Saturday 5 October 2013

What is a Cordite Bucket?

 Having finished restoring our cordite bucket I am sure some people are saying. " Great, it looks good but what is it? ". We have sold a few over the years and as we will need to research it for its description in our forthcoming catalogue I thought this might be a good place to to expand on that.

    The first thing to know is it is not a bucket made of cordite but a bucket made to carry cordite. They are also referred to as Clarkson cases. From the Naval weapons website a definition  "British propellant charge container.  These were flash proof containers for bag charges (cartridges).  Charges were placed into these containers before they left the magazines.  The Clarkson's Cases then rode up the hoists to the guns where the charges were removed only when it was time to load them into the breech.  The Clarkson's Cases were reusable and were returned to the magazines for reloading."

 Which leads on to the first question. What is cordite? This entry from wikipedia is a good start.
" Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance. These produce a subsonic deflagration wave rather than the supersonic detonation wave produced by brisants, or high explosives. The hot gases produced by burning gunpowder or cordite generate sufficient pressure to propel a bullet or shell to its target, but not so quickly as to routinely destroy the barrel of the firearm, or gun. Cordite was used initially in the .303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915; shortages of cordite in World War I led to United States–developed smokeless powders being imported into the UK for use in rifle cartridges. Cordite was also used for large weapons, such as tank guns, artillery and naval guns. It has been used mainly for this purpose since the late 19th century by the UK and British Commonwealth countries." So the name comes from it being constructed in "cords". This photo shows what the cordite looks like.

 That probably helps explain the construction of the buckets. Its use dictates its construction. The body is made out of cork covered on the inside in canvas and the outside in leather. The handles and straps which are sewn are fixed to the body using copper rivets. So why these materials ? Basically they are "fit for purpose."
Cork is naturally fire resistant which is well suited to the safety angle of what is being contained and its light weight will be a bonus in making it easier to move around.
The leather is use to cover the cork as the hide can be wet , stretched and glued on meaning it will shrink on drying giving a tidy, tight finish. We have seen others which have painted canvas on the out side either have lost their leather and have been painted or possibly could be a different type.

 The canvas is purely used on the inside to seal the cork and on the outside to do this but also to provide a good surface to glue the leather on to.
Copper rivets and the plate supporting the handle on the inside provide a strong fitting and are used because the metal will not give a potentially lethal spark. The cordite cases would be used to transport the charge from the magazine to the guns.

So what do the marking's mean. Lets look at this example:

 Firstly the "broad arrow" mark. This was used to show they were the property of the Board of Ordnance or Government department. This link gives some more history on the mark. If you see  2 broad arrow marks facing each other this is a sign that the case was decommissioned. N for Navy. B.H.&G. Ltd shows it was made by Barrow, Hepburn & Gale of Bermondsey, London. No 72  could be a size number and the I its mark. See diagram below. Possibly, all the cordite buckets were numbered and may even have corresponded with a specific gun?  Hopefully, some information will come to light and I can update this blog. Some will be stamped 'RCD' for Royal Chatham Dockyard. This book the Handbook of Ammunition from 1945 gives alot of answers and has this image showing cordite buckets.

The BL refers to breech loading guns. As you would expect no signs of a stenciled armorial which I am sure were added later when they were decommissioned and sold off as umbrella stands and waste paper bins. Some of the taller  ones we have seen reduced in height to do this. Some examples with stencils:

 The below example shows a cordite bucket that appears to have been reduced in height with  the base re-attached and an armorial added.

By Simon Clarke

Tony DiGiulian "Ammunition , Fuzes, Projectiles and Propellants"
BR932 Handbook on Ammunition 1945.
British Ordnance Collectors Network

Thursday 3 October 2013

Great Places to visit near Stow on the Wold II Lodge Park

Like Chastleton, Lodge Park is another National Trust property I have been meaning to visit for years. It is just down the road past Burford and the other side of the A40.I have driven past it but had never had the chance to look inside. What a treat it is.

It was built in the 1630's as a place to party by John 'Crump' Dutton who owned the Sherborne Estate a couple of miles down the road. You've got to admire a guy who has a huge house but the wants another place just for entertaining his friends. Going into the house you certainly sense an ambiance of the place that has seen alot of fun. The building is basically a very grand grandstand at the finishing post of a mile long walled enclosure for the chase. This was a time when fortunes were won and lost through gambling. Deer were chased along this course by hounds whom the participants bet upon. Unless the stakes reached a certain amount the deer had an escape route at the end.

There are some good  pieces of furniture to see and some lovely pictures. In the entrance hall are a pair of William Kent tables. Sadly, stripped of the original gilding and missing their marble tops but still very impressive.

The main room is upstairs and has a balcony overlooking the "finishing post". What a room! Interesting pictures and amongst the furniture two great trunks. The leather on them looks to be Russian reindeer hide similar to some still being taken off the Metta Catharina which we have used in the past for re-upholstery. The chased metalwork on them is as good as you will see and I believe they were gifts from Charles I.

I won't spoil your visit by going through all the other treasures so do try and visit the house if you are in the area. You can also go to Burford which is very close. Charming town and great church and also Sherborne. The house is now flats and not open though there is a lovely walk beside it through the woods with fun bits to amuse the children if you have any with you.

Hope you enjoy it . Well worth the gamble.

By Simon Clarke.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Restoring a Cordite Bucket.

I often get the feeling that most of the  general public think that antique dealers spend most of their days sat behind a large pedestal desk, doing The Times crossword, drinking Earl Grey tea and getting up only occasionally to speak to a customer and relieve them of a Coutts cheque for the item they have paid full ticket price for. A similar comparison , which I also have experience of is the  publican seen as solely standing behind his bar, serving the occasional pint and enjoying a bit of banter with his jolly faced locals. Like most things life isn't like that.

     Probably, one of the most important jobs , apart from actually buying our stock, is getting it into  the kind of condition which we are proud to have in our shop. Buying stock either privately or at auction means that it is rarely in this condition. Even buying from other dealers generally means that some degree of work needs to be done as our philosophy has always been to get things back into as close to its original condition as possible and sometimes their idea of this is very different from ours.
     So this leads us on to restoration. I love seeking out wonderful things to buy but there can be few things that beat the satisfaction of a job well done in returning something back to its former glory.

   There is nothing like a challenge. In fact, before buying this has to be the first question. Can you do or get the restoration done to a standard you are happy with and at a price that still makes it economically a viable proposition?

    So on to today's task. We were offered this:

       The largest diameter (20 inches) cordite bucket we have ever seen. Interesting, for it size and also it's pre 1900 date inside the lid. Usually when this height they are taller ones that have been reduced in height to make into waste paper buckets. The clue to these can be they sometimes have an applied armourial transfer applied to the side. Some may have originally had transfers on but on most we have seen they look to have been added later. This one is its original size.

Made of  cork covered in leather on the outside with canvas on the inside. So, what are the problems here? Firstly, we have a lifting of the leather on the vertical seam and top.  Secondly, to make it worse the leather has shrunk meaning you will see the cork underneath if it is solely glued down.  Lastly, and further compounding the problems someone has attempted to sort out these problems already.  As any restorer will tell you what they hate more than anything is sorting out someone else's botched job. As dealers we would certainly prefer to buy things in untouched condition. So to anyone out there please remember unless you know what you are doing and how to do it you are better off leaving well alone. Things can easily go wrong and worse case scenario will be you will completely wreck what you are trying to fix. I'm not saying don't do it. Just get it right. It can be expensive  getting things restored. We know that. Sometimes we can't buy something just because we know it will cost too much to do. Sometimes we underestimate the cost and end up making a very short profit. That's how it goes. There can be hidden complications unnoticed when purchasing that don't get seen until you get the piece in the work shop or the problem can be more complicated than first realised. Anyway , if you have job like this and decide to take it on hopefully this will help.

 Where to start.? The previous attempt at restoration had involved using a type of PVA glue to stick down the lifting leather. This thankfully had been unsuccessful because too much of the glue had been applied. That is always a big mistake when gluing anything. So the I first job is to remove the glue. What I did before thinking about taking the above photo was to apply a leather feed to soften the leather and hopefully help loosen off the glue off the leather from the underside. The other reason of this being that the leather needs to be stretched back to cover where it originally was. The product I use is Fiebings 4 Way Care . This works really well as being a liquid it soaks right into the leather as opposed to the leather creams that barely touch the surface.
  Next I used a sharp scalpel to cut through the half dried glue. Having done this I could peel back the leather towards the handle. Once the leather feed had soaked in this made it easier to start peeling of the PVA glue and then apply the feed to the underside of the leather to the top. I should say I have always found it best to apply using a sponge as this allows quick application thus avoiding tide marks.
     The other problem encountered was that the lid had been squashed down leaving it concave. To fix this the cork would need to be soaked and  with weights pushing the top down it should then dry back in its original position. Once this was soaked it was left over the weekend. Now that this is done the next job is to glue the leather down. This was done using a contact adhesive after checking in an area near the handle. The contact glue I am using is  Thixofix ; having used it successfully before on similar task. Others may work equally well. I like this one because its gel type texture makes it so much easier to apply than " runny honey " types. Having applied the glue to both surfaces the leather is pushed down starting at the middle moving outwards to stretch towards the edge.
  Similarly, the vertical split was done in the same way. Here though it was soon realized that the leather would never stretch back far enough to cover its original position so a piece of leather of similar grain and colour was applied underneath. The colour was matched up better by applying a dark wax polish.

       The final thing to do is to polish and improve the somewhat lack lustre dull finish the leather had when the bucket was purchased. The Feiblings had done its job in feeding the leather now a wax polish is needed to give the leather a shinier finish. For this some Harrells khaki wax polish would be used. It is a good quality beeswax based polish that has enough turpentine in it that it will soak into the leather. Applying quickly to again avoid tide marks it is left overnight to really soak in before being buffed up using a soft cloth.

Our gamble has paid off and the bucket is looking as close to original as possible. Now on to move on to the research to see what else we can find out about our cordite bucket. Another job for when we are not to busy with our crossword.

By Simon Clarke.

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Great Places to visit near Stow on the Wold

Chastleton House

As we decided to have a bit of a staycation this year as part of my holiday it gave me a great chance to visit some of the many great places, which though so close to Stow, I have not managed to find the time to go to. Rather than write a little about each in this blog I thought I would write a little more about each and fit them in between blogs on the shop and research projects.
  So why not start with probably the closest and the one I have been meaning to go to since the National Trust first took it on and opened it to the public in 1997. Chastleton House and Garden is just over 6 miles from Stow on the Wold and was in the same family for nearly 400 years until the National Trust took it on.
The Trust have gone with a policy of conservation rather major restoration to the house giving it a feeling of being largely untouched for 400 years. The house was built in 1612 and has largely remained unspoilt because of the declining fortunes of the families who lived there and who didn't have the money to make any major changes. As you go into the house you enter the great hall with its long refectory hall. This would have had to have been made and then assembled in the room as there is no way it could have been carried in. There is also a nice lacquer cased clock with movement by one of Joseph Knibbs apprentices, Brounker Watts.

The house has an interesting collection of furniture and  stunning Tapestries now known to be  Sheldon work. There is a charming staircase that leads to one of my favourite rooms the Long Gallery . It is wonderfully atmospheric with its with its barrel vaulted ceiling which being 72 feet long is a rare  survivor.
There is lots more to see so I won't ruin it by posting too many photos. Some other interesting facts to finish. Walter Jones bought the house from Robert Catesby of The Gunpowder Plot fame. He knocked down the house and built Chastleton. The rules of Lawn Croquet were codified and published here in1866 and the Jaques Travelling Patience board which we have sold a couple of over the years was invented here by  Mary Whitmore Jones around 1900.
Finally, when leaving check out the small church next door with some fine brasses hidden under the carpet and the charming Dovecote in the field opposite.

By Simon Clarke.

Saturday 17 August 2013

The Douro Chair

The Douro Chair was made by the majority of London campaign furniture makers during the 19th century, with W. Day & Son, J.W. Allen, Hill & Millard and The Army & Navy Store all illustrating it in their adverts. Also W. Smee & Sons of London illustrated a Douro Chair with a foot rest in 1850. The chair was named after the Douro River in Spain and Portugal, a place well known to the British troops fighting during the Peninsular War of 1808 to 1814. Who first designed and produced the Douro first and exactly when we are yet to find out.

My Barrack Room, Landguard Fort
This pencil drawing with watercolour was drawn by Lieutenant Edward Hovell Thurlow of the Royal Artillery and he titles it to the bottom centre of the picture. He has also noted in the left corner ‘Done in Bed, Nov. 27th 1856’ and initialed it. To the left is a Douro Chair with a sword leaning against it.

The 'Douro' was obviously a popular chair with these different makers producing them over such a long period of time. As with so may pieces of campaign furniture they were made with their own packing cases and as we have seen with other pieces the makers decided to make these cases have a secondary use as a piece of furniture by providing legs which when screwed in turned the case into a table or desk.

The painting below shows another barrack room with a square backed Douro. It is attributed to Lieutenant Edward Hungerford Delavel Elers Napier, circa 1835 and is entitled "My barrack room at Belfast" signed with initials, dated and inscribed, 'E.N./Belfast.del 1835' . This is the earliest depiction of the Douro we have which makes it interesting as it gives us a date that we know they were being made from.

My barrack room at Belfast 

The makers Hill & Millard made a model of Douro chair which conforms to the standard model of chair put with a brass rod to the top upright which would allow the top cushion to be attached stopping it from sliding down. The model below having the makers name stenciled to the canvas seat below the cushion.  

In stock at the moment we have a good example by J.W. Allen. ( below) the name being stenciled on the inside of the door of the packing case. As you can see J.W. Allen favoured the shaped back. As with most of the others we have seen the chair is made of Satin-birch  ( we did once have a model made of oak unfortunately with out a makers name.) and has the typical leather straps that allow the back to be reclined. We have had a model which had wooden arms with leather at the ends to allow for reclining. Sadly, this one also was missing a makers name.

J.W. Allen Douro Chair
As far as campaign furniture goes the Douro is a design classic which would complete any antique campaign furniture collection.

By Simon Clarke

Monday 12 August 2013

A brief insight into Naval Campaign Furniture

In the eighteenth century a naval officer was expected to provide his own furniture and ideally it needed to suit the difficult conditions it was used in. That is to say it should be easy to move quickly when the call to clear the decks was given; it should be made to withstand the rigours of life on board ship and it should fit the limited space available whilst still being practical for use.  Lieutenant James Trevenen of the 24 gun frigate ‘Crocodile’ wrote a good description of a typical cabin of a junior officer and his furniture, in his letter of the 17th August 1781 to his brother :

        My habitation, then is six feet square, which six feet is now completely filled up as an egg. My cot in which I sleep is two feet broad and five and a half long, allowing half a foot on each side for swinging (and this is too little when it blows hard). I wish I had not mentioned the cot, for it blows hard now and brings to memory that I shall have a bad night’s sleep. Allowing half a foot then for swinging, my cot will take up just half my cabin and there will be left six feet by three feet. A very small bureau will take up three feet square, and my chair and myself will pretty well complete the rest of the space.   1.

The  two part mahogany secretaire chest illustrated is a little over the size of Trevenen’s bureau and would have been useful to a naval officer in carrying out his administrative duties. With the entering of daily logs, the recording of signals and Admiralty returns this work was substantial and a writing area with drawers and pigeon holes for filing was essential. This chest has a fixed fiddle gallery to the top and handles to the sides. Although you could be forgiven for assuming that these handles were simply for carrying, their greater importance was for tying down in bad weather.

As the chest breaks into two parts it could easily be carried to the hold or put into a boat to be towed behind, when the ship prepared for battle. If it couldn’t be moved quickly or there was no time, it was not uncommon for furniture to be thrown overboard. Indeed at Trafalgar, 10 officers of the Ajax had their cots given to the sea in the haste to be ready for battle. Apart from storage, the furniture was sometimes put to more practical use during battle. It was not unknown for the surgeon to use the midshipman’s chests, lashed together with tarpaulin on which to lay out the wounded sailors, in the absence of a table.  2.

The following illustrations are of a mahogany elbow chair and it can be seen that it is designed to concertina flat quickly. Once the seat is lifted to rest against the back and the two piece arms are released on their brass catches, the hinges on the side rails allow the chair legs to fold so that chair takes up a relatively small amount of space. This chair is typical of a type associated with naval use. Indeed a set of the same design are on board HMS Victory and Treve Rosoman notes that Admiral Edward Boscawen (1711-1761) had a similar set of four plain chairs and one armchair.  3.

Although these two items are good examples of purpose made furniture for use on board ship it is not to say that common domestic furniture was not also used and certainly it would been more affordable to the officer still waiting to make his fortune. The ward-room furniture of the 80 gun Tonnant included a number of Windsor chairs and at Trafalgar they “were suspended by a rope passed from the main to the mizzen mast.”  4.  Forbes Chevers, the ship’s surgeon, retrieved his chair after the battle as a memento, even though it “had part of its legs shot away and another bullet had passed completely through its thick oaken seat.”  4.

Further pieces may be seen on our website

1. A Memoir of James Trevenen, ed. by Christopher Lloyd & R.C. Anderson, Navy Records Society, 101 (1959) and quoted by Treve Rosoman in ‘Some Aspects of 18th century naval furniture’- Furniture History Society Journal Vol. XXXIII 1997.
2. Roy Adkin - ‘Trafalgar – The biography of a battle’. Published by Little, Brown
3.‘Some Aspects of 18th century naval furniture’ by Treve Rosoman - Furniture History Society Journal Vol. XXXIII 1997.
4. Quoted in Roy Adkins, ‘Trafalgar - the biography of a battle’. Published by Little, Brown

Sean Clarke

Saturday 10 August 2013

The Year so Far.

   I thought it might be an idea , as we have started blogging, to set the scene with where we are at. This year seems to be flying past so starting our blog with what has already gone on this year would appear to be a good way of letting you all know ( if you don't already) what has been going on at our shop in the Cotswolds.
Interestingly, business started well in the New Year with sales to both new and existing customers which was a pleasant surprise as it can sometimes take a few weeks after the Christmas and New Year Festivities for things to get going.
  We had also just set up an online presence with 1stdibs at the end of December 2012 as way of further tapping into the huge global market for Fine Art and Antiques. We had decided that with the current economic situation not improving greatly we would again give Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair a miss this year. We both thoroughly enjoy the two weeks there buying ,selling and spending time with other dealers but felt that with the costs involved and the amount of stock we have to sell to cover these costs at present it was not a gamble we wanted to take. Better to invest the money elsewhere in stock , exhibitions and things like 1stDibs .
     February brought a day out at The House of Lords for The LAPADA Conference 2013. Starting with a tour followed by lectures on Social Media , The Art Market's Digital Future and Online Dealing. It also gave Sean the opportunity of introducing to the delegates the  LAPADA Quiz App . An inspired idea he had been working on with LAPADA as both a fun and educational  Antiques quiz aswell as being a way of helping to market the wonderful stock of its members. This is now live and available to download at itunes and has the facility for members to include questions on their stock as they upload them on to the LAPADA website. It is still in its infancy and will benefit greatly with the addition of more questions but even now is great fun and quite addictive.

     Around this time we also entered an exciting find into the Lapada Object of the Year  We had found and researched with a dear friend and retired book dealer a fascinating collection of 93 watercolours depicting various Scottish Artisans, Street Traders and Characters including J. Pettit the Rat Catcher, a China Mender, a Newhaven Fisherman, a Highland Reaper, Strawberry Sellers, a Carrier of Children’s Coffins at Funerals, a Chambermaid and a Doorbell Installer. A really great find deserving of being in a museum collection.

Come the results day at the June Olympia Antiques Fair we were very pleased to find that we came 2nd in both the Judges and Peoples Vote which bearing in mind the quality and rarity of the other entrants was a momentous achievement.

March saw another lovely day out at the Bath Decorative Antiques Fair with our good friends Manfred and Gabi Schotten . Some good purchases were made including a Coat of Arms for the Ballantyne family probably made in Canton judging by the Angel supporters with oriental faces. More on that later. The trip there and back also gave us the chance to talk about our next joint exhibition together.
Every couple of years we have jointed up to hold a selling Exhibition at which we have given 5% of our takings to a local charity we have been keen to support over the years Kate's Home Nursing At the first one 6 years ago we organised a navigational car rally under the name Kate's Great Escape which alongside the exhibitions have raised thousands of pounds for this very worthy charity. The name for this years exhibition would be Rule Britannia and was held in mid July. The Exhibition celebrated Britain's reputation for invention and high standards both traits exemplified in furniture design and the creation and development of sports and games. The car rally proved to be another outstanding success with many saying it was the best yet and again raising much needed money for the charity. Checkout some of the photos on Manfred'sBlog .

Whilst the exhibition was on I was fortunate enough to still be able to go on the Regional Furniture Society annual Conference and AGM in Edinburgh. This was a fantastic few days for so many reasons. Deciding to drive up  with my mother we stopped off to collect the Gillows scholar Susan Stuart in Lancaster combining a break with a visit to Judges Lodgings Museum a must for anyone interested in Gillows furniture. Over the next few days we visited too many houses to mention but including Gosford house where we were given a wonderful private tour by the lovely Dowager Countess of Wemyss and March. Other successes of this trip were discovering the name of the artist of our Lapada Object of the Year entry and meeting members of the Ballantyne family whose Armourial was mentioned above. I think a blog for the future will have to be dedicated to this weekend.

The brings us just about up to date and a good place to finish. I am looking forward to writing up future blogs on how the rest of the year goes aswell as looking back at some interesting stories from the past.