Senior Research Fellow Helen Clifford began this case study in 2010. On a visit to Aske Hall in North Yorkshire during the annual Open Heritage weekend, she noticed a range of ‘India goods’ in the house: lacquer screens, trunks studded with mother-of-pearl and Chinese porcelain.
They all appeared to date from the eighteenth-century but little seemed to be known about their provenance, and the owner encouraged research. This and the survival of a large family archive connected with Sir Lawrence Dundas (c.1710-81), who transformed Aske Hall into a grand country house in the 1760s and 1770s, prompted a series of questions. How did these goods get there, what did they mean to the owners of the house, and how did they relate to the more well known and researched interiors created at Aske in the 1760s? Did Sir Lawrence, familiarly known as ‘the Nabob of the North’, have some connection with the East India Company which could be connected with these ‘India’ objects that have survived to the present? This case study shows how ascriptions of ‘Nabob’ taste by contemporaries could be applied to people, places and possessions that appeared, on the surface at least, to have had little connection with the East India Company. Sir Lawrence Dundas, unlike the owners of many of the other houses in this project was never an East India Company servant, nor did he visit India. However, by digging a little deeper, the tentacles of East India Company involvement can be seen to have impacted on Sir Lawrence’s social, political and domestic life.
This study contributes to the debate about how far and in what ways Asian goods were incorporated into British life. Some historians have argued that these ‘exotic’ commodities were only ‘spotted where returning Anglo-Indians congregated, but not only were their numbers very small in the eighteenth century, but they were largely confined to London and a few towns, mainly in the home counties’. Others have identified a much wider and greater spread of these objects across time and place. This case study provides additional evidence for the latter view, demonstrating the significance of the East India Company for British society and culture outside the ranks of the Company’s families, and beyond the confines of London.
[Photography courtesy of Stuart Howat.]