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Edition Eighty Seven

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Featured Antique - A very rare Factory 'X' (Keeling) covered Sugar Bowl of oriental shape. Having a shanked body with blue border, red flowers and gilded swags, pattern 94, c1800-1805

This is a very rare Factory 'X' (A & E Keeling partnership) oriental shaped sugar bowl and cover. I have never had the pleasure of seeing one of these before in all my years of collecting!

The sugar bowl and cover are circular with a shanked body ( spiral moulded fluting). The sugar bowl has a wide lip into which the circular lid fits. The item is very well and finely potted.

The decoration of this charming sugar box and cover includes an underglaze cobalt blue wide border to the top portion of the bowl and rim of the lid. This border has open white ovals in which are orange flower heads with gilded dots at their centre. The ovals into which the flowers are applied are given a gilded frame and the border is edged on either side with a gilt line in a honey rich gold. A delicate foliate swag threads its way around the floral panels within the blue band. On the sugar bowl below the blue band border there is a very delicately gilded fine foliate swag. The fine quality of the gilding is excellent.

The underside of this beautiful and very rare sugar bowl is marked with the pattern number in  red '94'. Interestingly it also has an underglaze blue mark of '165' that has been crossed out in the same red as the '94' mark. This is certainly a very rare sugar bowl and cover. A sugar sugar bowl the same as this one, even the same pattern, is illustrated in 'Godden's New Guide to English porcelain', a Millers publication, ISBN 1 84000 987 X, page 164, plate 197. His valuation on it was 1,500.

More details of this item and other tea related antiques can be found by visiting my web site at www.TeaAntiques.com.

Powis Castle, Welshpool, Powys

Powis Castle is a remarkable home and castle with a long history and home to the Herbert family for over 400 years. This striking castle is perched high on a ridge that overlooks the Severn Valley and outward towards England. The castle is constructed from very attractive red sandstone, which stands out against its beautiful green surrounding. With the castle set so high on a ridge, its garden is cleverly constructed using narrow terraces on one side, that leads down to the flat valley in which there is a beautiful formal eighteenth century style garden.

Over the long history of this castle, it has seen many changes and remodelling, from fortified medieval castle to a comfortable family home. Even today, the castle is lived in by one of the family, the 8th Earl of Powis, who has an apartment within the castle and who still owns all the surrounding parkland. The history starts with the castle as the fortress of the Welsh prince of Powys. A fortress was needed to protect his interests from the English and their neighbours in Gwynedd. The Castle was bought in 1587 by an English nobleman, Sir Edward Herbert and has remained in the hands of his ancestors ever since.

It was the 1st Marquess of Powis who from the 1660's did a vast amount of work on the castle, changing the interior to create a grand home. He created the grand staircase and baroque rooms on the first floor. He was also responsible for the creation of the garden terraces.

The marriage of Lady Henrietta Herbert to Edward Clive brought the Herbert and Clive estates and wealth together. Edward was the son of Robert Clive who was the conqueror of India and better known as 'Clive of India'. It is his collection of treasures from India that enriched the house and now displayed in a special exhibition in the Clive Museum, which is part of the Castle.

The decoration of much of the castle in Jacobean style was the work of the twentieth century owner, the 4th Earl of Powis, who with his wife Violet breathed new life into what was a rather neglected garden and introduced the vibrant planting that is now mature and that we can enjoy today.

The castle is entered through an arch between the coach house and the stables leading into an open courtyard. To the left in what was the old kitchens and service wing is now the Clive museum, restaurant and shop. Ahead is the castle and in the centre of the lawn a huge statue of fame. Entry to the castle itself is up a flight of stone steps to the front door. On either side of the steps are two old cannons, a fitting reminder that this was once a fortress as well as a home.

Once inside the castle the first room you see is the Grand Staircase, this leading important guests up to the suite of State Rooms and Apartments. It was constructed in the third quarter of the seventeenth century and the earl's coronet is painted together with the Powis coat of arms on the ceiling. The whole of the staircase walls and ceiling are beautifully painted. There are three dimensional painted niches in the walls in which are painted large classical statues. The walls up the stairs are painted with various scenes depicting the gods, amongst them are Neptune, Apollo and Achilles to name but a few.

To the left of the staircase is the Private Dining room, an oddly shaped and quite small room. In fact, as I was to discover, many of the rooms within the castle were far from geometric, but odd shapes some from where rooms had been knocked together to make larger rooms. the 6th Earl of Powis used this room as a family dining room. There is an interesting harlequin set of Georgian dining chairs set around the mahogany dining table. There are five design of chair, each having a different designed back splat but all in the Chippendale fashion. there is a very fine long case clock, in walnut veneer, c1680 and is by the very well known clock maker of the time, Thomas Tompian.

Moving back across the Grand Staircase Hall to the other side is the Dining Room. This is the formal dining room used for grander entertaining. It again is an odd shape, this is because it was created out of several rooms by the 4th Earl of Powis between 1902-04. The Jacobean panelling around the walls was added then in keeping with the castle's style. There are two large oak carved fireplaces within the room, much needed to heat such a large room. The ceiling is white plaster with geometric shapes, again, very much in the Jacobean style. There is not the huge dining table one would expect to find, but instead an early Georgian mahogany round table with a set of Chippendale style chairs, c1755, these still have their original needlework seats, which is nice to see. I did notice a brass and copper tea urn from the early nineteenth century.

Positioned in front of the fireplace at the far end of the room was a most interesting locally made table. It is a horseshoe shaped table, made in nearby Shrewsbury, c1810. This table would have been used by the male guests after dinner. Here they could chat and drink. There is a moveable pair of coasters on a track that could be run round the table so that guests could help themselves to the wine or port. At the back of the table is a curtain hanging from a brass rail, this to protect the men from the heat of the fire. In the open horseshoe middle of the table hangs a net, this would be used for the empty bottles. It may also have been used for the full bottles of wine, bringing them up to a good warm temperature in front of the fire.

Taking a narrow staircase up to the first floor, you enter the State Apartments. First the Library, lined with book shelves that go up as high as two thirds of the walls, above which are hung a collection of paintings. The ceiling is painted with an allegorical scene, where the characters are actually the faces of the family, this was painted c1705.

The Oak Drawing room has retained its function and remained a Drawing room where guests and family would retire after dinner. Although the decoration looks original, it was again part of the remodelling carried out by the 4th earl c1902-04. There is a Jacobean style ceiling in white plaster and having many hanging pendants within its geometric design. Old nineteenth century sash windows were replaced with more fitting stone mullioned windows. Around the walls hang many family portraits. One of which is of Robert Clive, 1st Lord Clive (1725-74), ' Clive of India'.

There is a beautiful set of English seat furniture within the room, with mahogany carved frames that has applied parcel gilding. The coverings are of green silk velvet and matches the curtains. They were reupholstered in this material in 1874. On the sofa are some very rare 18th century Chinese silk velvet covered cushions.

The next room is a small room called The gateway Room, as its position is above the gateway to the castle. It has had various functions including a bedroom and private sitting room, but now houses some family relics. I was delighted to see in one cabinet, some cups and saucers from a Derby service c1780's. It was of yellow ground, it in itself a rare colour of the time and has a central white cartouche in which is a crown cipher in coloured enamels, below which the insignia 'GR'. This set was used by the 1st Earl of Powis at Weymouth, where he took tea with King George III, who was a good friend of his. Other items of porcelain included a claret ground tray which has a painted view of the castle from the east. There is also a delightful little ink stand painted with a scene of Windsor castle.

The State bedroom is very grand and theatrical, with the bed set back in a recess like a stage with proscenium arch. This arch is decorated with gilded pilasters up either side and across the top with swags of gilded fruit. In the centre the coat of arms of the family in a carved and gilded cartouche. The State bed is of partly gilded mahogany and hung magnificently with rich crimson silk cut-velvet from Spitalfields, London, c1725. In front of the bed are a handsome settee and set of stools, c1725, having silvered gesso frames and all upholstered in the same rich crimson silk as the bed. The walls of the room are hung with 17th century tapestries.

From the State bedroom a walk down the Long Gallery, the only remaining room that has the original decoration of Sir Edward Herbert carried out between c1587-95. The walls are of particular interest as what appears to be carved panelling is 'trompe-l'oeil' painting, this was done later in the early 17th century. this gallery is lined with some remarkable statue sculptures.

There are a few more bedrooms to be seen at the end of the Long Gallery, but the final room of the tour, the Blue Drawing room, in my mind is the most beautiful room in the castle and has changed little since it was decorated in 1705. It has blue painted panelling on the walls and a magnificent suite of gilt framed seat furniture that is covered in blue and gold damask. This suite of 18th century furniture was originally in the London town house of the Earls of Powis and was probably commissioned for the house by Clive of India. Hanging on the walls are three from a set of four Brussels tapestries that depict the story of Julius Caeser.

Leaving this room and making your way downstairs and exiting the castle, there is still much to be enjoyed within the colourful gardens of the castle as well as the Clive museum.

The terraced garden on the South front of the castle is perhaps what it is most famous for. This remarkable garden was created by 1st Marquess of Powis in the 1680's and is today a unique Baroque garden. It survives today much as it was designed then and was lovely restored from neglect by the Countess of Powis in 1911. The views afforded from the top terrace is quite breathtaking, with open views across the Severn valley to the hills beyond. Looking down, you can view the terraces below you and off to one side on the flat land is a birds-eye view of the beautifully tended formal garden.

The top terrace takes you along the foot of the Castle's walls which rise up above in their rich red sandstone. Snuggling against the foot of the castles walls a set of very large and well trimmed yew trees. The planting along the borders either side of the castle are very clever, giving both height and spectacular colour, even in late September, when I visited. At the end of the terrace stands a vast lead statue of Hercules. This together with the statue of Fame and other 18th century statues and urns in the garden are made from lead from the families lead mines in Montgomeryshire.

Taking some steep steps down leads to the next terrace. This terrace has in the centre portion, below the shadow of the castle, the Orangery which gives its name to this, the Orangery Terrace. The attractive red brick and stone dressed Orangery houses the potted standard orange trees during the cold winter months. In the summer, they are taken out to line the gravel walk in front of the Orangery. The scent of their wax like white blossom is sweet in the air. In front of the Orangery is a balustrade stone wall with stone pillars on which stand a set of eighteenth century lead statues. The flat lawns below and in front of the Orangery terrace were once more formal gardens, which included formal ponds and water features. These were sadly swept away in the late eighteenth century. However, there still remains the formal garden to the left of the lawns.

The formal garden was created by Violet, Countess of Powis as part of her garden revival plan. She has successfully created a beautiful garden that includes large well trained fruit trees, rose borders, fountains and seating. from this garden there are some spectacular views to be seen looking back up at the castle, perched upon the top of the ridge of the terraced gardens. The ornate iron gates to the castle here were commissioned by Violet and standing guard on the stone gate posts, two Welsh dragons. Dragons also appear above another gate in the grounds below the earl's coronet.

Wending my way back up the terraces, it was time to go for some tea and refreshments in the castle's restaurant. Being rather late for my tea, I had missed out on the Welsh 'Bara birth' cake, so I settled for a gluten free hazelnut cake to accompany my pot of Earl Grey tea. I must say, the cake was very delicious, so very light and moist - I can certainly recommend it.

Sat in the restaurant, I noticed at the far end a handsome, locally made, old clock. Its large enamelled white face having the maker from Welshpool, the local town nestling at the foot of the castle. Also around the walls were displayed the heads of deer, shot during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century at what must have been very grand shooting parties.

Sadly, I did not have enough time to visit and review the Clive museum. Maybe that is just the excuse I need to return to this magical castle?

Powis castle and garden,
Nr welshpool,
North Wales,
SY21 8RF
tel: 01938 551929

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