The silver treasures of Ickworth

We care for one of the most important collections of 18th-century silver in Europe. As James Rothwell reveals in his book Silver for Entertaining: The Ickworth Collection, Ickworth in Suffolk is home to nearly one thousand pieces of silver of the highest quality and style. Discover some of the outstanding treasures assembled by the 1st and 2nd Earls and 1st Marquess of Bristol.

Sterling silver candelabrum, Ickworth House

A token of thanks 

Following the Napoleonic wars (1793-1815), Britain experienced a period of agricultural depression. The 5th Earl of Bristol (subsequently the 1st Marquess) gave his tenants in Lincolnshire large rent reductions during this time of economic distress. In gratitude, they commissioned this sterling silver candelabrum from the Earl’s goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, presenting it to him in 1826. Intricately designed, it is likely the work of Edward Hodges Bailey, a former pupil of the celebrated sculptor John Flaxman.

Cistern, 1680-1, Ickworth

A lavish wine-cooling system 

Cisterns filled with water have been used to cool wine since the 14th century, and whilst these were often made from marble, pewter, copper and brass, some were made from silver. This example, dating from 1680, features an elaborately decorated neck. Placed on the floor at meal times, these ornate details would have been visible to those seated at the table.

Four covered sugar dishes and stands, Ickworth House

A sweet tooth for sugar 

In Britain during the first half of the 18th century, sugar was customarily dispensed from casters as part of the dessert course. The 2nd Earl of Bristol, however, offered one of the first recorded instances of providing sugar in dishes at the table, reflecting Continental tastes. These four sugar dishes were provided as part of the Earl’s ambassadorial allocation to Spain, suggesting that the Spanish were just as fond of sugar as the English.

Grape scissors, Ickworth House

A fruitful use for grape scissors 

These beautifully ornate scissors were developed specifically to cut grape stalks. They feature a right-angled cutting-edge to one blade, which allowed the severed stalk to be held and for the grapes to be carefully placed on the diner’s plate. These originally belonged to the 1st Marquess of Bristol and are made from silver, which has been gilded.

Teething coral, c. 1825, Ickworth House

A Regency-era teether 

Through the ages, coral has been used as a remedy to ease the discomfort of teething in infants. This silver mounted coral doubles as a baby teether and a rattle, featuring bells as well as a ring for threading lace, so that it might be worn by a baby or a small child. This example was produced by George Knight of London around 1825 and was probably bought for the children of Frederick Hervey, Earl Jermyn (later 2nd Marquess of Bristol).

A pair of round tureens, Ickworth

The height of fashion 

These lavishly decorated tureens were commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Bristol around 1756 and are probably the work of the prestigious Turin-based goldsmiths Andrea Boucheron or Paolo Antonio Paroletto. Whereas the 2nd Earl already possessed two magnificent oval tureens, the French fashion in table arrangement was to have two oval tureens and two round ones. The Earl no doubt wished to embrace this trend, commissioning these objects for his own grand table. The tureen cover handles have been fabricated in the form of collared snow leopards, the family crest of the Earl.

Scallop shell dish set, c. 1756, Ickworth House

Oysters on the silver scallop half shell 

Silver scallop shells were often used for preparing and serving oysters in the same way that the actual oyster shell is still used in French cuisine. The six scallop dishes in this set, produced around 1756, have no feet to steady the individual shells and as such are a relatively simple example of this form. A contemporary recipe recommends that silver scallop shells like this should be filled with a lump of butter, bread crumbs, an oyster and some black pepper before being put in the oven or in front of the fire to bake.

Ice pails, c. 1730, Ickworth House

Politics and wine drinking  

Ice pails were designed to hold individual bottles of wine and would have been placed on the dining table after dessert. These examples, which date from roughly 1730, are exquisitely crafted and are amongst the finest surviving from the era. Magnificent objects like this were by no means universal in households of the time, but would have been essential at the tables of those dealing with the affairs of state, where discussions, accompanied by wine, might go on late into the night.