DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DETECTOR LOCKS?

When Louisa and I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in May, I saw the item above, labeled as being a “Detector Lock,” which allowed its owner to see if anyone had opened the lock in their absence. I had never seen one before, or knew that such a lock existed, so I did some further research. Here’s the lock’s description from the V&A website:

British Galleries: By 1700 British locksmiths were famous for their technical and decorative skills. Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, probably ordered this lock when he visited England in 1669. It has two dials that indicate how often it has been opened; one is a dummy, to provide extra security.

Object Type
This highly ornate ‘detector’ lock was intended for the door of a private apartment or an office in a royal palace. Such locks were often carried by their owners when travelling and used in different residences.

Historical Association
The lock bears the arms of Cosimo III de’ Medici. He visited London in 1669, the year before he became Grand Duke of Tuscany, and possibly ordered this lock on that occasion. The maker, Richard Bickford, was the most famous locksmith in London and a visit to his shop would have been on the itinerary of an important visitor.

Maker
The lock is signed on the rim by Richard Bickford. He was one of a family of locksmiths who worked for wealthy patrons. A few years earlier the Bickfords had made a jewel casket for Queen Mary, also displayed in the British Galleries.

Design & Materials
The ornament on this lock is similar to other fine metalwork by the Bickfords. It consists of finely chiselled, pierced and engraved gilt brass, mounted above panels of blued steel which provide a vivid and brilliant colour contrast.

Above is another, more elaborate example of a Detector Lock in the V&A collections, created by British locksmith John Wilkes around 1680. You can watch a video that explains how it works here.

 

 

VICTORIA AND ALBERT – ART AND LOVE

Eight years ago (!?) Victoria and I were fortunate enough to attend the Victoria & Albert exhibition in London. Over the years, we have traveled the length and breadth of England together and have had some fabulous experiences, but the one experience we always come back to is this one. It stands alone. In fact, we recently reminisced about it again when we were in England in May, so we’ve decided to run this post, which originally ran in 2010, again for anyone who missed it then.

One of the highlights of the London leg of our tour, and one of the visits Victoria and I had been most looking forward to, was the Victoria and Albert: Art and Love Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. I knew it was going to be fabulous, but had no idea how deeply it would affect me.

Upon going through the security checkpoint, we ascended the stone steps to the first gallery in the Exhibition. As we entered, the first thing Victoria and I saw was the portrait below hanging on the far wall.

Winterhalter’s now iconic painting was intended to hang at the family retreat of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. It was exhibited in 1847 at St James’s Palace, where it was seen by 100,000 people. However, the picture was not well received by some of the Press, who criticised its ”sensuous and fleshy” character. Having seen this image over and over in various books, and having a framed print of it in my office, it was breathtaking to realize that we were now gazing upon the original. Once I’d gotten over the initial shock, I looked around the rest of the room, only to find myself being presented with almost every well known, and loved, portrait of the Royal Family done by Winterhalter – in the flesh, so to speak. And all in the same room.  Good thing there were benches provided, as I had to sit down and collect myself.
This gorgeous portrait, commissioned by Queen Victoria and given to Prince Albert on his birthday, 26 August 1843, hung on an adjoining wall. Victoria was just 24 when Winterhalter completed the painting, which was later described as her husband Albert’s “favourite picture.” It’s always been one of my favorites, too, most especially because it breaks the “Victorian” mould by showing Victoria as she was with Albert – a passionate, sensuous woman deeply in love with her Prince.
Queen Victoria and her cousin the Duchess of Neomurs 1852

The painting above captures Queen Victoria with her cousin,Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld-Kohary, who was the daughter of Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Princess Antonie de Kohary. Her father was the second son of Francis Frederick, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta Reuss-Ebersdorf. She married Louis d’Orléans, Duc de Nemours, on 27 April 1840, in Saint-Cloud. Depicted with her hair down and shoulder exposed, Winterhalter again captured Victoria, the young woman, rather than Victoria, the Queen.  She looks relaxed and quite girl-ish as she sits companionably with and holds her cousin’s hand.
The two full length portraits above were commissioned from Winterhalter in 1842.
The First of May: The Duke of Wellington Presenting a Casket on Prince Arthur’s Birthday
Yes, this painting above was also hanging in the same room. I got as close as possible to the canvas and studied the way Winterhalter had painted the fabrics, the skin tones. Truly amazing.

Also in the same gallery were the two portraits below by Edwin Landseer –

Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos 1841
Eos, A Favorite Greyhound, the Property of H.R.H. Prince Albert. 1841

Queen Victoria commissioned this portait of Eos, Prince Albert’s greyhound, about which I’ve posted before. Prince Albert got Eos when he was fourteen years old and brought her with him when he moved to England. This is another print that I’ve had framed in my office for years. The subject matter, the composition and Landseer’s use of four colors – white, black, red and gold – make this a striking portrait that’s always appealed to me. Eos herself lived a fascinating life, about which I’ll be posting soon. I hadn’t realized just how large the original painting is – 111.8 x 142.9 cm. or about 4 x 5 feet. Another bench was well placed directly before this portrait and I sat gazing at it for sometime. Eventually, I did rouse myself and went to see the rest of the rooms in the Exhibition but, truly, my mind and my heart remained in the first Gallery, to which I returned after a decent interval, telling Vicky she’d find me there whenever she was ready to go.

There were so many highlights on our trip, but I’ll always be grateful for our visit to Art and Love, which gave us the opportunity to see so many of these paintings hanging beside each other. No doubt it will be a long time before that occurs again and I will always remember the special meaning that day had for both Victoria and myself.

Victoria H. chiming in here with a few more favorites from the exhibition. The catalogue says one of these apple blossom brooches was the first gift Albert sent to his fiance. In later years he added to the collection, including more gold, porcelain and enamel brooches and a wreath for the hair. Victoria always wore them on her wedding anniversary.
This piano of gilded, painted and varnished mahogany and other materials dates from 1856. Both Victoria and Albert played, often performing duets for themselves which Albert had written. The grand piano was designed to be a showpiece in the Buckingham Palace State Rooms. One of the most prominent persons to play it was the composer Felix Mendelssohn, who was a friend of the royal couple.
A throne of carved ivory with gold and gemstone decorations was shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, presented to Queen Victoria by the Maharaja of Travancore.  In 1876, when she became Empress of India, she was pictured sitting on this throne.  The detail is amazing.  One of the guards told us that it needed to be cleaned recently and when it was being disassembled, the curators of the Royal Collection found that it was cleverly constructed to fold up entirely flat.  Made it much easier to ship from India, for sure.
Landseer painted Victoria and Albert in their outfits for the first costume ball they held in 1842. The Buckingham Palace Throne Room was decorated with gothic tenting to delight the 2,000+ guests. Victoria is dressed as Queen Philippa of Hainault, consort of Edward III, portrayed here by Albert. The catalogue says these costumes were designed to give maximum employment to the silk weavers of Spitalfields.
Queen Victoria commissioned marble copies of her children’s forearms and feet. The carvings were based on a plaster cast made from moulds taken while the child slept. This is the hand of Victoria, Princess Royal.
We could go on almost forever about ths fascinating exhibit, but I will close with something unexpected. Neither Victoria nor Albert had a large sum of money to spend on gifts for each other. About 2,000 pounds each per year, which is not peanuts, but neither would a comparable amount in today’s values buy a Van Gogh or Monet.  So they shopped and chose very carefully, often commissioning gifts for each other based on their individual or mutual interests.  Sometimes Albert gave Victoria a song he had written and she gifted him with watercolours of their homes, favorite places and the children.
When one sees how devoted they were to each other and how they enjoyed their family life, it is easier to understand Victoria’s intense sorrow and long, long period of mourning for Albert when he died at the relatively young age of 42, leaving her a widow for 40 years until her own death in 1901.
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Interested in all things Victorian? Consider joining us on the Queen Victoria Tour as we explore Her Majesty’s life, homes and long reign.

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: BOWOOD HOUSE

As part of the itinerary for the Georgian Tour this past April, our group spent a day at Bowood House, home to the Marquesses of Lansdowne since 1754. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer – the original Bowood House was demolished and the Grade I listed Orangery converted to a family home. Compare the photo above to those below:

Bowood House from Morris’s County Seats (1880), as found on Wikipedia

The Bowood estate was originally part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the Crown until the early 18th century, when construction of a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd Earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie. Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st Earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house. In the 1770s, the two parts of the house at Bowood (the “Big House” and the “Little House”) were joined together by the construction of an enormous drawing room.

From Wikipedia: “In World War I, the 5th Marchioness set up an auxiliary Red Cross hospital in the Orangery. During World War II, the Big House was first occupied by a school, then by the Royal Air Force. Afterwards it was left empty, and by 1955 it was so dilapidated that the 8th Marquess demolished it, employing architect F. Sortain Samuels to convert the Little House into a more comfortable home. But before it was demolished, the Adam dining room was auctioned and bought by the Lloyd’s of London insurance market, which dismantled it and re-installed it as the Committee Room in its 1958 building. The room was subsequently moved in 1986 to the 11th floor of its current building, also on Lime Street in the City of London.”

The visitor’s approach to the House is through a portion of the Capability Brown designed landscape and once again, we had glorious weather –

The Italianate terrace gardens on the south front of the house were commissioned by the 3rd Marquess. The Upper Terrace, by Sir Robert Smirke, was completed in 1818, and the Lower, by George Kennedy, was added in 1851. Originally planted with hundreds of thousands of annuals in intricate designs, the parterres are now more simply planted.

Nearly 300 years worth of amazing artifacts and antiques from the family history are on display in the house, but of course, my favourite room was the library.

Above, the family Chapel, located in what was once the laboratory where Joseph Priestley discovered Oxygen in 1774.

Note the decorative door knob and keyhole covers above.

One of the most recognizable items on display at Bowood is Lord Byron’s Albanian costume. Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, daughter of Admiral Lord Keith, was a close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in Regency-era society. Another good friend was the poet Lord Byron, who gifted Meg with the Albanian costume in which he was famously painted about 1813. Meg was also portrayed in the outfit, that engraving also being on display at Bowood. So how did the original costume come to be at Bowood? Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and was mother to the 5th Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, by Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume, photo by Victoria Hinshaw

Several more examples of historic costume are also on display.

Family items in the Bowood collection included jewelry, swords, china and more, but personally, I found this portrait miniature fascinating, as I’d never seen another like it before. I’ve since learned that this type of portrait miniature (above and below) was known as a transformation miniature and featured multiple mica discs that in effect allowed one to change the costume worn by the sitter. From The Royal Collection Trust website: “The mid-seventeenth century saw a vogue for an unusual type of miniature which could be dressed in a variety of different outfits by placing painted transparent overlays on top of the master image. Constructed from very thin slices of the mineral mica, these overlays included male and female outfits with appropriate accessories. When placed on top of the portrait, these semi-transparent discs transformed the costume and hairstyle of the sitter, creating a new composite picture, much like outfitting a modern paper doll. It seems likely that the purpose of such a set was to provide entertainment.”

Once again, a fabulous time was had by all at Bowood, but the day wasn’t over yet –

ALL THE RIGHT SNUFF

Many snuff-takers, following the example of Frederick the Great of Prussia, made it a hobby to collect snuff-boxes, Beau Brummell having had a very curious and extensive assortment. On one occasion, when dining at Portman Square, on the removal of the cloth, the snuff-boxes made their appearance, and Brummell’s was particularly admired. It was handed round for inspection, and a gentleman, finding it rather difficult to open, incautiously applied a dessert knife to the lid. Poor Brummell was on thorns. At last he could not contain himself any longer, and, addressing the host, said, with his characteristic quaintness — “Will you be good enough to tell your friend that my snuff-box is not an oyster?”

Tortoise shell and silver snuff box,
courtesy of Ernest Johnson Antiques

Beau Brummell also prided himself on his graceful manner of opening the snuff-box with one hand only—the left. Judging from a satirical advertisement which appeared in the Spectator, it would seem that much attention was paid to this act, which afforded an opportunity of displaying the jewelled finger. So important was the act of opening a snuff box that classes were offered:

“The exercise of the snuffbox, according to the most fashionable airs and motions in opposition to the exercise of the fan, will be taught with the best plain or perfumed snuff, at Charles Lillie’s, perfumer, at the corner of Beaufort Buildings, in the Strand, and attendance given for the benefit of the young merchants about the Exchange for two hours every day, at noon, except Saturdays, at a toy-shop, near Garraway’s Coffee House. There will be likewise taught the ceremony of the snuff-box, or rules for offering snuff to a stranger, a friend, or a mistress, according to the degrees of familiarity or distance, with an explanation of the careless, the scornful, the politic, and the surly pinch, and the gestures proper to each of them.”

Another great collector of snuff-boxes was Edward Wortley Montagu, the eccentric son of Lady Mary, who is said to have possessed more boxes than “would suffice a Chinese idol with a hundred noses,” a collection which perhaps was never equalled unless by that of George IV, who was not less extravagant and recherche in snuff and snuff-boxes than in other things.

Then there was Lord Petersham, who boasted a stock of snuffs worth three thousand pounds, while he had boxes adapted for all occasions— boxes for winter wear, boxes for summer use. Indeed, the story goes that he had a different box for every day in the year, and Captain Gronow saw him one day use a beautiful Sevres box, which on being admired, he said, “was a nice summer box, but would not do for winter wear.” He was a great connoisseur of snuffs, and “Lord Petersham’s Mixture” has long been proverbial as a popular snuff. He actually devoted one room of his mansion in Whitehall Gardens to properly storing his snuff. That room was a curiosity in its way, with its rows of well-made jars, and proper materials of all kinds for the due admixture, and management, of the snuffs they contained, under the able superintendence of a well-informed man, who was the guardian angel thereof. After the earl’s death the collection was sold, and prices that seem fabulous to the uninitiated were realized for the finer sorts.

Lord Stanhope used to calculate that a regular snuff-taker took one pinch every ten minutes, each pinch, and its accompanying ceremonies, occupying a minute and a half. One minute and a half out of every ten, it has been pointed out, if sixteen hours be allowed to the day, gives two hours and twenty-four minutes per day, or thirty-six and a half days in the year as the time wasted by a snuff-taker upon his nose.

On the other hand, Talleyrand defended snufftaking, not as a habit, but on principle. He maintained that all diplomatists ought to take snuff, as it afforded them an opportunity of delaying a reply which they might not have ready at hand. It further sanctioned, he said, the removal of one’s eyes from those of the interrogator, and occupied the hands, which otherwise might betray a nervous fidget calculated to expose, rather than conceal, his feelings.

Dryden was a snuff-taker, and was in the habit of frequenting Willis’ Coffee House, in Bow Street, Covent Garden, which consequently became one of the leading resorts of the wits of his time. Thus Ned Ward relates in his ” London Spy ” how “a parcel of raw, second-rate beaux and wits were conceited if they had but the honour to dip a finger into Mr. Dryden’s snuff-box.”

The eleventh Earl of Buchan—brother of Thomas Erskine, who by the force of his eloquence rose to be Lord Chancellor of England—was remarkable for his penuriousness, and eccentricity. In the year 1782 the Goldsmiths of Edinburgh presented him with a mounted snuff-box, made from the tree to which William Wallace had once been indebted for his safety. Ten years afterwards, however, Lord Buchan obtained permission from the Goldsmiths to give the snuff-box to Washington, at that time President of the United States. As a reason for so doing he maintained that Washington was the only man in the world to whom he thought the snuff-box justly due.

When a Mrs. Sterne was about to join her husband in Paris, in the year 1762, he wrote:— “You will find good tea upon the road from York to Dover. Only bring a little to carry you from Calais to Paris. Give the Custom-house Officer what I told you. At Calais give more, if you have much Scotch snuff; but, as tobacco is good here, you had best bring a Scotch mull, and make it yourself—that is, order your valet to manufacture it, ’twill keep him out of mischief;” and in another letter he adds, “You must be cautious about Scotch snuff; take half-a-pound in your pocket, and make Lyd do the same.”

When manager of Drury Lane Theatre, Garrick brought into fashion a particular snuff mixture. It appears that a man named Hardham had been his numberer—to count the audience in the theatre—and on inventing his
“mixture,” Garrick rendered him the following service. Whilst enacting the character of a man of fashion on the stage, Garrick offered a pinch of his snuff to a fellow comedian, observing that it was the most fashionable mixture of the day, and to be had only at Hardham’s, 37, Fleet Street. As may be imagined, the puff answered beyond Garrick’s expectation, and for many years afterwards Hardham’s was the favourite mixture, when snuff-taking was the rage and fashion of the time. It may be added that Hardham, having made a large fortune by his snuff trade in Fleet Street, retired to Chichester, where he died in the year 1772, bequeathing a portion of his well-earned wealth to charitable institutions of that city, which, by-the-bye, was his native place.


Sir Joshua Reynolds took snuff so freely when he was painting that it occasionally inconvenienced his sitters. The story goes that when he was painting the large picture at Blenheim of the Marlborough family, the Duchess one day ordered the servant to bring a broom and sweep up Sir Joshua’s snuff from the carpet; but Reynolds, who would not permit any interruption while engaged in his studio, ordered him to let the snuff remain until the completion of his picture, observing that the dust, raised by the broom, would do more injury to his picture than the snuff could possibly do to the carpet.

According to another story, a gentleman told Wilkie he’d sat to Sir Joshua, “who dabbled in a quantity of snuff, laid the picture on its back, shook it about till it settled like a batter-pudding, and then painted away.”

A TOUR GUIDE IN ENGLAND: LONGLEAT

As part of Number One London’s Georgian Tour, our group made a day trip to Longleat, family seat of the Marquesses of Bath. The house was built by Sir John Thynne and was designed mainly by Robert Smythson, after Longleat Priory was destroyed by fire in 1567. It took 12 years to complete and is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in Britain. Surrounded by 4,000 acres, the gardens were designed by Capability Brown. Today, Longleat is occupied by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, a direct descendant of the builder; however, management of the estate and all business passed to his son Viscount Weymouth early in 2010. This article may go some way towards explaining why. And of course Emma, Viscountess Weymouth, wife of the current heir, is Britain’s first black  member of the aristocracy.

But we weren’t there for family matters, we wanted to see the house. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside, so here are a few photos I swiped off the internet –

c Tripadvisor
c Longleat
c kidsandcompass.com

So, by the time we were through seeing the house, the skies looked like this –

Kind of half cloudy, half sunny. We’d been told there was a quaint country pub that did good food just about a mile away, at the end of one of the drives leading from Longleat, and we’d planned to walk there through the park.

“What do you think?” I asked the others.

“It’s definitely going to rain,” answered Andrea.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because I’m a charter boat captain,” she said, scanning the skies. “Gonna rain. Not that I mind, my jacket has a hood.”

In the end, the consensus was to risk it, and we started off. All was well until this happened –

Louisa and I were bringing up the rear and were also the only two without a hood or a hat. Well, I was wearing this cap, but it did no good.

“Why don’t you take that cap off? The rain is pouring down off the bill in a sheet. It looks like you’ve got a hose attached to your head,” Louisa said at last.

“I was ignoring it. And hoping you would, too.”

“Pretty hard to ignore,” Louisa said.

At last, the Bath Arms hove into view.

Louisa and I shouldered through the door together and found the others already ensconced at a fireside table. They looked at us askance. And well they should. We were both dripping water onto the floor.

“Told you it was going to rain,” said Andrea, as she perused the menu.

After pots of hot tea, generous portions of wine and a hot meal, the sun returned and we went outside to take in the scenery in Horningsham, the tiny village surrounding the pub.

I’m glad to be able to report that sun continued to shine from then on and that a good, if damp, time was had by all.