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The silver treasures of Ickworth

Crest on a circular dish, 1766, part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk.
Crest on a 1766 circular dish, which is part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk. | © National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

Ickworth is home to almost a thousand pieces of silver and one of the most important collections of 18th-century silver in Europe. Discover some of the treasures assembled by the 1st and 2nd Earls and 1st Marquess of Bristol.

A token of thanks

Following the Napoleonic wars of 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.

See the exquisite details of the candelabrum

Wine cistern, part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk.
Silver wine cistern, part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk. | © National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

Fine dining

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 mealtimes, these ornate details would have been visible to those seated at the table.

One of the oldest silver cisterns still in existence

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.

A new way to dispense sugar

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, breadcrumbs, an oyster and some black pepper before being put in the oven or in front of the fire to bake.

Silver scallop shell made in Turin

Silver service at Ickworth

Pair of silver wine coolers by Philip Rollos, c.1710, part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk.
Two silver wine coolers by Philip Rollos, part of the silver collection at Ickworth, Suffolk. | © National Trust Images/Robert Thrift

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.

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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.

A fashionable accessory for serving grapes

View of Flaxman's 'Fury of Athamas' commissioned by Lord Bristol in Rome in 1790 at Ickworth, Suffolk

Ickworth's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Ickworth on the National Trust Collections website.

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