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The stories behind our listings, news of exhibitions and some heraldic tales

Martyn Downer

Silver Peeler

On March 27th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

Silver soup plate by William Brown, London 1829 from the service of Sir Robert Peel

This George IV silver soup plate is from the service of Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850) who was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1834-5 and again in 1841-6. In the complicated world of 19th century politics, Peel’s name still uniquely and widely resonates as a colloquial description of the police force he helped to establish.  From a northern mercantile family, Peel rose rapidly through the ranks of the Tory party. As Home Secretary in the 1820′s, he initiated reforms to the criminal justice system and famously established the Metropolitan Police Force in London whose constables were quickly nicknamed “Peelers” or “Bobbies” after their founder, affectionate labeling which survives to this day. Despite his conventional Tory and privileged background, throughout his career Peel betrayed radical leanings supporting Catholic Emancipation,

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel

Free Trade, the reform of Parliament and the repeal of the hated Corn Laws, often in the teeth of opposition from party colleagues. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the support of the duke of Wellington and with his patronage became prime minister; first briefly in 1834 then again in 1841 although he always had a difficult relationship with a young Queen Victoria who was in sway to the ageing Whig statesman Lord Melbourne. His second ministry foundered over the fraught issue of the repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel died in his prime in 1850, following a fall from his horse. Had he lived, the rise of liberalism, and the new Liberal Party, may have brought him back to power as intellectually he was closer to William Gladstone than William Pitt.

The plate, originally from a large service, is engraved with the coat of arms granted to Peel’s father Sir Robert Peel, 1st baronet (1750-1830) an industrialist and old-school Tory who enjoyed his own political career as member of parliament  although he never reached the heights of his famous son. One imagines the plate was used at Downing Street during Peel’s tenure and admired by his many distinguished guests and friends.

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: "Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant"

Coat of arms of Sir Robert Peel: “Ar. three sheaves of as many arrows ppr. banded gu., on a chief az. a bee volant”


Martyn Downer

The Sheridan Grant silver dishes: love and scandal (and a duel)

On January 16th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


A set of four William IV silver second course dishes each plain shaped circular with gadroon, acanthus leaf and shell border and bowl recess, engraved with two armorials, by John Harris, London 1834.

10 1/2″ (262 mm) diameter; 97 tr.oz. (3019 grams)


1. Arms of SHERIDAN, Vert a lion rampant between three trefoils slipped for Richard Brinsley Sheridan of Frampton (1806-1888) son of Thomas Sheridan and grandson of the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Motto: CERVUS LECESSITUS LEO; the arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or., as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant quartered with  BROWNE of Frampton: ar., on a chevron sa. between three herons az. as many escallops for Marcia Grant (1815-1882) in pretense


2. Arms of GRANT: Gu., three eastern crowns or. as borne by Lieut. General Sir Colquhoun Grant KCB, (c.1764 -1835) within garter for the Order of the Bath suspending the Grand Cross of the Guelphic Order  and the orders of St Vladimir in Russia and William the Lion in the Netherlands; supporters:  two Hussars of the 15th regiment, mounted with their swords drawn and accoutred. ppr.; motto:  TE FAVENTE VIREBO  


Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

Officer of the Hussars by Theodore Gericault 1814

For a few days in Spring 1835, reported the gossipy Court Journal, “the fashionable world was in ferment” over the elopement of Miss Marcia Grant, the 19 year old daughter and sole heiress of Waterloo hero General Sir Colquhon Grant, with Brinsley Sheridan, the indigent grandson of the famed Irish playwright and statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816).  “Even Politics – eternal Politics – have been swamped” by interest in the scandal, trilled the correspondent. It had everything required for a good scandal: celebrities, sex and money as Marcia would one day inherit Frampton in Dorset, a magnificent mansion and estate worth, in today’s terms, £3/4 million pounds a year. After mocking the hypocrisy of its older readers who spoke with “horror, wrath and astonishment” over the incident forgetting their own impetuous past, the magazine gave a full juicy account of events on Friday 15 May when the young lovers borrowed the carriage of a friend in London and hot footed it in just 32 hours to Gretna Green on the Scottish border where, exhausted, they married at 5am on Sunday morning at a coaching inn (now a hotel, Gretna Hall, has a suite named for the elopers) . Visiting the hall a few years later, a journalist from The Literary World asked to see the room where the infamous union had taken place only to find that “it had a very commonplace aspect, in paper and decoration. There should have been a print of Wilkie’s Penny Wedding, instead of one of Tom O’Shanter  and another of Two Tygers Fighting ! The latter, methinks, in many instances, too metaphorically true!” Gretna, the first village in Scotland on the principal London to Edinburgh road, had been a popular destination for runaway lovers since the late 18th century when a quirk in law allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to marry without parental consent. As long as it was witnessed, almost anybody could perform the ceremony.

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Gretna Hall where the elopers were married

Before fleeing London, Marcia slipped her guardian Sir Robert Macfarlane – who had been charged by the general to keep an eye on her – then sent her maid with clothes on a fool’s errand to Dartford  trusting, correctly, that her enraged father would pursue her there believing she and Sheridan were headed for the continent. However, the general had forgotton,  the Journal wryly observedthat he was dealing with the grandson of the ingenious author of “The Rivals” and “School for Scandal” who as a young man had also eloped with his 18 year old lover, the beautiful Elizabeth Ann Linley. Born in 1806, Brinsley was the son of Richard Sheridan’s troubled eldest son Tom who had struggled beneath the fame of his father. Brinsley’s birth was widely celebrated: his grandfather’s fame and friendship secured the prince of Wales as his godfather and his christening was marked with a lavish dinner, a gala performance by artistes from the Opera House and Sheridan’s own Drury Lane Theatre and ended with a ball.

.Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Richard Brinsley Sheridan by Sir Joshua Reynolds

But perpetual money troubles and his father’s ill health overshadowed and disrupted his childhood. His parents were often overseas seeking a cure for Tom’s tuberculosis leaving their children in the hands of relatives. This rootless existence may have led Brinsley to decide to spurn the romantic but erratic theatrical life of his father and grandfather and to seek a settled career instead in the East India service. But after just eight years as a clerk in Madras, Brinsley returned to England with vague ideas of a career in politics but with no resources to pursue them. Then he met Marcia Grant, the precious only child of the seventy year old General Grant. She was born in 1815, the year of her father’s greatest exploit, when Grant had commanded the 5th brigade of the British and King’s German Legion cavalry at Waterloo and had several horses shot from under him. With a fortune to her name, the general was unlikely to allow Marcia to marry an impoverished former clerk, however eminent his family name. So, in his family tradition, Brinsley and Marcia plotted to escape.

The Spectator  named Marcia’s accomplices in crime as Brinsley’s three sisters (colloquially known as “The Three Graces”): the celebrated author Caroline Norton (1808-1877), poet and composer Helen Blackwood (1807-1867), later Baroness Dufferin and Claneboye ; and Lady Georgiana Seymour (1809-1884), duchess of Somerset. The motivation of two of the women for helping their brother was obvious: Caroline  was in a very unhappy, abusive marriage and had begun a scandalous affair with the prime minister Lord Melbourne (which would explode into a notorious court case), whilst Helen had married an impoverished naval officer against her family’s wishes.

"A false alarm on the road to Gretna" after Charles Newhouse

“A false alarm on the road to Gretna” after Charles Newhouse


Immediately, Sir Robert Macfarlane was aware that Marcia had gone he  charged round to the Nortons’ house in Spring Gardens beside St James’s Park where he found Sheridan’s mother (another former eloper ) his three sisters, Lord Seymour and George Norton gathered as if colluding in her escape. Hearing this, an irate General Grant, confounded in his attempt to catch his daughter, accused the entire Sheridan family of criminal conspiracy in the abduction of a minor. He forced Brinsley back from his honeymoon in Cumberland to answer a criminal summons in Chancery and challenged Lord Seymour to a duel as he had refused to divulge the whereabouts of Marcia when pressed by Macfarlane . Officially outlawed since 1815, duelling remained the ultimate resort for gentlemen to gain satisfaction for their wounded honour and neither Grant nor Seymour were prepared to allow the law to deny them. The duel took place at dawn on Hampstead Heath in a scene from “The Rivals” by Brinsley’s grandfather (himself a multiple duelist). When the first exchange of shots failed to hit their targets, the general ordered the pistols to be re-loaded. Only the intervention of the seconds and admission by Seymour of some of the details of the elopement prevented bloodshed. Unappeased, the general turned his ire on Caroline’s feckless husband George Norton accusing him of being “deeply involved in the disgraceful plot that has been fatal to my pride and happiness”.  Despite his violence towards his own wife, Norton was in no condition to accept a duel with a man who had commanded a brigade at Waterloo. Hiding behind his position as a magistrate (which, in Grant’s eyes, made his implication “in this nefarious proceeding” even worse), Norton demurred and then avoided further confrontation and repercussions by pacifying the old general.

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

An officer, 18th Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), 1815. National Army Museum

Indeed, the furore blew over almost as quickly as it started. Remarkably, just a month later in June 1835 Marcia and Brinsley’s marriage was officially solemnized at Arthuret in Cumberland and by the time of his death at Frampton six months later in December 1835, Sir Colquhoun was fully reconciled to his errant daughter and her husband. These lovely silver dishes displaying the arms of the newly-weds alongside those of Sir Colquhoun Grant, - so finished before the general died in December 1835 – mark the rapprochment and the prelude to a very happy, long and fruitful marriage which produced nine children.
Overseen at Frampton by the magnificent portrait of his grandfather by Reynolds, Brinsley realised the political career  denied his father, becoming member of parliament for Shaftesbury (1845-52) and then Dorchester (1852-68). With Marcia, he also cultivated a circle of literary friends, including Thackerary and Mary Shelley, and even persuaded Isambard Kingdom Brunel to tunnel his railway through the park at Frampton rather than disrupt the view. Only death separated the elopers: Marcia sadly dying first in  1882 then Brinsley in 1888.  By 1932, Frampton itself had gone, its contents sold at auction and the mansion demolished as the family fortune diminished, war and the twentieth century intervened.

The portico at Frampton House

The portico at Frampton House


Further reading:

Atkinson, Diane, The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton (2012)

Martyn Downer

Churchillian Silver for sale: Great British Silver for a Great Briton

On January 15th, 2015 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Spencer-Churchill family crests on the Churchill service

Spencer-Churchill family crests on the Churchill service


Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Oswald Birley, 1950. Sotheby's.

Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Oswald Birley, 1950. Sotheby’s.

The phenomenal success of the recent sale at Sotheby’s in London of the collection of Mary Soames, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill, illustrates the inexhaustible interest of collectors around the world in objects, papers and artefacts connected to one of the very greatest of Great Britons, particularly in relics with such a wonderful family provenance. Led by a record price of £1.7 m for a painting by Churchill – a more than accomplished artist – the sale included one of his iconic red despatch boxes as a minister of state (£158,000), a signed first edition of his wartime speeches (£21,250), a striking portrait of Churchill in his distinctive Siren suit, and a pair of diamond earrings said to have been given by Winston to his wife Clementine (£92,500). The sale included a mixed bag of silver items,  many modern or domestic examples with no direct link to Churchill himself. However, two pieces of silver in particular caught my eye in the catalogue beforehand – one of a very private nature, the other very public – and I was not surprised to see them fiercely competed for at the sale.

Silver match slide, London 1911, given to Winston Churchill by his children for Christmas 1927. Sotheby's.

Silver match slide, London 1911, given to Winston Churchill by his children for Christmas 1927. Sotheby’s.

One was a simple silver match slide given to Winston by his children for Christmas 1927 – estimated at £300-500 (already high for any other slide!), it sold for £68,500. The other was a silver coffee jug, London 1942 presented to Churchill by his Cabinet following the battle of Alamein when it finally seemed as if the tide was turning in the struggle against Nazi Germany. Priced at £4000-6,000, the jug made £278,500.

The War Cabinet silver jug: presented to Churchill by his Cabinet in November 1942. Sotheby's.

The War Cabinet silver jug: presented to Churchill by his Cabinet in November 1942. Sotheby’s.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the family history, the sale offered no silver decorated with Churchill’s personal family crests or armorials which presumably remains with his family, or at Chartwell, his former country house now managed by the National Trust. So I am delighted that myfamilysilver is offering a 34 piece service of George III silver flatware dating from 1806 to 1825, each piece decorated with the distinctive twin crests for Spencer-Churchill displayed by the dukes of Marlborough since 1817 and which also adorn the coat of arms of Sir Winston Churchill. The absence of an additional ducal coronet on the silver suggests the service was not originally in the ducal collection but from a collateral line, such as Winston’s whose father was third son of the 7th duke.

Sir WInston Churchill's coat of arms as a Knight of the Garter, showing the combined Spencer-Churchill arms and both crests.

Sir WInston Churchill’s coat of arms as a Knight of the Garter, showing the combined Spencer-Churchill arms and both crests.


Spencer-Churchill crests on the silver

Spencer-Churchill crests on the silver

The service, which serves six people, leaves tantalizing questions of ownership but undoubtedly gives an intimate glimpse into the life of Churchill’s family. It also gives a future lucky owner a wonderful topic of conversation over dinner!

The Spencer-Churchill Service

The Spencer-Churchill Service

The Spencer-Churchill service

The Spencer-Churchill service

To see the Churchill service go to Spencer-Churchill antique silver service 

Martyn Downer

Pushing the boat out: Captain Henry Blackwood’s table silver and jolly boats

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

A very rare pair of Old Sheffield Plate double wine coasters, together with a 24 piece Old English Pattern service of George III sterling silver flatware listed at myfamilysilver recall one of Admiral Lord Nelson’s most admired frigate captains, and a hero of the battle of Trafalgar, Captain Henry Blackwood. The coasters are designed as clinker-built rowing boats each set on a pair of detachable axles with spoked wheels, the interiors with two circular depressions for decanters and two for stoppers, rope-ring attachments to bows and engraved on the stern thwart with the armorial crest of ‘the sun rising from behind a cloud, all ppr.’ as granted to Captain Blackwood (1770-1832) at the creation of his baronetcy (Blackwood of the Navy) in the baronetage of the United Kingdom on 23 July 1814. The matching service of silver spoons and forks are engraved with the same crest and additionally decorated with Blackwood’s personal motto: Per Vias Rectas (Through the right way)
The coasters, which are complete with a matched set of two large and two smaller Regency decanters, give a fascinating glimpse into the shipboard dining custom of Napoleonic war naval officers. At sea, Jolly Boat wine trolleys were dismounted from their wheeled carriages. It was customary at the table after pouring out wine or spirit from the decanter, to return it to the stand and push it along to the next officer. It is believed that the saying ‘to push the boat out’ has its origins in this old naval custom as the officer paying for the wine was the first to start the jolly boat off round the table.
Prior to the first meeting between Nelson and Blackwood, the national hero was already a dedicated supporter and admirer of his subordinate’s vigilance, seamanship and willingness to close with the enemy. On the night of 30 March 1800 it was Blackwood in the small frigate Penelope that maintained the close pursuit of the 80-gun Guillaume Tell, the strongest French ship to survive the Battle of Nile, alternately pouring crippling broadsides into the vastly superior vessel’s stern quarters until larger British ships could catch up – a feat that later caused Nelson in communication with Blackwood to write ‘Is there a sympathy which ties men together in the bonds of friendship without having a personal knowledge of each other? If so (and I believe it was so to you), I was your friend and acquaintance before I saw you. Your conduct and character on the late glorious occasion stamps your fame beyond the reach of envy. It was like yourself; it was like the Penelope. Thanks; and say everything kind for me to your brave officers and men …’
Sir Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806

Sir Henry Blackwood (1770–1832), by John Hoppner, 1806

Blackwood was born in County Down, Ireland, the seventh son of Sir John Blackwood, 2nd Baronet of Killyleagh, and his wife Dorcas (Stevenson), 1st Baroness Dufferin and Clandeboye. He entered the navy as a volunteer 1781, serving in the Mediterranean, and on the Newfoundland station, steadily gaining the confidence of his superiors, and developing a flare for frigate operations. He was made lieutenant in 1790 by Lord Howe serving in Invincible at the battle of the First of June (1794). He twice turned down the command of a 74-gun ship-of-the-line for the special opportunities offered in frigate service taking command of the 36-gun frigate Euryalus when war broke out again in 1803 after the Peace of AmiensIn 1805 he brought the news to London of the breakout of the French and Spanish fleets from Ferrol and their entrance into Cadiz, halting briefly at Merton in the early hours of the morning to inform Nelson, who went with him to the Admiralty, and received his final instructions to resume the command of the fleet without delay.
When Nelson sailed in Victory for Cadiz a few days later, Blackwood and Euryalus went with him.On the morning of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805, Blackwood was invited on board Victory and received a freehand in commanding all the frigates in assisting any disabled ships. He was further given permission to make use of Nelson’s name in ordering any of the stern most line-of-battle ships to do what struck him as best. Blackwood together with Captain Hardy also witnessed the subsequently disregarded codicil to Nelson’s will – ‘I leave Emma, Lady Hamilton therefore a legacy to my King and Country that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her Rank in Life.’ Anxious for his commander’s safety, Blackwood unsuccessfully tried to persuade Nelson to shift his flag to Euryalus. It was not until afternoon with shot flying thickly over the flagship, that Blackwood was finally ordered by Nelson back to his frigate with the words ‘God bless you, Blackwood, I shall never speak to you again.’ Immediately after the battle Collingwood hoisted his flag in Blackwood’s ship, but after ten days removed it to Queen, and Euryalus was sent home with despatches and with the captured French admiral Villeneuve. Blackwood landed at Falmouth and was one of the first messengers to use the Trafalgar Way to deliver his dispatches to the Admiralty in London. He also handed Nelson’s personal effects, bloodstained uniform and codicil in person to the hysterically grieving Emma, Lady Hamilton becoming for a time mixed-up in the mounting controversy surrounding the admiral’s final intentions towards his mistress. At Nelson’s funeral (8 January 1806), Blackwood acted as train-bearer of the chief mourner, Sir Peter Parker, the aged admiral of the fleet.Appointed to  Ajax (80 guns), in 1807 Blackwood joined the squadron under Sir John Duckworth in the expedition up the Dardanelles. At the entrance of the straits, on the night of 14 February 1806, the Ajax caught fire through the drunken carelessness of the purser’s steward, and was totally destroyed, with the loss of nearly half the ship’s company. Blackwood himself was picked up hanging on to an oar, almost perished with cold, after nearly an hour in the water. Declining a post at the Navy Board, Blackwood was then appointed to the command of Warspite (74 guns) in which he joined the very harassing blockade of Toulon. He returned to England at the end of 1812, but remained in command of the Warspite for another year. On 4 June 1814 he attained the rank of rear-admiral, and in August 1819 was nominated a KCB, and appointed commander-in-chief in the East Indies, from which station he returned in December 1822. He became vice-admiral in May 1825, and from 1827 to 1830 he was commander-in-chief at the Nore.

Blackwood married three times. On 12 January 1795 he married Jane Mary, née Crosbie; she died on 19 January 1798, without surviving children. On 3 June 1799 he married Eliza, daughter of Martin Waghorn; they had one son (later the second baronet) and she died on 30 October 1802. On 9 May 1803 he married Harriet, née Gore; they had several children and she died on 5 May 1851. Two of his sons became captains in the navy. Blackwood died on 17 December 1832, at Ballyleidy, the seat of his eldest brother, Lord Dufferin and Claneboye. Blackwood was typical of that generation of daring frigate captains, including Edward Pellew and William Hoste,  which was immortalized to brilliant effect in Patrick O’Brian’s fictional Jack Aubrey. However, undoubtedly his greatest fame today lies in his intimate role in the last day of Nelson’s life and his actions in the immediate aftermath of Trafalgar.   


Martyn Downer

General’s silver recalls the battle of Waterloo

On May 3rd, 2014 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

As the bicentenary of the battle of Waterloo approaches in June 2015, we are offering for sale a group of silver flatware from the personal collection of General Sir Frederick Adam (1784–1853) who led a brigade in the decisive last hours of the action. Of aristocratic Scottish ancestry, Adam joined the army in 1795 securing a captaincy in the Coldstream Guards by 1799. In 1801 he landed with General Sir Ralph Abercromby’s army in Egypt seeing action at the battle of Alexandria on 21 March. Following the Peace of Amiens, he joined the 21st Regiment of Foot as Lieutenant Colonel leading the 1st Battalion with distinction against the French invasion of Sicily in 1810. Adam was described as having a striking appearance, upright, with ‘snow-white’ hair from an early age, clear blue eyes, and ‘the most pleasing smile’ whilst socially he had ‘the utmost courtesy, the kindest manner, the most amiable gentleness in conversation’ . He was, nevertheless, a strict military disciplinarian. Back in England, he was appointed an aide-de-camp to the Prince Regent and married, although his wife sadly died within a year in childbirth. Now Colonel, he returned to the war in Spain facing a series of fierce engagements at Alicante, Tarragona and Ordal which left him severely wounded in the hand and arm.  After convalescence in England and further promotion to major-general, Adam returned to command the  3rd brigade in Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton’s division at Waterloo. Comprising battalions of the 52nd, 71st, and 95th regiments, the brigade was defensively positioned for much of the 18 June 1815 above Hougoumont on Wellington’s right flank seeing only occasional skirmishing. However, around 5pm, Adam led the brigade forward attacking the flank of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard when it engaged the British guards in a frontal attack. After fierce fighting, the Imperial Guard made a last stand in squares on either side of the La Belle Alliance where they were again charged by Adam’s Brigade, throwing them into confusion.  At 8.30, with the French in retreat and victory at hand,  Wellington ordered Adam to dislodge a well defended battery of French artillery which was preventing a general pursuit of the enemy.  Adam bravely obliged earning a mention in dispatches from Wellington though at personal cost as he suffered another grievous wound in the closing stages of the battle.

The battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

The battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

For his gallantry at Waterloo, Adam was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). In addition, he was appointed a knight of the Austrian order of Maria Theresa and of the Russian order of St Anne, both first class. With the end of the European war, Adam saw no further action serving instead as a lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands from 1824 to 1832 – during the diplomatically fraught struggle by the Greeks for independence from Turkey – then, reluctantly, as governor of Madras until 1837.  However, these arduous services did earn him further honours. In 1833 Adam received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG) – a decoration originally designed to recognise services to the British protectorate of the Ionian Islands -  then, on 20 June 1840, he was raised to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB), the highest class of this prestigious award. He died, suddenly, in 1853. Remarkably his widow, his third wife Anne, survived until 1904.

General Frederick Adam wearing his KCMG and KCB

General Sir Frederick Adam wearing his KCMG and KCB

General Adam’s silver was made a few years after Waterloo in 1824. Each piece is engraved with the Adam family crest of “a cross crosslet fitchée gu., surmounted of a sword in saltire ppr” augmented, presumably after 1833, with a garter displaying the motto of the Order of the Bath suspending the general’s decorations, his KCB and KCMG. They illustrate pride in his achievements on the battlefield and as an administrator and give us a fascinating and intimate contact to one of the principal commanders in the most celebrated action of the Napoleonic era.

General Adams' crest augmented with his decorations

General Adam’s crest within the motto of the Order of the Bath and augmented with his decorations


Martyn Downer

Dance to fame: Re-discovered silver from the origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London

On March 19th, 2014 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Silver dish presented to George Dance R.A. by fellow members of the Royal Academy of Arts

Silver dish presented to George Dance R.A. by fellow members of the Royal Academy of Arts


George Dance (1741-1825) was the stereotype Georgian polymath: a talented musician, he was also a highly accomplished artist and City of London dignitary. But his principal fame today rests as an architect. His training in Italy made him an early exponent of the Classical style which came to prevail in 18th century England.  In 1768, Dance succeeded his father as Clerk of the City works so was at the vanguard of the major redevelopment of Georgian London which ensued as uniform terraces, squares and crescents stretched out from the City’s hub. Major London commissions included Finsbury Circus, Newgate Prison, St Luke’s Hospital and the Guildhall. As a City legislator, he defined and initiated planning laws leaving a permanent imprint on London. Away from town, Dance was also sought by wealthy clients to re-model or build country mansions in voguish neo-classical style although his flair for bold, imaginative design made the buildings distinctly and uniquely his own. This confidence and intelligence of Classical vision was passed to Dance’s most celebrated pupil John Soane who built his fame on Dance’s artistic legacy. Highly regarded and well-connected (Haydn was a personal friend), it is unsurprising that in 1768 Dance was sought as one of the forty founding members of the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts becoming Professor of Architecture at the new Academy schools in 1798 (although he never delivered a lecture and was fined for not exhibiting work).

The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, 1795 by Henry Singleton. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, 1795 by Henry Singleton. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London



George Dance depicted centre left, head turned to his right. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

George Dance depicted centre left, head turned to his right. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

In later life, Dance drew a series of vivid and revealing profile portraits of his fellow RA members and other personalities in Regency London. These he described as’a great relaxation from the severer studies and more laborious employment of my professional life’ . It was as an able administrator, however, that Dance  best served the fledgling institution. In 1795, together with fellow architect and sculptor William Tyler, he was commissioned to prepare a report on the academy’s parlous finances.  Subsequently both men were appointed auditors working diligently to repair the accounts. On 2nd February 1799, the Council, with Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the RA in the chair, voted Dance and Tyler a silver cup of the value of twenty- five guineas: “for the very great services they had rendered in investigating and settling the accounts of the Royal Academy up to the present year”. When Tyler died in 1801, Dance continued in the task alone, even after he resigned his Chair in 1805. In 1809, he received a further, larger, grant of £50 for silver in recognition of “the ability and fidelity with which he long discharged the office of Auditor” which was spent on a pair of silver dishes from leading silversmith Robert Garrard. These newly discovered dishes – designed for serving during first and second courses – are decorated  inside and out with Dance’s family crest of a horse’s head wreathed with oak leaves and motto:  Virtutem Sequitur Fama (“Fame follows virtue”) and engraved with the presentation inscription:


Presented by the Royal Academy


In grateful acknowledgment of his disinterested services as AUDITOR



After suffering a stroke in 1815, Dance withdrew from his public and professional life and – having outlived all his fellow founding members of the RA – died ten years later on 14 January 1825. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral at the heart of the city he shaped. His silver dishes offer a fascinating glimpse into the early, and often precarious, life of the world famous Royal Academy and into the personalities of its founding members.

Martyn Downer

Of crowns and coronets.

On October 20th, 2013 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

On 16 June 2008, with fitting symmetry and elaborate ceremony, Prince William, now duke of Cambridge, was invested by his grandmother the Queen as the 1,000th member of The Order of the Garter. The prince joined an illustrious and highly exclusive band of fellow knights, the latest in a line stretching back  to the 14th century when the Order, the most highly prestigious order of chivalry in England, was founded by King Edward III. Limited to no more than just 24 members plus the reigning monarch and prince of Wales,  the Order assembles once a year for the Garter Service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.  Vacancies are filled exclusively by invitation of the monarch with investiture taking place on the morning of the Garter Service in the throne room of the castle. Knights are entitled to wear a star badge, depicting the cross of St George and the distinctive blue riband  of office.In addition, for the Garter Service and other high state ceremonials, they wear a rich velvet mantle, or cloak, emblazoned with the badge of St George encircled with the order motto: HONI SOIT QUI MALE Y PENSE; a velvet Tudor style bonnet, a heavy chain of office supporting a model of St George and the dragon and a velvet garter, again displaying the order motto, around their left calf.  The origin of the garter from which, of course, the Order takes its name, is disputed. The most popular legend involves the “Countess of Salisbury” (either Edward III’s future daughter-in-law Joan of Kent or her former mother-in-law, Catherine Montacute, Countess of Salisbury). While she was dancing at a court ball at Calais, her garter is said to have slipped from her leg. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” (“Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it.”), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order .

Following their investiture, knights are allocated a stall in the medieval quire of St George’s chapel.  The stall is marked in perpetuity by an engraved and enamelled nameplate. Above the stall is displayed a carved replica of a knight’s sword, his banner, his helm or helmet and a carved and painted representation of the heraldic crest for the knight’s helmet (or coronet if a sovereign). These symbols directly link the order to its medieval origins when these symbols were used for recognising a knight in the heat of battle. (Until the 18th century, miscreant or treasonable knights were forced to endure a ceremony of degradation watching as a herald climbed up a ladder to remove his  banner, crest, helm, and sword, before throwing them down into the quire. Then the rest of the heralds kicked them down the length of the chapel, out of the doors, and into the castle ditch).chapel-crests4s

On the death of a knight, his insignia are surrendered to the monarch and his banner, sword, helm and crest removed from his stall and returned to his family.  A wonderful exhibition at Arundel Castle, West Sussex is currently displaying some forty five crests and coronets removed from the chapel during the reign of the present Queen, including those of Sir Winston Churchill (invested 1953) Field Marshall Viscount Alanbrooke; Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein; the Duke of Windsor (sometime Edward VIII); the last Emperor of Ethiopia; Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone; the Earl of Longford; and Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (formerly Harold Wilson).

These precious and exclusive family relics are very rarely sold. So we are delighted to offer two surviving examples dating back to the 19th century.

The first is the carved crest of George Robinson, Marquess of Ripon (1827-1909), a distinguished politician and diplomat who was invested as a knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Victoria in 1869 before taking his seat in stall no.16 on the north side of the quire in St George’s Chapel. The son of a prime minister, Robinson was born at 10 Downing Street and followed his father into politics. He sat in the cabinet of Lord Palmerston (and every succeeding liberal cabinet until his death almost fifty years later) and, when Gladstone came to power in 1880, was appointed Viceroy of India. His wide ranging and exhausting sounding career also encompassed roles as president of the Royal Geographical Society, a trustee of the National Gallery,  chancellor of Leeds University and, before he converted to Catholicism, grand master of the Freemasons in England.

Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon in his Garter robes and insignia by Francis Derwent Wood, which stands in Victoria Gardens, Calcutta.

Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon in his Garter robes and insignia by Francis Derwent Wood, which stands in Victoria Gardens, Calcutta.

Crest of the Marquess of Ripon, formerly above his stall in the quire of St George's Chapel, WIndsor,

Crest of the Marquess of Ripon, formerly above his stall in the quire of St George’s Chapel, WIndsor,

The second crest was displayed above stall no. 16 on the south side of the chapel belonging to William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne (1859-1942), who was invested by King Edward VII in 1909 (replacing the recently deceased Marquis of Ripon). Selbourne was a liberal politician serving as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord Salisbury’s cabinet before travelling to South Africa as governor of the Transvaal and Orange river colonies. During the First World War, Selbourne was President of the Board of Agriculture although, as a fervent unionist, he resigned from prime minister Lloyd George’s wartime cabinet in 1916 over the vexed question of Home Rule for Ireland, never achieving high office again.


William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne painted in Garter Robes by Philip de Lazlo

William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne painted in Garter Robes by Philip de Lazlo

Crest of William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne

Crest of William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne






Martyn Downer

Admiral Lord Nelson’s Nile silver

On May 21st, 2013 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Listed for sale at My Family Silver.


We are thrilled to have been instructed by the descendants of Lord Nelson to offer for sale the most important item of silver belonging to the admiral still remaining in his family’s collection. The silver entree dish by Paul Storr, London 1800 was presented to Nelson by Lloyd’s Coffee House (later Lloyd’s of London) after the battle of the Nile  in 1798. The dish, which was last exhibited in England in 1891, will be on show on our stand at the Fine Art and Antiques Fair, Olympia from 6 to 16 June 2013. Complimentary ticket to Olympia. It will be a very exciting opportunity to see a magnificent personal relic of one of England’s greatest heroes. Over the last decade, as a specialist dealer, I have handled some of the greatest treasures and artefacts relating to Nelson – from his bloodstained purse to his pocket watch – but the emergence of this wonderful fully documented dish is a landmark moment for students, enthusiasts and scholars of the admiral. A full history of the dish, and of the story of the Nile presentation silver, is published below.

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Admiral Lord Nelson’s Nile silver

I shall take my plate with me: sink or swim it goes with me’.

Admiral Lord Nelson, February 1801



During the night of 1-2 August 1798, off the coast of Egypt, Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson scored one of the most extraordinary and dramatic victories in British naval history. Leading a squadron of fourteen warships in a highly daring manoeuvre, Nelson engaged the French fleet in fading light whilst it lay at anchor, and apparent safety, in the bay of Aboukir near the mouth of the Nile. By morning, eleven enemy warships were captured or destroyed, eliminating the French naval threat in the Mediterranean and lifting the danger to British and allied interests in the east as far as India. It was a sensational event thrusting Nelson and his ‘Band of Brothers’ of Nile captains into celebrity. They all shared in the rewards of prize money and gold medals but inevitably it was Nelson who was showered with titles and glittering gifts from relieved monarchs and grateful trade interests across Europe. In April 1800, even before Nelson was back in England, the Naval Chronicle published a summary chronicling and valuing this extravagant outpouring.  It included flamboyant presentation swords from Nelson’s fellow officers and the King of the Two Sicilies; diamond set boxes from the Emperor of Russia (value £2500) and King of Sardinia (value £1200) and a diamond and gold walking cane from the Island of Zante. The despotic Sultan of Turkey, being especially thankful for his country’s liberation, was especially generous (even his mother gave Nelson a diamond box). He sent military trophies and decorated the admiral with a Chelengk a fine large jewel designed as an aigrette of diamonds and a traditional award for bravery, though one rarely given to foreigners. So struck was Nelson by this gift that he wore it, in traditional Ottoman manner, on his headgear and, following his elevation the peerage as Baron Nelson of the Nile, incorporated the design as a crest in his newly augmented coat of arms.

Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805)

Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) painted by Lemuel Abbott on his return to London in 1800 after the battle of the Nile. Nelson is wearing the Chelengk awarded to him by the Sultan of Turkey. Copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Whilst Nelson remained in Naples following his victory—embroiling himself in a civil war and an affair with the wife of the British ambassador—plans were rapidly advanced in England to rival the generosity of her many colourful allies. It was the merchants in the City of London, so dependent on security of trade in the Mediterranean, who demonstrated their gratitude in the most prodigious manner. The Turkish Company commissioned a silver cup to be presented to Nelson, the Corporation of the City of London arranged a gold and enamel sword, the prestigious Drapers’ Company made him a liveryman whilst the directors of the East India Company voted to give Nelson the huge (and sorely needed) sum of £10,000 in recognition of his achievement. Happily, attention was not solely focused on the admiral but also on his comrades. On 2nd October, the very day news of the victory reached London; the Morning Chronicle published an announcement from Lloyd’s Coffee House launching:


A subscription for the relief of the Widows and Children of the Brave Men who fell in the service of their KING and COUNTRY and for such as have been wounded in the glorious victory obtained by the British Fleet, under command of Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, Knight of the Bath over the French fleet the First of August in the Mediterranean


Since the outbreak of war with France in 1793, the merchants and underwriters at Lloyd’s Coffee House in the City of London had subscribed to a series of ad hoc funds to support the wounded and dependents of those officers killed in action at sea and, on occasion, to reward individuals for outstanding bravery or leadership with an award in silver. Naturally City self-interest in granting the awards to promote the protection of British merchant shipping ensured the success of the funds. Nevertheless, in an era of official disinterest in such matters, they were the first organised and sustained attempt to provide for families devastated by war and to reward officers by merit not status.  In 1803 the various subscription funds coalesced into the Patriotic Fund—which continues to this day—under the founding directorship of Sir John Julius Angerstein, a City luminary, former chairman of Lloyd’s and a leading philanthropist of his age. The haphazard nature of the grants were formalised into a graded system of annuities whilst officers meriting individual reward were offered the choice of a specially designed Patriotic Fund sword, silver vase or money to like value.

Angerstein was very well qualified for the task having chaired the funds created after the battles of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 then, a year later, of the Nile.  The greater strategic importance of the Nelson’s victory in Egypt is well illustrated by the disparity in subscription: £2,615 for St Vincent compared to £38,436 eventually raised for the Nile. His first task after the Nile had been to enquire of Nelson as to casualties then came news that the fund committee had voted £500 (approximately £40,000 in today’s terms) to be awarded to the admiral himself specifically for the purchase of silver.  Possibly on account of Nelson’s continued absence in the Mediterranean, his uncertainty as to what to order or delay in the grant from Lloyd’s, it was not until November 1800, and the admiral’s return to London, that Rundell & Bridge, the celebrated crown jewellers on Ludgate Hill, submitted an ‘Estimate for a Service of Dishes for The Right Honble Lord Nelson’.


Estimate of a Service of Dishes for the Right Hon. Lord Nelson by Rundell & Bridge. Courtesy Sothebys. .

The estimate details eight oval dishes (plates), four circular dishes (plates), four circular casserole dishes with covers and Chelengk crests, and four oblong ‘double’ dishes also with covers and crests, otherwise known as entrée dishes. An accompanying diagram and description of how the dishes could be arranged at table—in the hand of Alexander Davison, Nelson’s friend and agent, who was charged with organising the silver—not only offers insight into the evolution of the order but also fascinating detail into the dining habits of the day. Davison, like Nelson, was a self-made man and the anxiety of both men to imitate the lifestyle of the aristocracy is clearly apparent. The worldlier Davison’s annotated instructions on how to use the dishes reads like an exercise in social manners. So he carefully explains how some dishes are recycled between courses whilst others remain on table. The ‘new pattern double oblong Dishes’ with removable crests serve both purposes as they ‘come on in the first course with covers, which covers take off & are used as Dishes in the second course ’.



Suggested arrangement and use of the dishes on the table. Courtesy Sotheby’s.




Invoice for the Nile Service from Rundell & Bridge. Courtesy Sothebys.



On 20 November 1800 Rundell & Bridge estimated the cost of the service just over budget at £550. Four days later they submitted a more detailed statement, in the form of a pro-forma invoice, for £627.0.2s. As Nelson was in London at this time—he had visited  the City on 6 November, when he likely met Angerstein, and had taken his seat in the House of Lords as Baron Nelson of the Nile on the 20th—there had presumably been a meeting to discuss the service.  The increase in price is accounted for by the expense of two additional oval plates, arranging a ‘strong iron bound Wainscot Chest’ for storing the service (now in collection of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth) and engraving very lengthy presentation inscriptions on the covers of the eight double dishes. The wording, which was presumably proposed by Angerstein, encapsulates the sentiment of the gift:



Lloyd’s 1800. Presented by the Committee, for managing a Subscription made for the Wounded and Relatives of the Killed at the Battle of the Nile, To Vice Admiral Lord Nelson and Duke of Bronti (sic), K.B., &c, &c, &c, who was there wounded, As a testimony of the sense they entertain of his Brilliant Services on the first of August, 1798, when a British Fleet under his Command obtained a most decisive victory over a Superior French Force. J. J. Angerstein, Chairman

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The ‘4 neat double oblong double dishes to divide & serve for eight’ cost £120.18s.7d. As ‘Modelling & chasing crests for buttons to do to screw off’ cost a further £10.10s 0d; the total price for the four entrée dishes was £131 8s 7d, or the equivalent of about £10,000 today. Despite the significant   over spend, Davison has neatly annotated the bill ‘paid for by Lloyd’s Coffee House’.

Rundell & Bridge gave the work to the workshops of Paul Storr in Air Street Soho, an up and coming silversmith who had also made the Turkish Company cup. Despite Nelson’s entreaties, it took six months to finish the service with Davison patiently explaining in January 1801 that ‘Rundle (sic) and Bridge are exerting themselves to finish your plate, but it requires time, and being confined to a few hands to work upon it’. As the service was of a plain form with conventional gadroon pattern borders, it must have been modelling, casting, chasing and engraving the unusual Chelengk crests for the eight dish covers which took the time. It can be assumed that Nelson showed Rundells his Chelengk—about which there had been a great deal of wild speculation in London— though Storr’s version differs significantly from known images of it. Nevertheless, as the Chelengk was stolen and lost from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in 1951, the model in silver gives a tantalising feel of this almost mythical jewel.

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The Chelengk out of a naval coronet is Nelson’s crest on the cover of the dish

On 22 April 1801, Davison finally reported the service finished and being fitted to its travelling case ready for sending out to Nelson at sea in the Baltic.  Embroiled in the bitter separation from his wife following discovery of his affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton; no doubt Nelson wished to keep the silver close at hand rather than risk losing it in possible proceedings. ‘I shall take my plate with me’ he had told Davison in February, ‘sink or swim it goes with me’. Ironically, by the time Nelson took possession of his Nile service, he had earned a second grant of £500 for silver from Lloyd’s Coffee House, having conquered the Danish fleet at the battle of Copenhagen on 2 April. Unlike its bespoke predecessor, however, items for the Copenhagen service were bought from the stocks of a variety of London silversmiths possibly to achieve better value for money and also because Nelson, now enjoying his dishes, needed general items such as plates, sauce tureens and salts to, as he instructed Davison, ‘make a complete set’.

After Nelson’s death at Trafalgar his, by then, very extensive collections of silver (including some 150 pieces by Rundells) were shared out haphazardly between his estranged wife, his brother and sisters, and his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton. Over the years since, most items have been offered for sale at least once and scattered into private and public collections around the world. But it is the original Nile service, extending to only twenty two pieces by the leading silversmith of his age and Nelson’s first significant award, which retains the utmost scarcity and most appeal for collectors. For instance, in the spate of auctions to coincide with the bicentenary of Trafalgar in 2005, Bonhams in London sold two oval and two circular plates from the Nile service for a total price of £195,600. However, it is the eight principal dishes with their Chelengk (or aigrette) crests which are the very greatest trophies. Their histories after the death of Nelson suggest that they were shared between Nelson’s sisters and his mistress. In 1814, as she faced financial ruin, Emma Hamilton signed a deed of sale for ‘four casseroles covers and aigrettes’. Three of these then appeared for sale at Christies in 1895 at the dispersal of the magnificent collection of inherited Nelson relics and artefacts belonging to Viscount Bridport, the grandson of Nelson’s brother William, Earl Nelson. They were bought by Lady Llangattock who gifted them to the newly established Nelson Museum, Monmouth on her death in 1923. The four ‘new pattern double oblong Dishes’, or entrée dishes, had a more secure future. Three of them, provenanced to the family of Nelson’s sister Catherine Matcham, were purchased for the Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s of London in 1910. The fourth was last seen at the Royal Naval Exhibition at Chelsea in 1891 so its re-appearance is a moment of significant interest to collectors, scholars and enthusiasts of Nelson.

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Further reading:


Warren R.Dawson (ed.) The Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s, 1932

Martyn Downer, Nelson’s Purse: The Extraordinary Story of Lord Nelson’s Lost Treasure, 2004

Rina Prentice, The Authentic Nelson (2005)

Leslie Southwick, ‘The Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s of London’, Trafalgar Chronicle, 1996. pp. 71-86


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