The Exhibition Of Plate Bearing The Hall-Marks Of The Newcastle Goldsmiths' Company
[NOTE.—The recent exhibition of Newcastle plate was so successful in every way that we hope it may be followed in other localities by similar exhibitions of provincial plate. We have thought it well to give a detailed account of it in our pages, and for this purpose we venture to borrow verbatim the excellent report which appeared in the "Newcastle Chronicle" of May 20 and 21.]
"Widespread interest is being taken in all parts of the North of England in the exhibition of Newcastle plate held under the auspices of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, which was opened to the public yesterday, in the Black Gate Museum. There are in the collection exhibited over 300 separate pieces of plate, each possessing, in the eyes of the antiquary, intrinsically an interesting history, and many having, beyond this, a record of ownership or manufacture even more pregnant with human interest. But beyond this, the exhibition possesses a general interest from an aesthetic and artistic point of view. If only as an elevator of public taste, the exhibition of to day, tomorrow, and the next day, should be deemed a valuable means of instruction. The philosophy of the exhibition, indeed, is the feature likely to have the most widely extended results, at a time when so many shop windows and domestic side-boards are filled with meretricious electro plate, flashy and over-ornate. Silver and gold, from their intrinsic value as precious metals, call upon those who work in them to exercise the most economy in using them, and to effect this a special mode of construction is resorted to, widely different from the principles observed by those who work in the common materials of clay or glass. The precious metals are at all times worthy materials for the manufacture of works of art, and, in view of their great durability, it is of the highest importance that the objects created should be well considered both as to the utility of their design and the beauty of their form. The principal danger which besets the products of the goldsmith's and silversmith's art is the temptation which many rightful owners have of consigning them to the melting-pot, and the attraction, in the direction of unlawful possession, which they provide for the thief. To this may be attributed the increasingly great popularity which cheaper and consequently less artistic productions in electro-plate now enjoy. In view of the greater longevity of articles fashioned out of solid metal, it becomes of the highest importance to impart to them beauty and dignity of form, richness of design, intricacy and delicacy of cunning detail, and a general refinement of effect, so that they may long be considered with admiration and be repeatedly enjoyed by all who behold or use them. The defect of modern plate is chiefly its shoddy character and the subordination of utility of construction to florid ornamentation. This is commonly seen in silver and gold vessels bearing handles or spouts, and it is curious how rarely such vessels are designed as they should be. A pound weight is easily lifted, but when applied to the shorter end of the steelyard it will balance a hundred-weight. If this principle is applied to a teapot which actually weighs but little, the teapot may yet be very heavy to lift, and in nineteen cases out of twenty silver jugs and teapots are so designed that they are in practice lifted only by a force that would be capable of raising two or three such vessels if only the principle of the steelyard was not acting against the person using the vessel. Another common error is noticeable in many vases and similar vessels covered with figures in high relief, the groups of which do not follow the line of the vase, but appear as irregular projections from it. If figures or other ornaments are beaten up on the surface of a vessel, they should not be allowed to destroy or mar its general contour. These are but a few of the considerations which become prominent in comparing the art of the silversmith of the present day, directed to meet the modern taste for the maximum of show with the minimum of substantiality, with the more solid and artistic workmanship which prevailed in the time of our forefathers of the last century. The present exhibition, however, is one exclusively of Newcastle plate, from the earliest date up to the year 1800, and thus several important offers by collectors to lend for exhibition examples of old plate otherwise extremely interesting have had to be declined. But Newcastle was so long an office for assaying and hall marking plate that even of its own products there exist so many and so handsome specimens that it is probably all the better and more useful in purpose that the restriction of the exhibits to locally marked plate was made.
"We may supplement our remarks last week on one of the greatest makers of Newcastle plate during the last century, Isaac Cookson, to wit, by some further interesting details. It has commonly been supposed, even by members of this particular family, that the Cooksons of Whitehill and Meldon, who during the present century have been one of our best known Northumbrian and Durham county families were the direct descendants of Isaac Cookson, the Newcastle goldsmith. Researches, carried out during the preparations for the present exhibition, and now first set out in print, have shown accidentally and somewhat unexpectedly that such was not the case, but that they were descended from another branch of the same family. The Cooksons of Meldon are directly descended from the Cooksons of Penrith, who were the ancestors in the female line of Wordsworth the poet. One of the arguments in support of this is furnished by Mr. George Watson, of Penrith, who, in a paper on 'Nolabilia of Old Penrith,' finds in the registers of the old Cumbrian town the regular recurrence of established families of Cooksons in 1639. There were, however, Cooksons in Penrith forty years before, as the following entries show: '1597. Janet, wife of William Cookson, buried: 1599, William Cookson and Elizabeth Cookson married ; and 1600, William Cookson, buried.' Mr. Watson thinks that this William Cookson was the father of the three Cooksons, William, Lancelot, and Anthony, who appear, in 1639, to have been established in the town. Between 1639 and 1742 no fewer than sixteen William Cooksons appear in the registers as fathers of families. In the middle and latter part of the last century there were two William Cooksons, first cousins, and both leading townsmen of Penrith, one a grocer, the other a mercer. The latter was the maternal grandfather of William Wordsworth, the Poet Laureate (and was also a grandson of the William Cookson who married Alice). William, the grocer, was a son of William Cookson, the eldest son of William and Alice Cookson, and was a nephew of Isaac Cookson, the merchant, of Newcastle.
"Much has been written, and much suggested, as to the identity of Isaac Cookson, the well known Newcastle silversmith, and it has proved somewhat difficult and involved much careful research to establish beyond reasonable doubt that some of the conclusions hitherto arrived at are erroneous, and that, though a connection, he was only collaterally a connection of the Cooksons of Whitehill and Meldon. The following facts have all been verified, in most instances by direct reference to original documents. Let us go back to the grandfather of William, the grocer, who was William Cookson of Penrith, who died in 1712. His wife was named Alice, and he had several sons and daughters; but, for the present purpose, it is necessary to refer to only two of them. Their eldest son was William, baptized in 1668, and their second son Isaac, baptized in 1679, who was a merchant in Newcastle. The eldest of these two brothers, William Cookson the younger, married Esther, and by her had, with other children, a son Isaac, baptized August 30,1705. His wife died the following month, and he married secondly Susannah. It was this son Isaac who was the Newcastle silversmith.
"Isaac, the merchant, son of William the elder, settled in Newcastle, and married Hannah Helton, by whom he had a son named John. This Isaac died in 1744, and his widow Hannah died in 1760, the remains of husband and wife being interred in St. Nicholas's Church. This Isaac, the merchant, purchased considerable property in Newcastle and erected a spacious mansion, and was succeeded by his son John, believed to be an only child. The latter in 1745 purchased the estate of Whitehill, near Chester-le-Street, marrying Elizabeth, eldest daughter and co-heir of Thomas Ludwige, of Whitehaven, and having issue (among others) Isaac Cookson, of Whitehill. This latter had seven sons, including John, of Whitehill ; James, colonel in the army; and Isaac, of Meldon Park. William Cookson the elder, who died in 1712, in his will, proved at Carlisle in that year, refers to all his children, and by it he bequeaths, inter alia, to his 'son Isaac Cookson, living at Newcastle-on-Tyne,' five pounds to buy a ring, and one pound to his wife, Hannah, for the like purpose. This clearly identifies Isaac the merchant who married Hannah Belton.
"The books of the Newcastle Goldsmiths' Company show only one Isaac Cookson as a member of that guild, and indicate that in 1720 Isaac Cookson, son of William Cookson of Penrith, gentleman, was bound an apprentice to Francis Batty, silversmith, paying the unusually large apprenticeship fee of £35, while in 1727-28 Isaac Cookson was made free of the guild. On May 23, 1734, Isaac Cookson, of Newcastle, silversmith, married Susannah Gilpin—this connecting him with the Gilpin family, the great Puritan preacher of Newcastle, formerly Presbyterian Rector of Greystoke, being their ancestor—at Trinity Church, Whitehaven, and in 1737 Esther, their only child, was born, Susannah being buried at St. Nicholas' on May 10, 1746, while her husband was buried at the same church on August 22, 1754. The next month, at York, letters of administration were granted to William Bowes, who was appointed curator of Esther Cookson, the only daughter and sole next-of-kin of Isaac Cookson, of Newcastle, the silversmith. No plate has ever been found with Isaac Cookson's mark dated before 1728 or after 1754-57. After his death the business was carried on by John Langlands, his former apprentice and journeyman; and in 1758 Esther Cookson, having attained her majority, took out letters of administration de bonis non of the estate of her father as daughter and sole next-of-kin. Isaac Cookson, the silversmith, therefore, who died without male heir, seems clearly to have been the nephew of the Isaac Cookson, the merchant, who was the ancestor of the Cooksons of Whitehill and Meldon. William Cookson, the father of the silversmith, is described as a brazier, but in his son's indentures as a gentleman; it appears that, although a brazier by trade, he had attained a considerable position, for he was also concerned in coal and iron works, being, with his father and brother, a pioneer in the iron trade of Cumberland and Tyneside.
"The Black Gate Museum, yesterday, was visited by an eager and greatly interested throng of ladies and gentlemen for the purpose of inspecting the large and varied collection brought together from all parts of the North of England, and it soon became obvious that all the requirements of the promoters had been satisfied, for, while they had an excellent collection of varied examples of the work of as many as possible of the Newcastle Guild of Goldsmiths, they had also succeeded in awakening a surprising degree of interest in the general public. From an antiquarian standpoint the success of the exhibition has been complete, for nearly all the working silversmiths of Newcastle up to the close of the eighteenth century are represented by examples, and many of the better-known makers in a large way of business are abundantly in evidence through their work. Every separate piece is adequately and succinctly described by means of a card containing the name of the maker, the period in which he flourished, and the actual or probable date of the plate, as well as the exhibitor's name. But beyond these particulars the pieces themselves often bear curious inscriptions, interesting monograms or coats of arms, or other features of peculiarity whereby may hang an interesting tale. Probably the first thing to strike an observer would be the fact that, of the 360 pieces of plate shown, more than one-third is ecclesiastical in character, while another striking trait of the exhibits is the predominance of the names of the great makers, and these only of a comparatively recent date. Though the Newcastle Goldsmiths' Guild existed early in the fifteenth century, none of the plate which they made is known to have come down to us, and the earliest known piece of Newcastle plate—at any rate, the oldest in the collection on exhibition—is the portion of Communion plate from Ryton Church (consisting of cup and paten), dated 1664, the work of John Wilkinson. Other plate may be older, but is dateless; this is the oldest known which bears a date mark. Very few other specimens bearing John Wilkinson's mark are believed to be in existence. The most frequent name attached to the seventeenth-century plate exhibited is that of William Ramsey, who worked from about 1656 to 1702, and whose mark appears upon a great quantity of ecclesiastical plate. An exceptionally interesting sample of his work in the exhibition is the large flagon from Sawley Church, near Ripon, which apparently formed part of the Corporation plate of Newcastle. At any rate, it is embellished with the arms of the town, and bears the date mark 1670, and has engraved upon it the name of Thomas Davison, mayor. But it also bears the inscription: 'The gift of Edward Norton, Esq., Mr Philip Lauder, Mr. William Kay, and ye Revd. Thomas Kay to ye Chapel of Sawley, 1756.' This was nearly a hundred years before the Newcastle Mansion House sale, and it is a puzzle even to the experts how it came to be transferred from the custody of the Corporation to its present ecclesiastical owners. An interesting bit of local history must attach to the flagon if it could be known. Further fine examples of William Ramsey's work are to be seen in the loans of church plate from St. Nicholas' (Newcastle), St. John's (Newcastle), Durham, Boldon, and Rose Castle Chapel, Cumberland. Much of the secular plate on exhibition also bears his mark. Two handsome flagons from St. Mary's, Gateshead, bear the mark of another prominent seventeenth-century goldsmith, John Dowthwaite.
"The local clergy have responded most heartily to the committee's invitation to lend their church plate, and so this section is exceptionally complete, embracing examples of all dates from the earliest known to the end of the last century, fine contributions having been received from St. Nicholas', All Saints', St. Ann's, St. John's, Newcastle, St. Mary's, Gateshead, and other churches in the district. In the secular section the most notable contribution is that of Mr. Thomas Taylor, of Chipchase Castle, who has sent a very fine collection from his large store of old plate, including some pieces of very early secular plate. Probably the two most handsome of these are a parcel gilt tankard on three ball feet by William Ramsey, circa 1670, and a loving cup and cover by John Langlands, 1769. Mr. Taylors nearest competitor amongst the collectors is Mr. L. W. Adamson; while Mr. J. R. Carr-Ellison, Miss Reed (of Old Town), Major Widdrington, Mr. W. Ord (of Nunnykirk), Miss Allgood (of the Hermitage, Hexham), and others also contribute rare and handsome pieces of plate, and not the least interesting section of the exhibition are the massive pieces lent by the various guilds in the North of England." — Newcastle Chronicle, May 20.
Continuing the report on the following day, the writer says: "Yesterday, the exhibition of old Newcastle plate, held in the Black Gate Museum, Newcastle, under the auspices of the Newcastle Society of Antiquaries, was visited by many collectors and other interested ladies and gentlemen. It must have struck many who have seen the handsome collection there gathered together from many parts of the North of England that almost the only pieces of Newcastle Corporation plate exhibited have been lent, not by the Corporation, but by the vicar and wardens of Sawley Church, near Ripon (who possess in a fine flagon the oldest example extant of Newcastle plate), by Mrs. Aubone Potter, who showed two butter boats, and by Mrs. Demay, her sister, who showed a similar piece. The old Corporation of Newcastle had at the beginning of this century a very fine collection of plate, much of which was of Newcastle make, but at the time when the new Newcastle Town Council, under the provisions of the Municipal Corporation Reform Act, came into office, some eighteen months before the beginning of the Queen's reign, all the old Corporation plate was sold and dispersed to various parts of the country, an act of utter vandalism from an antiquarian standpoint, so that, although they retain a few relics of their ancient grand stock of silver, the present Corporation of the city do not possess one single piece of very old plate that was made by a Newcastle silversmith. Dr. L. W. Adamson was another exhibitor of silver formerly belonging to the Corporation in the shape of a number of spoons and dessert-forks. The same gentleman showed a series of engraved spoons by various makers illustrative of the work of the early part of last century.
"After the church plate, the largest feature of the exhibition—which, by the way, closes today—the old guild plate is the most important section, and almost the finest tankard shown is one belonging to the Tanners' Company of Newcastle; it is the work of John Ramsey, jun., bears the date of 1721, and has engraved upon it the arms of the company and the names of the stewards for 1723. The Drapers' Company of Durham show a wine-cup by John Dowthwaite, dated 1671, and a very fine tankard of about the year 1700 by Eli Bilton. The Carlisle Tanners' Company have a tankard by John Ramsey, given to the guild by the Bishop of Carlisle in 1701, and this is one of the few pieces made when no one had a right to mark plate in Newcastle, so that, while bearing the maker's mark, it does not show the Newcastle assay mark. Mr. Thomas Taylor, of Chipchase, occupies a case all to himself with a choice selection from his large and valuable collection. This includes an old wine-cup by John Wilkinson, dated circa 1664; a small porringer with Chinese decoration, by Abraham Hamer, circa 1690; a fluted porringer, by Eli Bilton, circa 1696; a fine old cleft-ended spoon by William Ramsey, circa 1686 ; and an unusually fine flagon by Jonathan French, 1721, as well as a handsome pair of sugar-castors and a pair of beautifully-worked rosewater ewers. The coffee-pots are a most attractive and interesting feature of the show, Major Widdrington, Miss Reed (of Old Town), Mr. James Dand, and Mr. John Watson being exhibitors. Dr. L. W. Adamson shows a fine double-handed cup and a cover by Thomas Partis, 1721, and an octagonal-shaped teapot and stand by Langland and Robertson ; while other handsome tea-kettles include two of Mr. Carr Ellison's made by Isaac Cookson, one dated 1732 and the other 1751, showing a marked difference of style. Mr. Ord, of Nunnykirk, has lent a very fine sauceboat, with a dragon's head for a handle and lions' heads for feet, made by Isaac Cookson in 1746. Miss Allgood, The Hermitage, shows two candlesticks by John Langlands, circa 1760, the only pair of candlesticks of old Newcastle make met with in the exhibition. The successful exhibition has highly pleased the antiquaries who promoted it, and interested large numbers of visitors from all parts of the district, while it has certainly increased the zest of collectors for old Newcastle plate.
"Perhaps it will be useful to give here a chronological list of Newcastle goldsmiths from the earliest time for which examples are known to exist up to 1800, which is the most recent date of works comprised in the exhibition: William Ramsey, 1656-98; John Wilkinson, 1658 to circa 1670; John Dowthwaite, 1666-73; Francis Batty, sen., 1674-1707; Eli Bilton, 1683-1712; Robert Shrive, 1694 to circa 1702; Thomas Hewitson, 1697 - 1717; Abraham Hamer, circa 1690; John Ramsey, 1698-1707; Richard Hobbs, 1702-18; Jonathan French, 1703-32; John Younghusband, 1706-18; Francis Batty, jun., 1708-28; James Kirkup, 1713-52; John Carnaby, 1718-33; Robert Makepeace, 1718-55 ; John Ramsey, jun., 1720-28; William Dalton, 1724-67; George Bulman, 1725-43; Isaac Cookson, 1728-54; Thomas Makepeace, 1729-38; John Kirkup, 1753-74; Langlands and Goodrick, 1754-56 ; John Langlands alone, 1756-78; Langlands and Robertson, 1778-93; James Crawford, 1763-95; Samuel James, 1763 65; David Crawford, 1763-95; John Jobson, 1771-76; James Hetherington, 1772-82 ; Stalker and Mitchison, 1774-84 ; John Mitchison, 1784-92; Pinkney and Scott, 1779-90; Christian Reid, 1791-1800 and on; Thomas Watson, 1793-1800 and on ; John Langlands, jun., 1793-1804; and John Robertson, 1796-1801. The following goldsmiths living in other towns assayed plate at Newcastle: Thomas Partis, Sunderland, 1720-26; William Partis, ditto, 1735-59; William Beilby, Durham, 1739-61 ; Samuel Thompson, ditto, 1750-85; and Anthony Hedley, ditto, 1789-1800 and on. Isaac Cookson, John Langland, and Langland and Robertson were the largest makers of Newcastle plate of their day, and consequently a greater quantity of their plate remains to us, so that very many of the specimens exhibited are their work. There are fewer examples of the other makers shown, but altogether the collection is a most comprehensive and interesting one, as it is one well illustrating the progress and development of the craft in Newcastle. —Newcastle Chronicle, May 21.
Source: The Antiquary - July 1897