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Blue Sky Thinking

Posted on 29 June 2017


There are two versions of the Tunbridge Ware view of Herstmonceux Castle and our Object of the Month for July is an example of the less common one.  Whilst the mosaic of the castle is the same on both versions, the one we are illustrating is set in an oval background with the sky in mosaic as opposed to a plain background veneer. 

There are only two topographical subjects in Tunbridge Ware with this feature, both by Henry Hollamby. A mosaic sky can also be found on Shakespeare’s Birthplace, a view that was particularly well received and commended by the Prince of Wales at the Bath & West of England Show in 1881.

The choice of a mosaic sky is an interesting one. Veneers in shades of brown do not really lend themselves to depicting a blue sky.  It was however possible that Hollamby was hoping that the technique, with which he was already familiar, of soaking veneers in the local chalybeate water would actually result in a true blue. It is documented in the 19th century that Tunbridge Ware makers were treating maple and Hungarian ash in this way to achieve silver, different shades of grey, and sometimes deep violet.

How successful Hollamby was, we are unlikely to know. Sadly with the passage of time, veneers that were soaked in the mineral water have not retained their assumed colour.  Whether Hollamby ever achieved a true blue remains a mystery. It could just have been blue sky thinking on his part.

A Baltic Beauty

Posted on 31 May 2017


In recent months we have had occasion to discuss some unusual effects found on wood veneers used on Tunbridge Ware. Our information day in March about spalted wood gave us the chance to consider wood attacked by fungus. Now is the turn of wood thought to have been attacked by insects.

Our Object of the Month for June has Masur birch* as its background veneer. Often confused with bird’s eye maple, Masur birch has markings making flecked or pocked patterns to the veneer, suggesting irregular insect activity. Bird’s eye maple by contrast appears as small dots within circles caused by internal spines within the wood.

Charles Holtzapffel first described Masur birch in his 19th century descriptive catalogue, suggesting that it was imported from the Baltic region in the early years of the century. It was however not in common use, occurring infrequently on English furniture. It was more often reserved for small decorative articles such as dressing boxes or tea caddies. It occasionally featured on Tunbridge Ware especially in the 1840’s, when it was combined with miniature parquetry and we think is well worthy of the description ‘A Baltic Beauty’. 

* Masur birch is also known as Karelian birch. Karelia is now an area on the borders of south eastern Finland and Russia. The name Masur refers to the Masurian Lakes, an area of modern Poland to the east of the River Vistula. The terms ‘Masur’ and ‘Karelian’ probably describe similar figured wood but from different locations.

Information from Woods in British Furniture Making 1400-1900 by Adam Bowett

Why Chevy Chase?

Posted on 02 May 2017


God prosper long our noble king

Our lives and safeties all!

A woeful hunting once there did

In Chevy Chase befall*

Our Object of the Month for May is an unusual piece of Tunbridge Ware. Quite apart from the fine mosaic of a bird and the handsome marbled veneer borders, the image of the Chevy Chase character turns up infrequently on Tunbridge Ware. This has set us wondering why indeed it occurred at all on a souvenir from Kent in the late 1830’s – 1840’s, when the image is essentially associated with the Scottish borders.

The Chevy Chase is immortalized in a ballad, which probably originated in the early 15th century and initially was spread by oral tradition, then appearing in print between 1623 & 1760. It tells the story of a large hunting party in the Cheviot Hills, which was led by Percy, the English Earl of Northumberland. This sparked off a border skirmish with the Scottish Earl of Douglas, who regarded it as an invasion of Scotland by the English. The result was the bloody Battle of Otterbourn in 1388 in which there were no winners. The English lost the battle and the Earl of Douglas lost his life.

The ballad seems to have remained popular through history with references occurring in literature at the time when the Chevy Chase character appeared on Tunbridge Ware: Sir Walter Scott referred to it in Rob Roy in 1816 and somewhat later in 1847 Emily Brontë mentioned it in Wuthering Height. Sir Edwin Landseer, who was hugely popular in his day, receiving royal patronage for his animal paintings, also painted The Hunting of Chevy Chase in 1825.

But was the popularity of the ballad itself and interest in the works of Scott and Landseer sufficient to persuade the Tunbridge Ware makers to portray the image of Chevy Chase in mosaic? Another possibility for increased interest could perhaps be the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, the year following his coronation. No reigning British monarch had visited Scotland since 1650 and there was considerable ill feeling between the two nations to be assuaged.

The visit of the King north of the border, which was organized by Sir Walter Scott, was deemed to be a success. It did however serve as quite a talking point, highlighting all things Scottish, not least because of the King’s tartan outfit, which was too short for his ample form, revealing the pink pantaloons he wore underneath!

So was this Scottish visit itself reason enough to stimulate increased interest in Chevy Chase? Please do let us know what you think and whether there are any other possible reasons for the image appearing on Tunbridge Ware.

* This is the opening verse of a ballad entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1624. Versions of the ballad were printed repeatedly in the 17th & 18th centuries.

Castles Close To Home

Posted on 28 March 2017


Our Object of the Month for April features Tonbridge and Hever Castles. Both castles are close to the home of Tunbridge Ware and both qualified as locations likely to attract attention in the 19th century following interest in the picturesque and the romantic. But by that time both were in a bad state of repair and could easily have become complete ruins.

Tonbridge Castle had been partly demolished in the Civil War and further damage occurred in the 18th century, when stone was removed to build bridges and locks along the Medway. By 1780 the castle site was described as ‘an ancient castle and vineyard’. In the 1790’s its owner, Thomas Hooke built the mansion onto the gatehouse, using more stone from the original building. The castle ruin and the mansion still stand today and are both a tourist attraction and offices for the local borough council.

Hever Castle was built in 1270 as a fortified manor house and became famous as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. After passing through many hands, the castle was inherited by Edmund Meade Waldo in 1841, when it became a working farm, leased to a series of tenants. By 1890 it was virtually uninhabitable with the roof leaking and water seeping from the moat into the structure. Finally it was purchased and restored by William Waldorf Astor. Like Tonbridge Castle it is now a much-visited tourist attraction.

Whilst both Tonbridge and Hever Castles had suffered over the centuries, they remained iconic buildings, well suited for depiction on Tunbridge Ware. The Burrows family, Edmund Nye and Henry Hollamby were all known to have been responsible for views of the castles and George Wise was also a likely contender for an unusual version of Tonbridge.

The Tonbridge and Hever Castles on the Object of the Month are the well-known versions by Henry Hollamby.

For more information on castles depicted on Tunbridge Ware please see Topographical Tunbridge Ware by Howard Rockley.

Nothing Changes

Posted on 27 February 2017


Although it was only in January 2016 that we chose a picture of The Pantiles as our Object of the Month, we have decided to revisit the subject as another example has recently been added to our stock. This gives us the opportunity to hark back to an article in the Chamber’s Journal from 1894, when there was a particular mention of the Pantiles view.

The article compares the production of Tunbridge Ware with that of William Morris tapestries and of stained glass from Edward Burne-Jones, claiming that there was a modest relationship between them:

“The wood mosaic of Tunbridge may surely claim a humble cousinship with the storied windows and the pictures in warp and woof – a cousinship in patient, loving handiwork, separate in spirit from all the shoddy and the short-cuts of this manufacturing age.”

 The author of the article goes on to tell us that there, the similarity ends as “fashion and wealth were at the feet of Mr. Morris; while only the stranger and the pilgrim bear away modest tokens of Tunbridge’s one trade, for sixpences or half-sovereigns.”

The article then compares a small panel of Morris tapestry work about 18 x 9 inches with a Tunbridge Ware block of The Pantiles, both of which took approximately three months to make. But while the former “will be worth seventy pounds”, the latter must be “varnished, finished and mounted in some fancy or useful form that will sell for perhaps ten and sixpence.”

So has this vast price discrepancy continued today? We think it has! The nearest price comparison that we could find was a floral silk-work fire-screen panel designed by William Morris circa 1880, which sold in 2013 for £3,720. We have yet to see a framed Pantiles view reaching four figures – so it seems nothing changes.

Landmarks: The Finale

Posted on 24 February 2017

 As many of you will know, since 2012 we have been working on The King Collection, which primarily featured topographical Tunbridge Ware. We are now very close to the end of this collection, which has given us the chance to handle some fine examples and some unusual views.

After discussion with the King family we have decided to offer you the remaining items at a generous discount. Most of these pieces were in our recent Valentine's offer but those still remaining can now be yours for even less. The Tunbridge Ware on this latest offer can now be viewed on our Preview Page, amongst which you will find bookends with the sought-after view of Buckhurst Park - a view typically attracting a higher price than we are  now asking.

Valentine's Price Massacre

Posted on 06 February 2017


Don't forget our very special Valentine's offer on Saturday 11th & Sunday 12th February, when you will be able to buy a selection from our Tunbridge Ware stock at half the ticket price. This has become possible as we get to the end of collections and because we currently hold duplicates of several pieces.

You can now view the Tunbridge Ware to be included on our Preview Page. It currently shows the full ticket price but this will change to half price at 9.30am on the morning of Saturday 11th February.

Please note if you use the Buy It Now facility postage of £10 (UK) or £15 (Overseas) will automatically be added to your purchase for each item.

For more information please Contact Us


A Small Sussex Town

Posted on 31 January 2017


The Object of the Month for February is a stationery box with a view of Battle Abbey Gatehouse, which was a popular subject matter for Tunbridge Ware makers from the second half of the 19th century. Apart from Eridge Castle, of which there are multiple versions, Battle is the only Sussex location, which can boast three different mosaic views in Tunbridge Ware, suggesting that the importance of the town was widely recognised.

In spite of the significance of the town of Battle as the location for the famous battle in 1066, the population remained small. Originally the community grew up to serve the needs of the Abbey but the dissolution of the monasteries was a severe blow to its prosperity. Temporary increases in population were caused at the end of the 18th century by the siting of a barracks nearby during the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) and by an influx of railway workers later in the 19th century. In between times the population decreased.*

By 1914 Battle had hardly expanded its boundaries from 1840 although communications and access to and from the town certainly improved with the coming of the railway in 1852. This train service connected Battle to Hastings and to Tunbridge Wells, encouraging visitors, who potentially might buy souvenirs.

Doubtless the 800th anniversary of The Battle of Hastings in 1866 proved an added incentive for Henry Hollamby and Thomas Barton to make their views of the Abbey. These were sound commercial choices by the Tunbridge Ware makers, which also served as a tribute to a small Sussex town with a big history.  

*Information from Battle Historic Character Assessment Report by Roland B Harris

Sussex Extensive Urban Survey October 2009 

Confusing Commas

Posted on 16 January 2017


The small box, which is our Object of the Month for January is inscribed in mosaic, “A, Present from Hastings”. It is from a series of articles produced in Tunbridge Ware in the 1870’s and subsequent years, on which the inscriptions describes their purpose or suggests the place at which they might have been sold.

Tunbridge Ware with this type of inscription is thought to have come from the workshop of Henry Hollamby or from Boyce, Brown & Kemp. An unusual characteristic of the pieces entitled “A Present From” is a comma placed after the “A”, which to our eyes, seems misplaced. As far as we are able to establish, there appears to be no grammatical reason for this comma and therefore leads one to wonder if it is a result of an uneducated workforce, which had not grasped the rules of punctuation.

Henry Hollamby was born in 1819 and started his apprenticeship in the Tunbridge Ware industry at the age of 12 in 1831.  Whilst he may have benefitted from some education, following the founding of the Sunday School movement in the 1780’s, his studies may well have been fairly basic. Boyce, Brown & Kemp were likely to have continued using the blocks that they would have inherited from the Hollamby workshop including those with a misplaced comma.

If any of you have any other thoughts or explanation for the confusing comma on these pieces, please do contact us!              

Happy Christmas

Posted on 15 December 2016

With Christmas fast approaching, we would like to remind you that whether you have last minute shopping to do, or whether you are yet to start, we still have a wonderful selection of Tunbridge Ware from which to choose.

We will once again be at The Spa Hotel, Tunbridge Wells for Christmas Shopping on Sunday, 18th December, where you will be able to choose your gifts in comfort with the added bonus of a location with easy parking.   Please join us there for a glass of wine or a welcome coffee between 10am & 5pm, when we will be happy to talk Tunbridge Ware, should you so wish!

The Edenbridge Galleries will also be open daily (except Sunday) until Christmas Eve, when they will close at 3pm. They will re-open after the holidays on the 3rd January, when normal service will be resumed.

Finally we would like to draw your attention to our first fair of 2017, which will be a return visit to Mayfair at the luxurious London Marriott Hotel in Grosvenor Square between the 5th & 8th January. Please see our Events Page for details and to access a printable invitation. We look forward to seeing you there, when we will be exhibiting a fresh selection of Tunbridge Ware - our first for 2017.


We do hope to see you soon and

wish you all

A very Happy Christmas and a healthy, peaceful 2017.




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