This magnificent desk designed by Alfred Waterhouse, circa 1872 for the Library at Blackmoor House, Hampshire originally formed part of the architect's largest domestic furniture commission. Waterhouse practised initially in Manchester and rose to prominence in 1859 when he won the competition to design the Manchester Assize Courts. Thereafter he became best known for his public and civic buildings, including Oxford and Cambridge colleges, but notably also rebuilt Eaton Hall, Cheshire for the Duke of Westminster from 1870-83. His reputation was enhanced when he received the commission to build the Natural History Museum in South Kensington (1873-81).
Roundell Palmer (d.1895) became a Conservative MP in 1847 and joined the Peelite Conservatives who were later to help create the Liberal party in 1859; he was knighted in 1861. He served twice as Lord High Chancellor (1872-74 and 1880-85) and was created Baron Selborne in 1872 and Viscount Wolmer and Earl of Selborne in 1882.
Palmer, the archetypal Victorian, bought the land at Blackmoor in 1865 and commissioned Waterhouse to design an estate village including a church, vicarage, school and cottages, as well as the 'Tudor' Blackmoor House itself which incorporated a pre-existing farmhouse. Waterhouse employed the Great Titchfield Street cabinet-makers James Capel to manufacture his furniture designs, which were architectural and strongly influenced by Norman Shaw's 'Old English', with elements from the emerging Art movement and entirely in keeping with the interior's built-in-joinery, the panelling, fire-surrounds and overmantels. The library at Blackmoor is illustrated in Jeremy Cooper, Victorian and Edwardian Furniture and Interiors, 1987, p.92, pl.198 and p.106, pl.229.