Chinese Wallpaper Case Study: East India Company Family Connections

East India Company Family Connections

There are many examples of Chinese wallpaper in the British country house. The on-going National Trust Chinese Wallpaper Project has mapped over 149 houses, where there are either extant examples or references to it, with more coming to light as research continues. These distinctive luxury goods were undoubtedly part of wider fashion whereby ‘persons of quality and distinction, who had Taste and all that’, were advised to ‘have something foreign and superb’.[1]  Although it would be impractical to research the provenance of all these papers, it is clear that a significant number of them, at current calculation 20 per cent, were connected with individuals and families that had specific links with the East India Company.[2] It is the aim of the rest of this case study to investigate the nature of these connections.


Figure 4. Photograph of Chinese wallpaper at Erdigg, with black Coromandel screen, Chinese silk bed hangings. (Note the red cabinet has recently been exchanged for a black one). © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

Some owners of Chinese wallpaper, like Edward Howard, 9th Duke of Norfolk (1686-1777) were investors in the Company, although it has not been possible to link the wallpaper which decorated the principal bedrooms of Norfolk House, St James’s Square, and at Worksop Manor, with specific ships. Henry Lascelles Senior (1690-1753), Collector of Customs in Bridgetown, Barbados, became a Director of the East India Company between 1742-1746. Henry’s youngest son, also called Henry, became a Captain for the East India Company and by 1741 was in command of a ship called the York. In the next seven years Henry made three trips to the port of Canton. However it has not been possible to make a direct link with between these trips and the Chinese wallpaper that hung in the  East Bedroom at Harewood House in 1769, which belonged to Henry’s brother Edwin. The Chinese wallpaper at Broughton Castle, c.1850 which bears similarities to those at Belton, Burton Constable, Ickworth, Penrhyn, Woburn, may have been introduced by Frederick Twistleton, 16th Lord Saye and Sele (1799–1887), as he refurbished the Castle in the 1860s.[3] The family had close connections with the East India Company via the 13th Lord Saye and Sele (c.1735-1788). His wife, Elizabeth Turner was the heiress of Sir Edward Turner whose East India Company wealth funded the restoration of Broughton. Edward Turner’s mother, Mary was the daughter of Sir Gregory Page (c.1669-1720) a London merchant whose wealth partly stemmed from the East India Company, of which he was a Director.  At Erdigg in Wrexham the Chinese wallpaper in the State bedroom, may have been installed during the modernisation of the house in the 1770s by Philip Yorke (1743-1804) and his wife Elizabeth (1750-1779), daughter of Sir John Cust of Belton. It is possible, that the Chinese wallpaper was supplied by Elizabeth’s uncle, Peregrine Cust (1723-1785) who was deeply involved in East India Company affairs, becoming a Director in 1767. When Agneta York wrote in 1772 that the bedrooms and dressing rooms at Osterley were furnished ‘with the finest chintzes, painted taffetys, india paper and decker work and such a profusion of rich China and Japan that I could almost fancy myself in Pekin’, she was acknowledging the fruits of three generations of owners  who had close connections with the Company (see Case Study on Osterley House and Park).

James Drummond, 8th Viscount Strathallan (1767-1851) brought his Chinese wallpaper back with him from Canton. Drummond, was a nephew of the London banker Robert Drummond of Cadland, Hampshire, and prospered in the service of the East India Company in China. He began his East India Company career as a supergargo, and became assistant to the Head of the Committee at Canton in 1792, and by 1800 he was a member of the Select Committee there and the following year became President,  a post he held until 1807 when he returned to Scotland. The 18 rolls of 12 foot by 4 foot mulberry bark and bamboo paper are hand-painted with a scene of the ‘hongs’, or foreign factories of Canton (Guangzhou), which enable its dating to c.1780. It is decorated the walls of the Ladies’ Salon at Strathallen Castle for almost 200 years, before it was acquired by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.[4] It is the only known example of an historic Chinese wallpaper showing the hongs at Canton, a motif that was shown more often on Chinese export porcelain.[5]

Despite this wealth of connections it is difficult to trace any specific routes of acquisition from these examples.  To do this we need to turn to the Russells, Dukes of Bedford. (The Bedford Russells are not related to the Russells of Swallowfield Park featured elsewhere on our project website, the two families shared surnames and East India Company connections notwithstanding).

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[1] The World, September 20, no.38, vol.1, 1753, p.242

[2] Based on an ongoing database, part of the National Trust Chinese wallpaper project, which at March 2014 included 149 houses, 30 of which have East India Company connections. The number is set to rise substantially as research progresses.

[3] With many thanks to Emile de Bruijn for his very helpful comments on this wallpaper.

[4] He also acquired amongst other things a porcelain ‘Palaceware’ dessert service, c.1795 which also travelled back with him to Scotland. See A Tale of Three Cities, Sotheby’s, London 1997,, p.47.

[5] With thanks to Emile de Bruijn for this observation. See forthcoming paper on the Drummond wallpaper by William Sargent in Orientations.