Stately Home Sleuth: Investigating Calke Abbey’s Military Artworks

A couple of years ago, I posted a Day Trip report on a visit to Calke Abbey, a stately home which has been deliberately kept in the shabby, part-derelict state that it was in when purchased by the National Trust from the Harpur-Crewe family. This might not be an obvious venue for the military enthusiast, but there are a good number of small historical items of military interest secreted across its wonderfully cluttered rooms, many of which I reported on in my 2016 post. In it, I mentioned a number of these artefacts including a Derbyshire Yeomanry uniform and buckles, a march by Haydn written for that yeomanry regiment, and Russian Crimean War objects.

Calke Abbey yeomanry (5).jpg
Part of the Derbyshire Yeomanry uniform on display at Calke.

I’ve just made a return visit and, although I wasn’t expressly looking out for more military artefacts, with my keen eye for military history I nonetheless managed to spot some artworks I thought worthy of a mention. One of these artworks allowed me to uncover a seemingly unknown fact about the Derbyshire Yeomanry. The painting in question was on the opposite wall of one of the many roped off ramshackle rooms. Even at a distance, I could tell that the painting was showing some cavalry force which, from memory, to me looked suspiciously like the local Derbyshire Yeomanry regiment. So, I took a picture on full zoom below:

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A painting hangs on the grimy, faded and torn wallpaper in the “unstately home” of the National Trust’s Calke Abbey.

The National Trust brilliantly makes much of its works available to view online and I set about searching for the painting on my return. Initial search terms like “Yeomanry” didn’t bring up this picture. Eventually, however, I tracked it down amongst the thousands of Calke Abbey objects on-line:

derbyshire-yeomanry.jpg

It’s an oil painting called “Entrance of the Procession into Melbourne on the 10th May 1876” by John Gelder of the Bradford Art Society. The description on the NT web page makes no mention of yeomanry, instead mentioning ‘mounted guards’. Presumably, they are unaware of the true nature of these figures as I can confidently state the cavalry leading the procession are not ‘guards’ but distinctly are men of the Derbyshire Yeomanry, very similar to those depicted below by Richard Simkin in the Army & Navy Gazette in 1898.

derbyshire simkin yeomanry.jpg

The white over red plume on the white metal dragoon helmets and the navy blue uniforms are clear enough in Gelder’s painting. Specifically, it is just the mounted band appearing in the parade. It’s a shame that there is no yeomanry kettle drummer or drum banners apparently depicted. Relating to this, in the “Uniforms of the British Yeomanry Force 1794-1914” book on Yeomanry mounted bands, R.G. Harris states the following about the Derbyshire Yeomanry’s band:

“Whether the band was ever mounted is not known, although a set of drum banners were apparently owned at some time.”

Well, I can say that research by Suburban Militarism has now gone and solved the first part of Harris’ uncertainty! This painting I believe demonstrates conclusively that the Derbyshire Yeomanry certainly did have a mounted band. I count 16 mounted bandsmen in four ranks of four, with 5 officers riding ahead with their swords drawn. That’s considerably less than the 31 musicians and bandmaster later photographed in 1894. Although the detail isn’t clear enough to be 100% certain, it does very much appear that there are no kettledrums carried in the band.

drum banner derbyshire yeomanry.JPG
Drum banner of the Derbyshire Yeomanry depicted in a Player’s cigarette card from the 1920s.

It appears that the rest of the large procession in the painting is made up of a wide variety of other riders, possibly a mix of civilians and other uniformed riders. As the Harpur family (owners of Calke Abbey) were instrumental in both raising the regiment and providing it’s commanding officers, and also as the town of Melbourne is just down the road from Calke Abbey, there’s no question as to why such a painting might find its way to this ancestral home. However, I’m left clueless but intrigued as to what this jubilant procession into a modest Derbyshire market town, an event significant enough to inspire a painting, was all about!

In one of the other wonderfully shabby and cluttered rooms, also behind a roped off area, I could just about see a small framed print of a cavalryman in a frame peaking out from behind some other artworks (see ringed below):

calke abbey (3)

A little more research on the NT’s excellent on-line library revealed the object to be the one pictured below, an illustration of a rider from the Royal Horse Guards. Close up, I recognised the artist immediately.

Royal Horse Guards (2)

It is another Richard Simkin artwork, No.3 from a series which appeared in the Army and Navy Gazette. 3rd March 1888, to be precise! The catalogue lists four more prints of this series in the Calke Abbey collection, including some Dragoon Guards and Life Guard. Interestingly, their appears to be minor differences in the background details to the Army and Navy Gazette version.3_-_Royal_Horse_Guards.jpg

Finally, passing by this roped off stairwell, I could see a large painting in an equally grand frame depicting a cavalryman. There was an explanatory note underneath the painting which I was unable to read. The painting clearly depicted a senior officer in the uniform of a hussar.

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Once again, the NT’s website comes to the rescue. It is General Sir Lovell Benjamin Lovell, KCB, KH, painted in oils by a T.W. Mackay. Sir Lovell, uncle to the lady of the house, was a veteran and hero of the Napoleonic Peninsular campaign and the plaque underneath the painting carefully lists each of his 10 battles, 40 minor actions and 7 sieges!

lovell

He served in the 14th Light Dragoons and, upon retirement, he became colonel of the 12th Lancers. His uniform appears to be clearly that of a hussar, so given his military record I am unsure as to what regiment it represents. He started his career in the Bucks Militia, so I wondered if he retained his links with the local volunteers and this was a Buckinghamshire Hussar yeomanry uniform. Although their are some general similarities the details don’t appear quite correct, however, although such details could have changed over time. The 12th Lancers had been lancers since 1816 and the 14th Light Dragoons didn’t become Hussars until just after his death, so the uniform remains a mystery to me.

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There are many other such discoveries to be made in the wonderfully large and sprawling collection of artefacts in Calke Abbey, including an engraved chart called “The view of the volunteer Army of Great Britain in the year 1806” by Henry Richter which I mentioned in a recent post about Holkham Hall. Oh, how I’d love to be let loose on such items currently lying in storage…

4 thoughts on “Stately Home Sleuth: Investigating Calke Abbey’s Military Artworks

    1. Thanks, I’ve been wondering who might be interested in my sharing this. I’m in contact with the Melbourne Historical Group to find out a little more about the subject of the painting.

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