Today’s highlight from our summer exhibition, Great Provenances: Exceptional Antiques from Notable Collections, is a very fine George III Regency rosewood and brass-mounted double-sided library writing table in the manner of John McLean. The rectangular gilt-tooled leather-lined top features re-entrant corners above a frieze with two drawers on one side, and two dummy-drawers on the reverse. The table has down-swept legs ending in reeded brass caps and castors, and the end supports feature ormolu ‘milled’ tablets.
This table comes from the collections of the Lords Aschombe at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.
John McLean (1770-182), of Upper Marylebone High Street, London, was one of the preeminent cabinetmakers at the end of the eighteenth century. His firm secured commissions from some of the greatest patrons of their day, including the 5th Earl of Jersey for Middleton Park, Oxfordshire and his Berkeley Square residence, as well as Edward Lascelles for Harewood House, Yorkshire. Thomas Sheraton featured one of McLean’s designs for a table in his The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book (1803) and noted, ‘The design on the left hand was taken from one executed by Mr. M’Lean in Mary-le-bone street, near Tottenham court road, who finishes these small articles in the neatest manner’ [sic]. Several pieces of furniture made by McLean retain the firm’s original trade labels affixed to the inside of drawers.
McLean’s work, in the Regency taste, can be typically characterized by the use of the finest rosewood veneers together with lacquered gilt-brass mounts. The combination of the rich darkness of the rosewood and the gilt mounts provided an attractive and striking contrast. The inclusion of inset tablets featuring the ‘match-striker’ or ‘milled’ design has become recognized as one of the hallmarks of McLean’s oeuvre.
Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire dates back to the 15th century. Ralph Boteler (1394-1473), created Baron Sudeley by King Henry VI, built the castle with income earned from fighting in the Hundred Years’ War. The castle passed into the hands of the Royal family when King Edward IV confiscated the castle from Boteler in 1469. King Edward VI gave the castle to his uncle, Thomas Seymour, whom he made Baron of Sudeley. Later, Mary I granted the castle to Sir John Brydges, creating him Baron Chandos of Sudeley.
William and John Dent, two wealthy glove makers from Worcester, bought the Castle in 1837 from the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. They commissioned Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) to restore the castle and filled the interiors with impressive paintings, furniture and works of art.
The Lords Ashcombe
Henry Edward Cubitt, 4th Lord Ashcombe (1924-2013) came to Sudeley Castle when he married Elizabeth, widow of Mark Dent-Brocklehurst, in 1979. Ashcombe was a descendent of the master builder Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) who built much of London’s Bloomsbury, Pimlico, and Belgravia.
Ashcombe served in the RAF during World War II and went on to join the family business, including serving as chairman of Holland, Hannen and Cubitt. Together with Lady Elizabeth, Ashcombe helped to refurbish Sudeley to maintain the house as a private residence while also opening the house to the public.