Five curious items at Coleton Fishacre
Every item in the collection, design feature or material used in the house at Coleton Fishacre is incredibly important and cared for by the conservation team. They also tell us a story about the D’Oyly Carte household and give insight into what the lifestyle of the 1920s was like.
1. By the front door
The tidal clock near the front door would have told the D’Oyly Carte family when the next high tide was, and so informed them when the lido at Pudcombe Cove could be used. It was used alongside the wind dial in the Library to forecast sailing conditions. The tidal clock had to be set by hand each day, as it has no mechanism. We still keep a copy of this year’s tide tables in the Flower Room so that we can continue to do this today.
2. In the Butler’s Pantry
This stoneware jar sits on the worktop to the left of the sink. Although this looks like a typical cider jar, it was something else entirely. The three chamfered shoulders signify that the jar contained something poisonous (like the fluted edging on old glass pharmacy bottles), and was a way of telling everyone (including those who couldn’t read or were blind) that the contents were not for drinking. This jar contained ‘spirits salts’, an old name for hydrochloric acid. It was sent here by train in order to remove rust stains from linens in the laundry, and you can still see the train company labels for the fare paid from Paddington.
3. In the Kitchen
We have all sorts of interesting food preparation gadgets in the kitchen, including a marmalade slicer. This was a hand operated machine for cutting fruit peel for making marmalade. It has screw fixing for attaching it to a table top and a wooden block for pressing down the fruit.
4. En route to the Dining Room:
On the wall just outside the Dining Room, you can see the historic servants’ bell board. This was electrically operated, using the buttons in the rooms. If pressed a bell would ring and a disc would drop down in front of the room where the servant was required. In the Dining Room, Lady Dorothy had a second, more decorative button installed at the table, so she didn’t have to move. The button we have on the table doesn’t work, but the one in the corner of the room does, so please ask a guide about having a go so you can see the system work for yourself.
5. Focal point of the Sitting Room:
The fireplace in the Sitting Room is made of limestone from Hopton Wood Hill, in Derbyshire. It contains fossils of crinoids, which were sea-lilies. Despite the plant-sounding nickname, they are actually animals, related to starfish and sea-urchins. There are crinoids still in the sea today, but the ones in the fireplace lived millions of years ago.