An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau
Lot 5
An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau
Sold for £ 114,000 (US$ 158,971) inc. premium

Lot Details
An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau
An important early 18th century figured walnut, crossbanded and featherbanded bureau
In two parts, the rectangular top above a pair of sloping doors, with reading rests, the interior doors lined in green velvet and enclosing four pigeonholes, two short and one deep drawer simulated as two short drawers, above a green velvet lined slide, the lower part with a pair of projecting panelled doors flanked by gilt bronze mounted corinthian pilasters and three short concave drawers to each side, above a shaped apron drawer with projecting blocks, the sides with three sets of carrying handles, on shaped bracket feet, with castors, twice inscribed in ink on the inner backboards, 'To His Grace The Duke of Chandos at Shaw Hall, near Newbury, Barks(sic)', 123cm wide, 75cm deep, 119cm high (48in wide, 29.5in deep, 46.5in high).


  • Provenance:

    1730-36, supplied to James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (6 January 1673 – 9 August 1744) for Shaw Hall, Newbury, Berkshire.

    1738-1809, Thomas Alexander Brown presumably the tenant of Chandos' Scotland Yard property referred to as 'Captain Brown', is assumed to have been given/purchased the bureau when it was moved to the Scotland Yard premises.

    1809-1847, Reverend William Shepherd (1768-1847), Unitarian minister at Gateacre was was given the bureau by Brown in lieu of school fees.

    1847-1857, Mrs Hannah Mary Fletcher (Shepherd's niece d.1857) purchased the bureau at the sale of her Uncle's effects.

    1857-1899, Colonel Samuel Archer (Mrs Fletcher's nephew) inherited the bureau.

    1899-present, Francis William Archer (son of Colonel Samuel Archer) inherited the bureau and by descent to the present owner.

    The bureau is inscribed 'To His Grace the Duke of Chandos at Shaw Hall/Newbury/Berks'. James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, was the first of fourteen children by Sir James Brydges, 3rd Baronet of Wilton Castle, Sheriff of Herefordshire, 8th Lord Chandos.

    James Brydges, Duke of Chandos

    As Paymaster-General of Marlborough's army, James Brydges (1674-1744) built a fortune that placed him among the richest men of his day in England and profited from this position by £600,000 when he resigned in 1713. Rising through the peerage, Chandos became successively Viscount Wilton, Earl of Carnarvon, and Duke of Chandos. Having acquired great wealth and influence, Chandos commissioned work from leading artists and architects. However Chandos soon gained a reputation for tasteless extravagance. But it is as a patron and collector that Chandos is chiefly remembered; with his greatest achievement being Cannons, Middlesex, built by the Italian-trained architect, James Gibbs. The Duke purchased Cannons from the trustees of the will of Mary Lake's (the Duke's first wife) childless uncle. In 1713, he married his first cousin, Cassandra, a daughter of Sir Francis Willoughby of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham.


    Building work at Cannons was well under way when the financial disaster of the 'South Sea bubble' struck in October 1720. Investments in South Sea stock crashed and the Duke of Chandos' finances suffered a severe blow. In 1720, the Duke wrote to his friend, Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke 'I never saw so universal scene of Misery as I did last week my Fortune I assure you I have lost within this month above five Hundred thousand pounds' (Jenkins, S., Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744), Ashgate, 2007 p. 91) cit. Huntington Library, Stowe Manuscripts, ST 57 Vol.17, f.206, a letter from the Duke of Chandos to Lord Bolingbroke, dated 5 October 1720).

    The Duke of Chandos' losses in the South Sea Bubble financial disaster affected both his architectural patronage and his ability of buy works of art. Chandos was one of the most important 18th century collectors alongside Sir Robert Walpole and Sir Hans Sloane. These figures competed to buy prestigious items. Such collectors opened their collections for public view and such visits at Cannons were so popular the visitor numbers had to be regulated. The Duke of Chandos was an enthusiastic collector of works of art quickly building his collection in the years from 1700-1720, which coincided with the height of his fortune. The nature and extent of Chandos' collecting is revealed through his correspondence, an Inventory of Cannons taken in 1725 and the sale catalogues of his house and possessions in 1747.

    Shaw Hall

    Brydges acquired Shaw House and estate about the year 1727 by purchase from the representatives of the Dolman family. In 1728, Chandos calculated his debts to be £39,000 as he owed £14000 for the purchase of the estate of Shaw Hall, Berkshire, which he had bought from Sir Thomas Dolman in 1720 and taken possession of in 1728 (Huntington Library, Stowe Manuscripts ST 57 Vol.32 f. 80, a letter from the Duke of Chandos to Mr Gibson, dated 24 July 1728 (Jenkins, S., Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744), Ashgate, 2007, p. 95).

    Although the precise reasons for Chandos buying Shaw may never be known, the purchase could be seen in the context of his constant urge to dabble in potential money making property schemes across the country. The houses he bought can often be related to the numerous offices he held around the country and his varied speculative interests. The location of Shaw approximately mid way between London and Bath made it a convenient stopping point on this journey, which from the references in Cassandra's Letter book they appear to have made on a regular basis. Whatever the reason for starting the negotiations in May 1720, it is remarkable that Chandos demonstrated enormous determination in continuing with the purchase despite several hearings in the Court of Chancery before the Lord Chancellor finally awarded the sale to him in 1728.

    The purchase of Shaw Hall was lengthy as there were numerous conditions to the sale, including Chandos' payments of Dolman's debts (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 365). Shaw was in decay and needed immediate and costly restoration. In August 1729, Chandos had a survey to ascertain the cost of restoring the hall to habitable shape and he employed suitable craftsmen immediately. Inside the house Edward Shepherd was employed and there are a number of pieces of correspondence relating to the project. There is also noted, payments to local craftsmen 'Thos. Woodford, turner 10s. 7d for wooden platters; Ann Blagrove, cabinet maker, £3.10s for a writing desk; John Burgess, wheelwright, £22.1s for building a mill'. Other Newbury craftsmen and tradesmen mentioned were: William Boulter, carpenter; William Kimbet, smith; William Jenkins and Daniel Sherman, ironmongers; Edward Boulton, plumber; Robert Coston, watchmaker; and B. Collins and Joseph Hawkins, drapers' (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 370).

    The Duchess Cassandra and the Duke were enchanted by Shaw and stayed on from 3rd October 1730 until the end of November 1730. Much of the furniture had been sent down from Cannons and St. James' Square. China and plate were ordered from town and Mr Craig, a silversmith in St James's Market was commissioned for some silver pieces (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 371). Other special furniture for Shaw Hall were three four square quadrille tables with a flap (which cost £3 single and £5.12s a pair) lined with cloth, not velvet; twelve quires of gilt writing paper and twelve 'plain-cover'; and pier glasses, bought of Nicholas Seehuysen, cabinet maker of London (he was paid £34.0s. 8d. In 1734-35) (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 372).

    Chandos appears to have been delighted by Shaw and saw the place as a better refuge from London than Cannons. Unfortunately the correspondence adds little to our knowledge of the changes that Chandos made at Shaw after 1731. After the death of Cassandra, the 2nd Duchess in 1735, the Duke no longer spent extended periods of time at Shaw. In June 1736, two months after his marriage to Lydia Davall, Chandos tentatively tried to sell the estate. Chandos was unable to sell the estate at this time because he still did not have the full title to the property, and so it could not be conveyed to Chandos outright, and through 1737-8 the hall was empty and the furniture shrouded and packed up. In October 1738 Chandos went to Shaw with Lydia to dispose of his things prior to Lord Carnarvon's occupation of the hall. The household goods came up by barge to Scotland Yard, where the Duke had four or five tenanted properties, purchased in 1719 from William Benson. Carnarvon's tenancy of Shaw Hall was from December 1738 for about two years. In 1743 the setting of Shaw Hall to Mr Foster was arranged. As this tenancy was being arranged the Duke became increasingly ill and subsequently died.

    Chandos' Death and Inheritance

    The Duke of Chandos was succeeded by his second son, Henry, Marquess of Carnarvon (1708-71) and survived by his third wife, Lydia Vanhatten (1692-1750). He bequeathed to Henry most of his plate, pictures, books and manuscripts expressing: 'my will and desire being that the said Bookes and manuscripts shall remain at my said seat called Cannones' (Jenkins, S., Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744), Ashgate, 2007, p. 174). The Duchess received a lump sum of £3000, an annuity and the 'entire furniture of any one room she shall choose in any of my houses' except the bedchamber at Cannons' (Jenkins, S., Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744), Ashgate, 2007, p. 174, cit. Huntington Library, Stowe Manuscripts, STB Personal Box 4 (1), the Duke of Chandos' will dated 13 July 1743)
    On his death the Duke of Chandos' estate was heavily in debt. Henry, 2nd Duke of Chandos was apparently £49,430 in debt on his accession (P. Dickson and J. Beckett: 'The Finances of the Dukes of Chandos: Aristocratic Inheritance, Marriage and Debt in Eighteenth century Engalnd' Huntington Library Quarterly Vol. 64, Nos. 3 and 4, 2001, San Marino, pp. 309-55). Henry's father in law, Charles Bruce, 3rd Earl of Ailesbury, noted that soon after the Duke's death two of his creditors had made entries upon some of the Estates and that the estate of Shaw, was worth £5000 less than its book valuations and that an act of Parliament was needed so his assets could be sold off (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford, DR 18/20/18, a letter from Charles Bruce to the Revd Dr Lee head of Balliol college, dated 27 June 1744).

    A private Act of Parliament was passed on 6 June 1746, which authorised the sale of Henry's lands in order to discharge the family's debts (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford, DR/671/92, Private Act of Parliament passed on 6 June 1746: 19 George II c. 16 (1746) 'Act for vesting part of settled estates of the most noble Henry Duke of Chandos in Trustees, pp. 30-31 Schedule of Debts'). The auctioneer appointed to supervise the sales was Mr Cock, founder of London's first auction house. The first sale was on 16th February 1747, at Chandos' House in Cavendish Square and included the London house with all the family possessions, the next the library from cannons in a thirty day sale beginning on 12 March, the pictures 6-8 May, then the household furniture and building materials were auctioned between 1-11 and 16-27 June and other sales followed in the next few years.
    The sale of the Shaw Hall estate was executed after Duchess Lydia's death on 19th November 1750. After the Duke's death in 1744, his third wife Lydia lived at the house for a while and is buried at St Mary's Church, Shaw. In 1751 the Shaw estates were eventually sold to Joseph Andrews for the sum of £27,122.10s.0d, far short of the £40,000-£50,000 that Chandos had originally asked.

    Thomas Alexander Brown

    The bureau would almost certainly have been in the consignment from Shaw to Scotland Yard and would therefore have probably occupied one of Chandos' four or five tenanted properties there. It is interesting that among the tenants of Chandos' Scotland Yard properties were 'Colonel Inwood, who paid £50 a year in rent....a Captain Westcott; Captains Brown and Macro; and Sir John Goodrick' (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 375). The correspondence we have for the bureau from the present owner indicates an army officer by the name of Brown gave the bureau to Dr Shepherd in lieu of school fees. It is possible that the piece, having been shipped to Scotland Yard and having resided at the property of Captain Brown was then purchased by or given to the tenant.

    Thomas Alexander Brown was an officer in the British army. In September 1809 this bureau passed, in lieu of school fees, from Brown to The Reverend William Shepherd and thence by descent to the current owner. In a letter from Thomas Alexander Brown on 23rd September 1809 in London to The Reverend W. Shepherd, Gateacre, nr Liverpool, Brown relates to Shepherd on the progress of transport of the bureau. He refers to the bureau as 'Oliver Cromwell's desk' which has been sent by water and he will write to inform Shepherd the details of the shipment (Private Collection).

    William Shepherd

    William Shepherd (1768-1847) was Unitarian minister at Gateacre, in the parish of Childwall from 1793 to his death in 1847. Shepherd also was a politician and an enthusiast for civil and religious liberty. In 1791 Shepherd and his wife Frances set up a boarding school which had a very good reputation with wealthy non conformists. All Liverpool academies were believed to be instigated by the Revd William Shepherd. He had his school in The Nook, Gateacre - his home - 'For sons of Unitarian Ministers and Laymen'. The success of his school may be measured by the distinguished careers which several of his scholars were to pursue. William Roscoe attended the chapel and Shepherd became a close friend. The bureau was purchased by his niece Mrs Hannah Mary Fletcher at the sale of her Uncle's effects. Ms. Fletcher (d. 1857) in turn left the bureau to her nephew Colonel Samuel Archer and he, to his son Francis William Archer and by descent to the present owner.


    The inscription indicates that the bureau was most probably commissioned specifically for the Shaw Hall, rather than a piece transported from Cannons or St James's Square. The time frame is restricted to between the completion of the renovation works of the hall to make it habitable and after the death of the Duchess at which time the Duke decided he would like to sell the estate (1730-36). The quality of the piece would indicate a London rather than provincial cabinet maker. From the special furniture for Shaw Hall listed there are listed 'pier glasses, bought of Nicholas Seehuysen, cabinet maker of London (he was paid £34.0s. 8d. In 1734-35)' (C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life and Circumstances of James Brydges First Duke of Chandos, Oxford, 1949, p. 372).


    Seehausen is listed in the Dictionary of English Furniture Makers 1660-1840, as operating in Covent Garden, London, cm (1728-30), which corresponds with our time frame. In 1728 he supplied for Holkham Hall, Norfolk, two mahogany tables costing £3.10s the pair. In the following year supplied a further mahogany table at £2.10s, he also supplied a frame for a sideboard table to Longford Castle, Wiltshire in 1730 at a cost of £5.15s' (The Dictionary of English Furniture Maker 1660-1840, Furniture History Society and W.S Maney & Sons, 1986, p. 798).

    The Rodney Cabinet

    The Rodney Cabinet was sold Thursday 25th 1981 Christie's Important English Furniture and Tapestries as lot 132. This important George I walnut and burr walnut bureau cabinet, by family tradition once belonged to the 1st Lord Rodney (1718-1792), the distinguished naval commander. The lower part of the Rodney cabinet bears significant similarities to the present lot. The base it in two parts with brass bordered flaps and engraved brass lock plates enclosing a fitted interior with slide and carrying handles. There are also parcel gilt columns on the present lot which conceal secret drawers similar to the upper part of the Rodney cabinet. Subsequently Mallet illustrates this cabinet and draws attention to the fact 'certain elements in the form of this piece could perhaps mean that it was made in Germany rather than England; many qualities and features were shared at the time' (L. Synge, Mallet Millennium, Furniture History Society, 1999, p. 51). Seehausen is a German name (also being a place in Germany) and this bureau, like the Rodney cabinet, bears similar qualities to cabinets made in Germany. It is therefore probable that Seehausen made this cabinet for Shaw Hall as we know he made other items for Chandos specifically for the Hall.

    Misleading Provenance

    Throughout the 19th century documents available, the bureau is erroneously referred to as 'The Oliver' having been thought to have once belonged to Charles I and then to Oliver Cromwell, who found it at Whitehall when he became Protector. The bureau is misleadingly referred to with this provenance in a letter from Jane Welsh Carlyle as 'Oliver Cromwell's Writing desk...(which)... belonged to Charles I' (Editor A. Carlyle, New Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle, John Lane, 1903, Letter 60, p.166). The lockplates engraved with a cavalier were believed to indicate the bureau's association with Charles I (Letter from Mrs H. Ridyard (nee. Joyce) to Miss Arabella Fletcher. Mrs Ridyard was for many years up to date of his death housekeeper to Dr. Shepherd, October 30th 1866, Private Collection).

    The bureau was then believed to be the property of Lord Moira and it came into Colonel Brown's possession as payment for a gambling debt. This association is almost certainly because of the Civil war battle of Newbury. On 24th October 1644 King Charles I made his own quarters at Shaw House in preparation for the Second battle of Newbury. When the large Parliamentary army, under the Earl of Manchester, approached Newbury they found it heavily defended. The Parliamentary generals, in conference, decided to attack the King's very strong defensive position from both sides at once. They sent Cromwell, with the more junior commanders Waller and Skippan on an encircling march of 13 miles through the night to reach the west of Charles' line, while Manchester remained in the east. It is this connection of the Hall with Charles I and Cromwell which surely would have been the instigation for rumours of the initial provenance of the bureau.

    It is not until 1884 when Francis Archer (brother of Colonel S Archer) reveals in a letter to Rev. J.H. Nelson, 14th February 1884 that after recent examination by a cabinet maker the Chandos inscription to the back panel is discovered and therefore Mr. Archer writes to Reverend incumbent of the church attached to Shaw Hall. Mr. Walter Money then writes by return enclosed with a letter from Nelson, that he proposes that 'I should quite disassociate the article with Oliver Cromwell if the writing is any criterion and conjecture that it was either sold about 1747 when the Duke's 'Princely Canons' was sold by auction, or it might have been purchased after the death of Lydia Catherine 1750' (Letter from the Hon. & Revd. J. Horatio Nelson to Francis Archer with enclosure from Mr. Money, March 20th 1884, Private Collection).
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