Book Review - 'Sussex Silver And Its Makers'
by Timothy Kent

Review by Eric J. G. Smith, Esq.


The First of Its Kind

Daniel Defoe wrote of Rye, "The air here is excellent good, the country healthful and the provisions of all sorts very reasonable". Defoe's " tour" also took him to Lewes " a fine pleasant town, well built, agreeably scituated (sic) in the middle of an open champaign country, and on the edge of the South Downs". The visit to Chichester caused Defoe to observe: "this City is not a place of much trade, nor is it very populous… But some money'd men of Chichester, Emsworth have joined their stocks together, built large Granaries near the Crook, where the vessels come up"*.

The title of this review, 'the First of its Kind' I filched from an earlier review of Timothy Kent's 'West Country Silver Spoons and their Makers, 1550-1750 (1992)', now accepted as the 'Bible' on the subject by collectors, cataloguers and others, which appeared in "Country Life", 4th February, 1993. In that review I wrote, "Compared with some of the more massive tomes, (West Country Silver) is almost pocket size. Nevertheless the author has managed to produce in inimitable fashion, within a 180 pages, a scholarly, anecdotal major work - the first in-depth study of West Country silversmiths".

So Tim has followed the same format in his 'Sussex Silver and its Makers'. However, whereas the 'West Country Silver' book, numbering 180 pages and included the names of some 250 spoonmakers from counties stretching from Hampshire to Cornwall, the present volume by comparison is very slim, numbering some 48 pages and confined, of course, to the one county - Sussex. For those of us who have little idea of Sussex, the cover has a coloured map of the county by the mapmaker T. Moule (1838); "Of unusual shape", Tim notes apparently "85 miles long and only 25 miles wide, its southern border being coastal and fronting the English Channel", and comprises 936,320 acres to be more precise! As if to introduce the reader to the book before opening, on either side of the map, on the cover, are black and white illustrations of a seal-top spoon by the maker William Dodson I (probably) of Lewis, 1637, and a Communion Cup of West Itchenor, Chichester c.1570/80.

Somehow within the space of 48 pages Tim has crammed a mass of detailed information relating to the lives and work of the Sussex silversmiths, working mostly in the three towns referred to by Daniel Defoe, namely Rye, Lewes and Chichester, although in the case of Rye, to date "Little further has yet emerged to identify any pieces of Rye silver, but time will tell". So too with East Grinstead and Petworth, where there is evidence of silversmithing e.g. in 1699, the London Goldsmiths" company fined "Mr. (Thomas) Byshe in respect of substandard goods".

Essentially the majority of Tim's known Sussex silversmiths, or at least those named, lived and worked in Lewes and Chichester; that Tim is able to relate the craftsmen to illustrated examples of their achievement, and further enhances our knowledge of the history of English provincial silversmithing.

Until Tim's work, what little known of Lewes silversmiths was to be found in "Jackson's Revised", pp274/275, which lists "John Symme, 1573"; Tim writes of "a working goldsmith in modest circumstances", and little is known, other than his Will of 1596 (Appendix B). Jackson lists also "William Dobson, c. 1580", which Tim refers to as 'William Dobson I, c. 1775-1643' (Will, Appendix C); and thirdly, Jackson lists 'William Dibson jun, c.1640s', whom William I in his Will "…freely forgives (his said cousin) William Dodsonn of a said debt (of five pounds)". Further Jackson shows between the Lewes town's chequered and lion rampant mark, two versions of a 'D enclosing a small 'o' mark for William II, which Tim illustrates as that of 'William I, who also used a 'WD conjoined' mark; William II' s mark, also shown as 'D' enclosing a small 'o' in a shaped shield. Examples of spoons and a bodkin, by the two Dodsons and others of the family, Anthony and Richard, are shown by Tim as Figs.27-60. Tim also writes and illustrates silver, including patents by another Lewes family of silversmiths, beginning with John Emery I c.late 1640's-1675, who made the church patens (figs. 61-64, and spoons fig.65); Son James Emery II (c.1652-1719), silver by him. Communion plate, tumblers and spoons (Figs. 68-77); also a James III and Samuel; a William Grover, and Robert Colgate, wkng.1670-1708, a spoon maker of puritans and trefids (Figs.78-80).

It is surprising to see a number of the Lewes silver articles punched with variations of the "fleur-de-lys" mark, (Figs. 28,31,45,46,67,70,80). On the subject Tim writes: "The fleur-the-lys mark was clearly used by the Dodsons, Emerys and Robert Colgate in various forms from c.1600…down to the end of the 17th century or near it. A note of caution …because fleur-de-lys were also used elsewhere, e.g. at Barnstaple… and in other places such as East Anglia".

Tim discusses at some length the lives and work of the Chichester silversmiths, which, after all, further adds to our knowledge of English provincial silver, including spoons. The names of fourteen of the Cathedral city's silversmiths are listed, and with the exception of three briefly referred to below, the remainder I leave to those readers able to obtain a copy of this excellent book, which is truly worth every penny of £23. (£20 for members. Ed.)

The earliest extant Chichester plate dates from the 12th/13th centuries, and consists of a chalice a paten removed from the coffin of an unknown bishop long buried in the Cathedral (Figs. 3 & 4); also shown, an early 16th century paten belonging to Donnington Parish Church, (Fig.5). Another eight chalices, c.16th century, with bands of engraving and in form resembling a 'Champagne glass', mostly by Chichester silversmiths and from various churches in the county are shown, with a location map (Figs. 7-15).

The three silversmiths referred to are Daniel Seymour (1595-1655), his mark DS anchor between, spoon maker (Figs.18-20); perhaps best remembered for making the brass and copper bizarre weather cock (1638), that once topped the Cathedral's spire (now in the Treasury, see Fig. 17, in colour)**. Thomas, his son (1629-1700?), who worked as a London silversmith, and who in 1693, presented the company with its famous 'Seymour Salt' (Fig.21).*** John Costelow (1677-1743), coloured portrait shown (Fig.23), Mayor of Chichester (1720), maker's mark IC in gothic script, punched on a flagon and paten belonging to Woolbending Church, 11 miles from Chichester (Figs. 24a,b & 25).

Finally, Timothy Kent, the matser of the anecdote. Who are these characters from Rye? Messrs. Walter Poslethwaithe, Faintnot Batchelor, Courteous Brooke and Performethyvowes Seires. I can assure readers, real people are to found in the pages of Tim's worthy effort!

References:
* 'A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain', Vol. I; pp.124, 128/9, 132-135. 'Everyman's Library' (1962);
** Ibid, Defoe writes of lightening breaking the steeple c.1690? P.132.
*** Pepys, Samuel. 'Diary', 27th April 1662. (1659-1669).

A copy of the book can be obtained at the special rate of £20 plus £1.50 postage in UK, £2.50 Europe, £4 elsewhere. From J H Bourden-Smith Ltd of 24 Masons Yard, Duke Street, St. James's, London. SW1Y 6BU. Cheques payable to T.A. Kent.

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.18. & .19.
The Finial, February/March 2003


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