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Rockingham Vases

Goddards House and Gardens, located on Tadcaster road in York, is a National Trust property which was once home to a famous family of confectioners: the Terrys. The three Rockingham vases date from between 1830-1842 and were manufactured by the internationally renowned company Rockingham Pottery, located in Swinton near Rotherham. In the group there are two small vases and one larger one, all round with floral decoration, gilding and blue enamel work. They are on display in the large drawing room, along with other display items, such as chocolate boxes, photographs and more pottery.

History

The factory was located in Swinton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, a few miles from Wentworth village. It was established in 1745 by Joseph Flint and taken over by the Brameld family in 1806, under the patronage of the 4th Earl of Fitzwilliam, a major landowner in the area. The Earl also saved the firm from bankruptcy in 1825, and it was after this generosity that the Bramelds adopted the griffin as there trademark; the family crest of the Marquises of Rockingham, ancestors of the Earl of Fitzwilliam. The distinctive griffin was used in in two different colours, the ‘red-mark’ from 1826-1830 and the ‘puce-mark’ from 1831-1842. Many nobles of the day bought pieces in the decorative rococo style of these periods and the firm had a short lived fame producing wares for the royal family, which lead them to use the title ‘Manufacturer to the King’. Royal commissions include a large and extravagant 200 piece dessert service for King William IV, which took eight years to complete. This collection was passed on to Queen Victoria and can now be seen in Windsor Castle. This undertaking seems to have been achieved at the expense of the firm causing its bankruptcy once again and the pottery finally closed in 1842. The massive Waterloo Kiln is all that remains of the factory, and can be found near Swinton, just off the B6092. Due to its short period of production Rockingham pottery is quite rare, and much sought after at auctions.

Other notable creations by the Rockingham works include two large ornamental vases, which, at their time of construction were the largest single cast pieces of porcelain in the world. One is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London and the other can be found in Clifton Park Museum, Rotherham.

The 'Puce-Mark'

Object description and condition

The vases are decorative versions of a style known as the spill vase. Vases of this type would have been used to hold rolled paper tapers or splints, known as spills, for the lighting of fires, or transfer of flame to a candle or pipe. The style dates back to the fifteenth century but the use died out in the 1860s when methods of lighting evolved and later electricity took over, thus it is likely that the examples on display in Goddards were used for such a purpose, based on their date of manufacture.

Rockingham work

On the base of all three vases is the puce Rockingham stamp bearing the legend ‘Rockingham Works Brameld Manufacturer to the King’.

There is a significant amount of gilding lost from the vases, notably the lip at the top where the pieces may have been picked up or wiped in the past. There is a small amount of enamel lost, in particular on one of the vases a chip is missing from an area of the decorative flowers and elsewhere scratches can be found on the blue enamel. There is one large crack on one of the small vases, one piece which has been cracked and glued back together, and one of the small vases has a large amount of microcracks in its base.

The vases themselves remain structurally stable and can be handled and moved, but the fragility of the gilding and enamel means that the vases should not be touched or handled unless necessary and certainly not without the use of nitrate gloves as a barrier between hands and object.

Conservation

The objects have lost some of their decorative gilding and enamel and this cannot be recovered. Any attempt at painting in lost detail or colour could cause further damage to the surrounding paintwork. The aim of conservation is not to restore the item to how it may have appeared in its original conception, but to preserve it in its current state, as stable as possible for as long as possible.

The condition of the pieces has been recorded, photographs taken sketches made. These will be consulted and monitored in the future, to determine if any further deterioration has occurred. If after further examination in a few months’ time the vases appear to be more fragile, stabilisation of the surface decoration may be considered. This can be done in several ways, which will be considered should the necessity arise, but notably the use of an acrylic resin, such as paraloid b72, a stable substance which does not discolour over time and can be dissolved if necessary, so is generally considered reversible and reliable.

For the time being the vases have only been dusted lightly with a pony brush, to remove excess dust from the surface. This was done after testing whether the stability of the paint, and gilding, could with stand this treatment.

Future Maintenance

Care must be taken not to touch or move the objects unnecessarily, only on occasion to dust beneath them. On a daily basis dusting around them should be sufficient. The condition of the objects must be analysed in two months’ time and at regular intervals throughout the year.

Light and humidity levels in the drawing room should also be considered because these could have a detrimental effect on the survival of the surface decoration, its discolouration and the discolouration of the glue in some of the cracks.

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Published in Artefact Conservation Ceramics National Trust - Goddards