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THE ALNWICK CASTLE PRUDHOE TOWER BEDROOM FURNITURE
THE PARADISE BED
The following three lots of furniture are part of a larger group acquired by the 4th Duke of Northumberland and his wife, Eleanor, in 1847-1848, very soon after the Duke had inherited the title and estates from his brother, who had died in February 1847. The furniture came from George Shaw of Saddleworth, Manchester, and he claimed that it was Tudor and from Wressell Castle, Yorkshire, destroyed by the then Duke's Royalist opponents in 1648, during the Civil War. Wressell was later part of the Percy estates that descended separately to the Wyndham family of Petworth and so had no 19th century connection with the Dukes of Northumberland.
The correspondence concerning the Duke's purchase of this furniture in 1847-1848 survives in the Alnwick archive and is most astonishing for the fact that the Duke and Duchess were aware that what was being sold to them as Tudor furniture from Wressell was very unlikely to be so.
Writing in 1901, Eleanor, 4th Duchess, wrote that 'A man... sent one or two pieces of this Furniture, Sideboards, Tables etc. with the Half Moon & Fetterlock, on approval, saying that they came originally from Spofforth or Wressell; We were quite willing to be taken in, having found on enquiry that he was clever at making up old Furniture, with additions of new - and so bought these pieces for Warkworth, besides other - the Adam and Eve bedstead for instance & more, which are, or were, in the Bedrooms in the top floor of the Prudhoe Tower...'.
From 1854 the 4th Duke remodelled Alnwick with the architect Anthony Salvin, including the creation of the 'Prudhoe Tower', named after the ancient Prudhoe Castle estates acquired by his family in 1381. The bedstead was placed in this tower but some years after its purchase. As demonstrated in the 4th Duchess's 1901 letter, the furniture bought from Shaw was intended for Warkworth Castle, then also under restoration by Salvin but never completed.
In offering the furniture to the Duke in 1847, George Shaw wrote:
'A most magnificent bedstead ... [the] head part with Adam & Eve standing on each side of the tree of life with the serpent & inscription etc also cut through and on each side the Adam & Eve central panel two side panels with shields hung in straps upon arabesque foliage... a very rich perforated cornice... & the pillars are surmounted by small lions, altogether forming one of the most superb specimens of Tudor furniture in existence and traditionally designated the Paradise bed'.
It was included amongst other furniture that he had described in an earlier letter of the 30th July as:
'Some magnificent old Carved oak furniture said to have come from Wressle [sic] Castle ... The furniture is of the richest and most ancient fashion & varies in date & style from the latter part of Henry VII to Eliz & Jas. 1st. ... there are a profusion of armorial insignia, badges, coat of arms etc. etc. belonging to the house of Northumberland'.
The bed then supposedly belonged to one of Shaw's friends, but as he explained at the end of this letter:
'Should your Grace feel any interest in these relics I shall be happy to send you sketches & to be the medium of their purchase - the pressure of the times compelling their proprietor to part with them'. The price quoted for the bed was £70. In October of that year Shaw arranged for the despatch of the 'Paradise State bedstead' to Alnwick
Although the bed is specifically referred to by Shaw in the correspondence, it is not absolutely clear whether all the other furniture which later furnished the Prudhoe Tower was supplied by him at this time. The Sotheby's sale in 1997, in which they were sold from Alnwick, also included two towel-horses with the 'half moon' crest at their ends, lot 197. It seems stretching credibility that Shaw should try to pass these off as Tudor. It may therefore be that a local cabinet-maker, such as Thomas Robertson of Alnwick, extended the set around 1860 once the Prudhoe Tower was being furnished. Lots 142 and 143 in this sale could perhaps be passed off to a willing buyer in 1847 as Tudor so may well be part of the original Shaw group.
We are very grateful to Clare Baxter, Collections Manager to The Northumberland Estates, Alnwick Castle, for her help in preparing this catalogue entry.
PROPERTY FROM THE LONDON RESIDENCE OF
THE LATE SIR PAUL GETTY, K.B.E