The Earl of Mexborough, Methley Hall
Methley’s foundations predated the Norman Conquest; from 1087 the house was owned by Ilbert de Lacy. The hall was held in the de Lacy family until 1410 when Sir Robert Waterton, (circa 1360 – 1425), a legendary soldier who served the monarchs Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, exchanged his manor with the de Lacy Master of the Hospital of St. Nicholas in Pontefract for Methley, and he reformed it into a fine manor house of the day. Following Sir Robert’s death Methley was inherited by Sir Lionel de Welles, 6th Baron Welles, who was married to Sir Robert’s daughter, Joan, and was active during the Wars of the Roses, (1455 – 1485). From the Welles family Methley went to the Dymokes, of whom an eccentric tradition existed in that ‘at the crowning of the King of England a Dymoke must ride into Westminster Hall when the king sits at his banquet, and then, clad in full harness and bestriding a charger of the best, must challenge all men in defiance of the king’s right, with iron glove thrice cast upon the pavement.’ Country Life, op cit, p. 708.
The Dymokes sold the house to a gentleman named Harrison in 1583 who remains at Methley until 1593 when John Savile of Bradley (1546-1607), a Yorkshire born, Oxford educated, lawyer bought the house. Savile’s career is well documented. He was later appointed as a judge, and it was he who undertook the greater part of the renovation of Methley, completing works in 1593. In 1741 Methley was inherited by John Savile (1719 - 1778), who was the great, great grandson of the judge. This Savile between 1753 and 1766 held the title of Lord Pollington but in 1766 became 1st Earl of Mexborough. In his youth the young man travelled extensively throughout Italy and the Continent; in later years he entered politics and became member for Hedon, East Yorkshire, and later New Shoreham. Whilst it was judge Savile who conducted the major work on Methley the Earl and also his son, John Savile, 2nd Earl of Mexborough (1761 – 1830), decorated the house according each of their own respective tastes. The 2nd Earl even employed the architect Anthony Salvin (1799 - 1881) to undertake improvements at Methley. However, due to the records gathered by the 1st Earl’s lawyer and estate manager at Methley, it would seem that he, and not his son, should be credited with purchasing these offered mirrors.
The Methley Mirrors
There are a number of reasons that the 1st Earl commissioned these mirrors. A document created on his death, in 1778, entitled ‘An inventory of the Plate, Linen & Furniture in Lord Mexborough’s Mansion House at Methley Park in Yorkshire’, composed by the Earl’s lawyer, Robert Parker, and the estate manager, Thomas Smith, lists ‘Two large glasses with gilt frames’ in the Drawing Room, (Fig. 2). As one might expect having been recorded by both lawyer and estate manager this inventory was intended as a functional list of the property and so doesn’t delve into elaborate detail. This alone would not be compelling enough evidence to warrant a Methley attribution however at some point prior to June 1918 the mirrors were separated. The reason for which is, as yet, unknown but the cause could well be as a consequence of the 5th Earl’s death during the Great War in 1916. The 5th Earl had been married three times and was succeeded by his half-brother, John Wentworth (1906 – 1980). Whatever the reason may be one mirror was advertised in Connoisseur magazine with Thomas Edwards, Harrogate, July 1918, recorded as being made for Methley (Fig. 3) and by repute this mirror had been bought from Lady Mary Louisa Savile (d. 25 July 1945), half-sister to the 5th Earl. The other mirror, as far as is known at present, possibly remained at Methley which was demolished in 1963 during the 6th Earls tenure. Irrespective of this the mirror was bought from Thomas Bell of Newcastle by the architect Professor William Whitfield for Charles Peat MP for Darlington (1892 - 1979) for Wycliffe Hall. On purchasing the mirror Whitfield had been told it too had come from Methley.
This combination of links and relationships gives both a strong and compelling reasoning for the Mexborough and Methley attributions. The mirror which was sold to Edwards by Lady Mary seems very likely given the time of her brother’s death. Also the quality and grandeur of the mirrors themselves would indicate their being commissioned from just such a family who were burgeoning in wealth and stature at the time.
These mirrors are unequivocally in the taste, manner and style of master cabinet-maker John Linnell. John Linnell (1729 - 1796) and his father William (circa 1703 - 1763) were amongst the leading designers and craftsmen of furniture in the second half of the eighteenth century. They produced works of the highest quality and their reputation matched that of respected contemporaries such as Thomas Chippendale, John Cobb, John Mayhew and William Ince. After training at the St Martin’s Lane Academy for engravers, architects and woodworkers, founded by William Hogarth, John joined his father’s workshop in 1750. He was an extremely talented draftsman, his designs reveal a mastery of the Rococo style which was highly fashionable in London. As he had such a talent for drawing John had much more conviction of style than many. This, in combination with the skill and delicacy of the carvers and engravers in his employ meant that Linnell’s furniture was amongst the most sought after of the day. By the time they moved to their new showrooms in Berkeley Square, in 1754, they already had undertaken the Badminton commission for the Duke of Beaufort; later working for the Dukes of Northumberland and Argyll amongst many others.
Linnell mirrors often incorporate carved interlacing scrolls and acanthus leaves with a multitude of irregular glass plates, candle-holders and platforms upon which porcelain could be displayed, with restrained use of ‘rocaille’ scalloped shellwork and elegant festoons of flowers. The present pair of mirrors adopt a number of these elements and, on inspection of John Linnell’s drawings in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London there are a number which align themselves most clearly; in particular two examples reproduced here (Figs. 4 & 5). The first is a drawing for a pair of pier glasses for Bramshill, Hampshire, for Sir Monoux Cope, circa 1755 – 1760, inventory number E. 177 1929, (Fig. 4) - one pier glass of the pair was sold Sotheby’s London, 12 February 1988, lot 77, see Hayward. H & Kirkham. P., William and John Linnell Eighteenth Century Furniture Makers Vol. II, London, 1980, p. 98, figs. 187 & 188. These mirrors share a number of highly similar qualities, most notably the crests - each have an arched wreath of leaves centred by floral bouquet, a broken swan neck pediment and oval mirror plate to the base with ‘C’ shaped scrolling acanthus. Interestingly in the Linnell drawing the scrolling frame has a ‘palmed’ effect which is not in the finished mirror, whereas this ‘palming’ is very clearly portrayed in this offered pair. The exuberant rococo style seems to be better embodied within the Methley mirrors and they, overall, are a truer rendition of what it is Linnell is showing within the reproduced image here.
The second example, (Fig. 5), is a design for a wall sconce, circa 1760 – 1765, inventory number E. 161 1929. As with the Bramshill example, there are a great many similarities to be found within the drawings of Linnell’s and these mirrors. In particular the two oval plates are of a highly similar feel and balance, also the addition of the central bow joining the two plates is very compelling; bows appear in Linnell furniture however rarely on mirrors. Other motifs which are not accounted for in these two drawings are the urns, vases and the scallop shells. However these elements are more often found in his drawings and commissions for overmantel mirrors. Linnell often worked in collaboration with the best architects of the day, in particular Robert Adam. On his twenty-three year commission at Osterley Park, for Robert Child (1674 - 1721), he worked side by side with Adam (1728 - 1792), executing furniture in his workshop to many of Adam’s designs, such as the sideboard and urns for the dining room in 1767. He also provided the overmantel mirror in Mrs Child’s dressing room, also found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, no. E. 281 1929, now property of the National Trust, inventory number NT 771824. Like the wall sconce (Fig. 5) it too is composed of double oval frames and wreaths of leaves however includes scallop shells to the left and right of the base, and platforms in which to put small vases or urns – in the present lot these are carved and incorporated into the works themselves. A printed illustration of this drawing and an image of the actual overmantel made for Osterley can be seen in Hayward. H & Kirkham. P., ibid, p. 63.
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