Discovering our collection piece by piece… #1 The Dutch Cabinet

There are many wonderful items in our collection here at Charlecote. In this post, chief House Elf

 Julie, takes a closer look at the Dutch Cabinet…

I wonder who made it?

This beautiful inlaid cabinet dates from c.1635-1733 and was made by one of the finest cabinet makers of the time, Jan van Mekeren. He was based inAmsterdamand asHollandwas a strong trading nation, he was able to buy all sorts of exotic woods for his work. Less than ten examples of van Mekeren’s work survive today making this an extra special piece of furniture.

Take a look inside the cabinet…

Hmmm, what is it made from?

The carcass of the cabinet is all of oak.  The woods used for the floral decoration include kingwood, tulipwood, ebony, rosewood, olive, holly, sycamore and mahogany.  This practice of veneering (or using thin layers of wood to make patterns on top of the main body of the furniture) allowed the cabinet maker to use small amounts of expensive materials for intricate designs.  It also allowed them to use more decorative woods that would have been too weak to use for the main body of the cabinet.

What was it used for?

A decorative cabinet on a stand like this one would have been a high status piece designed to show how wealthy the family were. It would have stood in a prominent position where it could be admired by guests to the house.

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The Fiona Factor

Last week the Midlands Region hosted a very special event in honour of our Director General, Fiona Reynolds. Volunteer, Emily tells us all about it…

As I’m sure you are all aware, Fiona Reynolds will be leaving the National Trust after 11 years as Director-General, and the Midlands region decided to say farewell with a lunch hosted by Calke Abbey.

I was lucky enough to be invited to represent Charlecote along with Stephen (Property manager) and Lauren (Retail Manager) and it was a fantastic afternoon.

The sun was shining (which was a welcome surprise!) and the food was really delicious…especially the home made victoria sponge (but you can always count on the Trust to do great cake!)

The Riding School, Calke. A great place for a celebration!

The lunch and afternoon tea were held in the Riding School and the venue was really delightful, the volunteers at Calke had handmade their own bunting which brightened the space, and the garden team had put together some lovely flowers as a backdrop to the speeches.

It was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet people from across the regions and for Stephen and Lauren to catch up with old friends and colleagues.

Beccy (Regional Director) presenting Fiona with gifts!

The speeches highlighted how much Fiona means to the Trust and the impact she has had on the organisation as a whole. There were no thoughtless presents as each gift came accompanied with a little anecdote. An apple tree was one such gift, along with the story of MP Margaret Hodge trying to plant a tree for the Trust wearing white high heeled shoes. In contrast Fiona has always been prepared to get stuck in, even cleaning tables at Snowshill during one event years ago!

The emotional support she offered was clear, Rebecca Speight (Director for the Midlands), spoke about how inspirational it was to see a woman leading the organisation and how much the Trust had changed. 10-15 years ago she was the only woman surrounded by a table of men…all wearing tweed. Continue reading

The Boddelwyddan Miniatures Mystery: Solved?

“Frank – one of our Room Guides has been foraging again. In this post he has been looking at the miniatures we have in the Ebony Bedroom. If you’ve visited Charlecote, you may have stopped to look at them. There is a miniature portrait of Mary Elizabeth Lucy’s childhood nurse. I’ll let Frank tell you a little more…”


The charts that accompany the panel of miniatures in the Ebony Bedroom show asterisks beside the Williams paintings [Williams is Mary Elizabeth’s maiden name] indicating that the artist is unknown… Yes and no! Some of these miniatures appear on various websites where it is also stated that the artist is unknown.
Well, draw your own conclusions from the following ‘forage’.

On page 56 of ‘Mistress of Charlecote’ * Mary Elizabeth writes the following tribute to the family nurse at Boddelwyddan when she died:-

“Beloved and respected by us all, she had lived in our family for 45 years. I had a charming miniature by Hargreaves done of her when I married and I always look at it with the most affectionate pleasure. I almost fancy I can hear her speak; it is such an admirable likeness. Hargreaves did miniatures at the same time of me, dearest Papa, Mama and my four sisters for which I paid him 10 guineas each.”

Ah! So we do know.
Thomas Hargreaves (1774-1847) was a well-known Miniature and portrait painter. Continue reading

‘Why is there a pike on the Lucy coat of arms?’

“A frequently asked question here at Charlecote is ‘how did the luce or pike come to be on the  Lucy coat of arms?’. In this post, Frank, one of our volunteers, has done a bit of foragging to get an answer…”


The luce, or pike (esox lucius), is a large freshwater fish found throughout the Northern hemisphere, admired by anglers for it’s fighting qualities. It is a predator that preys on other fish (including the young of its own species), and small animals and birds that live by the water, especially ducklings. It helps keep the balance of aquatic wildlife. Female pike have been caught in excess of 40lb on certain lakes and broads in theUK, which makes the pike the heaviest predator in the land. Only the female grows so large; the male rarely exceeding 12lb.

The pike will swallow its prey head first. It has sharp teeth and the roof of its mouth is a myriad of sharp backward pointing spikelets, so sharp that running a finger along it will cause laceration – as I know only too well! Also interesting, is that the colouration and markings of individual pike are different in the same way that human fingerprints are all different. The pike is a solitary creature lying motionless in wait for its prey. It is valued as a food although fresh water fish is an acquired taste!

 So how did the luce or pike come to be on the Lucy coat of arms? This is a question often asked by visitors. I am no heraldic expert but the following is a result of my ‘foraging’. Luce is Middle English and is derived from the Old French luc or lus and that from the Latin lucius. In English heraldry the term became lucy.

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