity, the duke invited Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Stowe in 1847, a ruinously expensive visit which proved the nail in the coffin for the estate. The next year, the entire contents of Stowe were auctioned by Christie’s over forty consecutive days in one of the greatest dispersals of treasures in auction history. The duke, who had retired to lodgings in London, was described by The Times as

the destroyer of his house, the man whose reckless course has thrown on the ground a pillar of the state, and struck a heavy blow at the whole order to which he unfortunately belongs … a man of the highest rank, and of a property not unequal to his title, has flung all away by extravagance and folly, and reduced his honours to the tinsel of a pauper and the bauble of a fool.

The family clung onto the mansion and in 1861 the third (and last) duke moved back into the empty shell on the death of his father. But the game was up and although the family struggled on until the first world war, by 1923 Stowe and its magnificent gardens had been sold and a boy’s public school established in the house.

Unlike his art-loving ancestors who had stocked Stowe with a trove of wonderful treasures, the duke was not a connoisseur preferring to lavish his borrowed money pursuing a quixotic political career and on his cherished Buckinghamshire Yeomanry. As this basket was made in 1762 but is decorated with the duke’s coat of arms following his succession in 1839 it appears likely it was recycled from the family collection and re-engraved as part of the preparations for the royal visit in 1847 when all the family plate was required for lavish display.

Within a year, however, it was offered for sale as Lot 700 on Friday 8th September 1848, the twentieth day of the Christie’s auction of the contents of Stowe, as: A ditto [openwork] bread basket 31 oz.18dwt., at 12s 2d per oz. The basket was sold to an “Agent” for £19 8s 1d (calculated as equivalent to about £1,750.00 today)

The catalogued weight of the basket matches its current weight but is less than it’s 1762 scratch weight of 34 oz. 4 dwt. further indicating the basket was erased and re-engraved in the 1840′s. As an Old Stoic myself, it is a joy to handle a lost artwork from the famed collections at Stowe. See Sale Listing. 

stowe house





Martyn Downer

Bejewelled armorial wedding brooch for the Marquess of Bute

On December 4th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A gold brooch in Gothic style mounted with an enamelled armorial shield surmounted by a pearl set coronet within a circlet of cushion-shaped rubies and diamonds, the reverse mounted with a locket, supplied by Mackay, Cunningham & Co., Edinburgh as a gift for a bridesmaid at the marriage of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute to Gwendolin Fitzalan-Howard on 16 April 1872.

Dimensions approx: 29mm x 32mm

This rare brooch was made to the order of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (1847-1900) one of the richest men in England who used his vast wealth to create, renovate or decorate a series of family properties across Scotland and Wales in flamboyant Gothic Revival style. Guided by architect William Burges  (1827-1881), Bute transformed Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch – both situated near the Welsh coal fields which fueled the family wealth – into medieval fantasies furnished and decorated in brightly coloured Gothic style. With ceaseless energy, Bute also rebuilt Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute in Florentine style and restored Dumfries House, Rothesay and Falkland castles, St Andrew’s Priory, and Caerphilly Castle. The properties reflected Bute’s wide-ranging intellectual, cultural and antiquarian interests. Most of all, despite being paid for by 19th century industrial wealth, the houses displayed Bute’s enthusiasm for the past and for British history.

As a young man, Bute had scandalised Society by converting to Catholicism, a spiritual journey which led in 1872 to his marriage to Gwendolin Fitzalan-Howard (1854–1932), the Catholic granddaughter of the duke of Norfolk. Ahead of the wedding the marquess arranged for gold, enamel and gem set lockets to be created for the eight bridesmaids: the bride’s four sisters Angela, Winifred, Alice and Constance Fitzalan-Howard; her cousin Lady Phillipa Fitzalan-Howard, her aunt Miss de Lisle; the marquess’ cousin Lady Flora Hastings and Miss Manners, daughter of Lord and Lady Manners.

As could be expected, Bute took a keen personal interest in designing the jewels, possibly seeking the opinion of Burges who was creating his own jewel in Gothic taste as a surprise wedding present for the new marchioness.

His final design centred on a polychrome enameled shield displaying the Stuart coat of arms newly-impaled with those of Howard which in time would be replicated throughout Bute’s many properties. The shield was capped by a marquess’s coronet set with Scottish freshwater pearls and encircled, as Bute explained to his young bride, by a girdle ‘alternately rubies and diamonds, being your colours – red and white’ [Bute to Gwendolin Howard, 28 February 1872, quoted Hannah, p.103]. Bute thought the jewels would do ‘very well’ giving the task of making them to Mackay, Cunningham & Princes Street, Edinburgh hoping it would ‘get his name up’ – even though the firm already supplied jewels to Queen Victoria in Scotland.

The Marquis of Bute's armorial bookplate showing the Crichton-Stuart arms

The Marquis of Bute’s armorial bookplate showing the Crichton-Stuart arms

The wedding, at the Brompton Oratory in London on 16 April 1872, was a spectacular event and so popular that stands were erected outside the church for the crowds of onlookers. Among the many royal and aristocratic guests (many curious to attend a Catholic Mass) was Benjamin Disraeli the former and soon-to-be again prime minister who had recently fictionalised Bute’s conversion to Catholicism in his bestselling novel Lothair (1870). According to press accounts, the bride wore white satin decorated with orange blossom and swathes of diamond jewels and the bridesmaids white muslin gowns trimmed with lace and decorated with pink crepe.

Each youthful lady’, gushed the Glasgow Herald reporter with a degree of artistic licence after seeing the bridesmaids, ‘wore as a memento of the auspicious event a valuable gold locket, the centre being in the shape of a shield or escutcheon, on which were enamelled in colours proper the heraldic arms of the Bute and Norfolk families impaled. Round the lower part of the shield, from the top of the dexter chief to that of the sinister, was a band of beautiful rubies and small diamonds, the loop set with the same precious stones. The ornament was surmounted with a Marquis’s coronet, the leaves being formed in diamonds alternating with pearls’.



Further reading:

Rosemary Hannah, The Grand Designer Third Marquess of Bute (Edinburgh, 2012)

Charlotte Gere and Geoffrey Munn, Artists’ Jewellery, (Woodbridge, 1989) where another similar brooch illustrated plate 55, p.100.



Martyn Downer

Captain Dundas’s Trafalgar Cup

On September 3rd, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A large silver cup, plain with tapering half-fluting and reeded edge standing on circular foot, engraved with a coat of arms within an oak wreath and robe mantling; by Solomon Hougham, London 1802.

Height: 205mm / 8 inches

Weighs 524 grams / 16 tr oz 16dwt

Arms: Argent a lion rampant gules a bordure ermine a crescent for difference (for Dundas) over all an escutcheon of pretence Sable on a chevron between three oak trees eradicated or as many martlets of the field (for Wood)

This silver cup belonged to Captain Thomas Dundas RN (1765-1841) who commanded the British frigate HMS Naied at the battle of Trafalgar. As great-great grandson of Robert Dundas of Arniston, Thomas was scion to the powerful Dundas family who dominated political and legal affairs in Scotland for nearly two centuries. Born at Keith in East Lothian, Dundas joined the Royal Navy in 1778 seeing action early in his career during the American Revolutionary War. By the outbreak of war with France in 1793, Dundas was lieutenant gaining promotion to commnder on 2 September 1795. His gained his first command a year later when the sloop HMS Merlin was commissioned. Within months, Merlin shared in the capture in the North Sea of the French warship L’ Augustine during the re-taking of the English merchantman Nelly which was being carried off as a prize by the French.

Made post-captain on 9 July 1798, Dundas took command of 20-gun HMS Prompte sailing to the West Indies where he captured a valuable Spanish whaling vessel and then the warship Urca Cargadora. Dundas was back in England by  18 December 1800 when he married Charlotte Wood (1779-1848), daughter and co-heir of Lullam Wood of Rochester, Kent (her family’s coat of arms appear in pretence on her husband’s on the silver cup).There were no children of the marriage.

Back at sea, Dundas, now in command of in HMS Solebay, escorted a convoy of British merchantmen to the Mediterranean before returning again to England in July 1802, three months after the signing of the short-lived Peace of Amiens.

When war resumed, Dundas took command of HMS Naiad, the 36-gun frigate in which he would gain his greatest fame. Stationed in the English Channel off the West coast of Spain, Naiad took several small prizes before seizing in January 1805 Nuestra Senora de los Dolores, a Spanish ship carrying over 200,000 dollars in specie plus other valuable goods. Dundas took his prize into Plymouth before returning immediately to his station where Naiad oversaw the capture of the Dutch schooner Der Vriede then took Mars on 25 June. The next month, assisted by HMS Pickle (soon-to-be famous for carrying the Trafalgar dispatch back to England), Naiad captured two further enemy vessels then in September, seized Wells, an American ship running goods through the blockade to France.

By early October 1805, Naiad was attached to a small squadron of frigates charged by Admiral Lord Nelson with disrupting supplies to the combined enemy fleet at Cadiz. However, they were unable to prevent the enemy departing Cadiz on 20 October for a final and devastating confrontation with the British fleet under Nelson’s command.

On the morning of the 21st, as the fleets drew towards each other, Nelson summoned his four frigate captains, Dundas included, to his flagship Victory for a final briefing of their roles during the imminent action. He was present as Nelson asked another of the frigate captains, Henry Blackwood of Euryalus, to witness a codicil to his will in which he (in vain) entrusted his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton to the care of the nation in the event of his death. Dundas was also on board to see Nelson give the order, at about 11.45, for the famous signal “England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty”. Shortly before the firing commenced, Dundas left Victory and returned to Naiad carrying final orders and messages to distribute to the captains of the warships. He was, therefore, among the last men to talk with Nelson before the admiral was fatally wounded around 1pm.

During the early part of the action, Naiad, as instructed, lay off to windward with the other frigates to observe the battle and relay messages as required.  As the fighting grew fierce, Dundas sent his boats into the water to recover the wounded. However, his most significant and difficult challenge of the day was taking HMS Belleisle in tow. Belleisle had been the second ship into action behind Royal Sovereign in the lee column of Nelson’s attack and as such had faced a terrible early onslaught from the enemy.  Belleisle was the only British warship to be completely dismasted during the battle and had also suffered appalling casualties. Having established a line, Dundas hauled away but as the weather worsened in the aftermath of the battle the ships became separated from the British fleet, in danger of capture and of being driven ashore by the gale. Several times the line broke and had to be re-established with great difficulty. On the evening of the 22 October, after colliding with Belleisle endangering both ships, Dundas cut the line leaving both ships,  Belleisle on a jury rig, to try and survive the storm on their own. Somehow they succeeded, despite Naiad losing almost all her sheets during the night,  and the next morning they re-established contact, and a line, with Dundas then heading straight for Gibraltar (where Victory was also towed after the battle) reaching the safety of the harbour during the afternoon of the 23 October.

Dundas remained in Naiad until 1808, later commanding HMS Africa, a Trafalgar veteran; and the 74 gun HMS Vengeur. He was made rear-admiral on 27 May 1825, vice-admiral on 10 January 1837 and appointed and invested as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 13 September 1831. He died in Reading, Berkshire on 29 March 1841.

For his services at Trafalgar, Dundas was awarded a Lloyds Patriotic Fund £100 presentation sword which is now in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.




Martyn Downer

Rare surviving Medieval helmet crest

On August 17th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News.


This very rare Medieval polychrome decorated leather, hemp and gesso helmet crest made in Austria/Germany circa 1400 illustrates the origin of heraldic crests. Originally mounted with a horse hair plume in the centre, the unique red and white starred double winged crest would help identify the wearer in battle. This essential and often life saving device was incorporated into the wearer’s heraldic achievement and has since descended into the widespread use of heraldic crests on silver, porcelain, glass and other applied arts. So think of that next time you see a signet ring seal engraved with a family crest!

The helmet crest, which is estimated to sell for approximately €15,000-20,000, will be auctioned in Switzerland on 10th/11th September 2015. See Galerie Fisher.

Martyn Downer

Luxury seagoing silver dressing case for the real life captain of Jack Aubrey’s HMS Boadicea

On July 30th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A George III brass bound mahogany travelling dressing case with fitted red morocco interior with matched silver mounted accessories comprising: a 3 1/2in circular box and cover maker’s mark I.E (not traced), Dublin 1810, retailed by William Hamy; two small circular boxes and covers by William Parker, London 1810; a rectangular glass box with a silver pierced cover, same maker and date; a shaving brush, same maker, London 1811; three square glass bottles with stoppers and silver caps (unmarked); an ivory mounted cut throat razor and three other ivory mounted blades; articles variously engraved with a crest beneath a viscount’s coronet and within the motto “Ne Vile Velis”, the mahogany case with brass edges, name and key plates, the velvet interior of the cover concealing a mirror. See sale listing.

Overall approx: 33.5cm (13 1/4in) long


This dressing case belonged to Captain Ralph Viscount Nevill (1786-1826) who fought as a volunteer in HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar. Nevill was the second son of Henry Nevill, 2nd Earl of Abergavenny  (1755 – 1843), a politician and secretary to the Treasury. As a boy Nevill entered the Royal Navy as a volunteer joining HMS Amphion under Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy in 1802. Nevill’s patron was Horatio Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809) whose niece had married Nevill’s older brother the Hon, George Henry Nevill, heir to the Abergavenny earldom.

Ralph Nevill's patron and Admiral Lord Nelson's godfather: Horace Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809)

Ralph Nevill’s patron and Admiral Lord Nelson’s godfather: Horace Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1723-1809)

It was under Walpole’s interest that Nevill moved with Captain Hardy to Lord Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory in July 1803. He then served in the long blockade of Toulon and the pursuit of the combined enemy fleet to the West Indies. Despite his lowly status in Victory, Nelson was very mindful of Nevill as Lord Walpole, for whom the admiral had been named, was his own godfather. Writing to Walpole from Victory “off Toulon” on 29 December 1804 Nelson, presumably in response to an enquiry, reports that “Young Nevil  [sic] is a very excellent Young Man and his good conduct has not escaped my observation and you may rely, My dear Lord, not only upon this but upon any occasion which may offer that I shall be truly happy to meet your wishes …”


Letter from Lord Nelson to Lord Walpole, Victory, off Toulon, 29 December 1804 discussing "Young Nevil". Published Nicolas "Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson" Vol. VI, p.305

Letter from Lord Nelson to Lord Walpole, Victory, off Toulon, 29 December 1804 discussing “Young Nevil”. Published Nicolas “Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson” Vol. VI, p.305 (courtesy: Julian Bowning / )

Nevill remained in Victory for the battle of Trafalgar benefiting perhaps from the wave of promotions which followed the famous action as he was made lieutenant in January 1806 although, as a volunteer, he received the same prize money (£1.17s.6d) and government grant (£4.12s.6d) as a fifth class, or ordinary seamen. Shortly afterwards, with the early death of his brother George, Nevill, now heir to his father’s earldom, assumed the courtesy title of viscount.

As lieutenant, Nevill now transferred to the HMS Ocean, 98 guns, the flagship of Admiral Lord Collingwood (1748-1810) who had assumed command in the Mediterranean after nelson’s death. After his promotion to commander on 30 May 1808, Nevill assumed command of HMS Acteon, a captured 16 gun brig in which he assisted in the capture off the Scilly Isles of the French privateer Le Lezard in November 1809. Acteon then joined the fleet under Admiral Bertie for the Mauritius campaign 1809-11: a series of amphibious operations and naval actions fought, ultimately successfully, to gain possession of the French Indian Ocean territories of Isle de France and Île Bonaparte.

Attack on St. Paul's Island of Burbon Sept. 21 1809 By the British Squadron under Commodore Rowley consisting of HM Ships Raisonable, Boadicea, Sirius, Mereide, Otter & E.I.C. Schooner Wasp and the Land Forces under Lt. Col. Keating 56th Regt. The advanced British Frigate is the Sirius, Capt Pym raking the French Frigate La Caroline. The first Battery, was taken by Lt Cottel, commanding R Marines & Lt Knight 56th per Orders of Lt Col Keating. This print shows one of the main events of "The Mauritius Command" (

Attack on St. Paul’s Island of Burbon Sept. 21 1809
By the British Squadron under Commodore Rowley consisting of HM Ships Raisonable, Boadicea, Sirius, Mereide, Otter & E.I.C. Schooner Wasp and the Land Forces under Lt. Col. Keating 56th Regt. The advanced British Frigate is the Sirius, Capt Pym raking the French Frigate La Caroline. The first Battery, was taken by Lt Cottel, commanding R Marines & Lt Knight 56th per Orders of Lt Col Keating.
This print shows one of the main events of “The Mauritius Command” (

The campaign was portrayed by Patrick O’Brian in The Mauritius Command, his fourth installment in the famous Aubrey-Maturin series of naval historical novels. In the novel, Aubrey assumes command of the real life 38 gun frigate HMS Boadicea - the same ship posted to Nevill when he was made captain on 16 February 1811.

Eldridge Park, near Tunbridge Wells, circA 1840, seat of the earl of Abergavenny

Eridge Castle, near Tunbridge Wells, circa 1840, seat of the earl of Abergavenny

On 2 February 1813, Viscount Nevill married Mary Elcock (1796-1828). He died childless at Boulogne in May 1826 when his younger brother the Reverend John Nevill (1789-1845) succeeded as heir to the earldom, becoming 3rd Earl of Abergavenny on the death of their father in 1843.


Although unsigned, this rare provenanced seagoing dressing case was purchased by Viscount Nevill from one of several specialist manufacturers of military and naval campaign furniture then active in London, possibly  J.Wells of Cockspur Street who, after partnering John Lambe in 1815, promoted his business as “Pocket Book Portable Desk, Dressing Case & Copying Machine” makers. The lock is signed “BARRON STRAND” for Francis Barron , “Brazier and Ironmongers to his Majesty” who was at 476 Strand ,London in this period. The variation of makers for the silver mounted articles in the box suggest that these may have been purchased separately and fitted. Nevill was promoted captain soon after he acquired the box; nevertheless his cabin quarters on board Actaeon then Boadicea would have been cramped affording space only for his cot, some shelving for books, a desk and a washstand similar to a surviving example belonging to Admiral Lord Nelson.

Admiral Lord Nelson's wash stand from HMS Victory (Sothebys)

Admiral Lord Nelson’s wash stand from HMS Victory (Sothebys)


Martyn Downer

A soldier’s souvenir of the Peninsular War

On July 26th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.


Lieutenant Penfold’s Peninsular War service – spoons from Lisbon showing on the right

A matched collection of fiddle pattern silver spoons comprising two table spoons and three dessert spoons by John Osment, Exeter 1823 en suite with a Portuguese fiddle pattern silver table spoon and tea spoon, Lisbon 1803-1813; each engraved with the monogram E.P. below 12th Lt. Dragns. surmounted by the family crest of Penfold. See sale listing.

These spoons belonged to Edward Penfold (1789-1861), who served for four years as cornet then lieutenant (1812) in the 12th Light Dragoons during the Peninsular Wars. Placed on half pay in 1817, Penfold returned to his home at Tiverton in Devon where he arranged for a service to be made locally in Exeter to match silver acquired in Portugal during the war.

Raised in 1715 to counter the Jacobite threat, in 1763 the regiment was re-styled by George III as The 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons and granted the use of prince of wales feathers and motto “Ich Dien” as its badge. Following amalgamations, and conversion to the lance in 1816, the regiment today is known as 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s)

For much of its early life, the 12th Light Dragoons were based on garrison duty in Ireland where a young Arthur Wellesley, later duke of Wellington, joined the regiment as a subaltern. The outbreak of war with France finally brought the regiment into action. The dragoons accompanied the expeditionary force to France in 1793 and then joined Lieutenant General Sir Ralph Abercrombie’s 1801 invasion of Egypt where it won its first battle honour. In 1809, the regiment took part in the ill-fated Walcheron campaign though it saw no action.


Loose Court, Maidstone, Kent, Edward Penfold's family home.

Loose Court, Maidstone, Kent, Edward Penfold’s family home.

Edward Penfold, son of Edward Margesson Penfold (c1759-1848) a wealthy banker of Loose Court, Maidstone,  joined the 12th Light Dragoons as a young cornet in 1811 shortly before the regiment, under new command of Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick Ponsonby (1783-1837),  sailed for Portugal. Arriving in Lisbon on 25 June 1811 – when Penfold may have acquired his silver - the regiment was soon marching to Spain where it supported the successful but bloody sieges at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz. John Vandeleur, who joined the regiment as lieutenant the same year as Penfold, described Lisbon at the time: “The air of Portugal is not as pure as that of England in my opinion…the Portuguese are not the most cleanly people in the world. Like the Scotch they empty the rubbish of the house out of the windows in the night-time after nine o’clock. I was not up to the system the first night I was in Lisbon, and as i was returning from duty to the barracks, which are in a convent, there were the contents of a vessel discharged at me. However, I was fortunate enough to escape it, but my servant received it full upon his head…they ask most immoderately dear for whatever we want. They asked me 15 dollars for a pair of second-cloth trousers..”

Promoted lieutenant by purchase in 1812, Penfold charged with his regiment at the famous battles of Salamanca (1812) – where it won its second battle honour – and at Vitoria (1813) where the 12th turned the French right and barred their retreat. The regiment then pursued the enemy into France taking part in operations in the Pyrenees and South of France.07crest


With the return of Napoleon from Elba, the 12th joined the Allied expeditionary force to Netherlands under the duke of Wellington. However, it appears Penfold remained in England as his name does not appear on the medal roll for the battle of Waterloo where his regiment suffered grievous losses and Ponsonby severely wounded.

In retirement Penfold settled in Devon where he died unmarried in 1861.


Further reading:

Bamford, Andrew, With Wellington’s Outposts: The Peninsula and Waterloo Letter of John Vandeleur (2015)

Bamford, Andrew, Gallantry and Discipline: The 12th Light Dragoons at War with Wellington (2014)

Stewart, Captain P.F., The History of the XII Royal Lancers (1950)



Martyn Downer

Repairing antique Silver

On July 23rd, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Uncategorized.

Love this classic 1959 Pathé film on repairing and cleaning old silver ! watch at Antique Silver . Not much has changed since 1959 (except media attitudes towards women happily! )

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