British Influence

By Karen Parr-Moody


Fans of the English period drama “Downton Abbey” are still suffering withdrawals now that the scenes Edwardian opulence are not flitting across their TV screens. But while the series is on hiatus for an entire year, one can find British and British-inspired treasures every day at GasLamp and GasLamp Too.


It is no secret that tea is the Brits’ favorite beverage: The people of Great Britain have been sipping it for more than 350 years. Discovered almost 3,000 years ago in China, tea wasn’t shipped to Europe until 1606, when the Dutch brought it to Holland. The beverage soon became fashionable among wealthy Europeans.


The first formal mention of tea among Britons was in a London newspaper advertisement in 1658, in which it was referred to as “China Drink.” But the drink steeped ever more quickly after Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) married Charles II of England in 1662. The Portuguese princess was addicted to tea and established it as the fashion among courtiers; the Portuguese had been early adopters of the tea trend.


As in Europe, tea was initially brought to North America by the Dutch in the 17th century. But once the English acquired the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, renaming it New York, they passed on their tea drinking customs.Following the American Revolution, Americans still needed the proper tea accouterments for continuing their consumption, naturally; they were through with the Brits, but not with all things British.


During the 1800s, every household of good standing would have possessed a highly decorative tea seat like the one in the photo, above right ($165; Booth T-101). It was made by E.G. Webster & Son, a firm that manufactured in Brooklyn beginning in the 1860s, when brothers Elizur G. Webster and A. A. Webster began making their main product of silverplate hollowware.


Another distinctly English item is that of barley twist designs – also known as barley-sugar twist – such as the candlesticks in the photo, left ($145; Booth T-101). Here’s a bit of trivia: As with the popularity of tea drinking in the English court, Catherine of Braganza also brought barley-sugar twist furniture from Portugal to England when she married Charles II.


The barley twist design feature was originally a Baroque one of Spanish-Moorish origins and was hand-made and hand-carved. However, once it entered England this led to its being created by craftsman on a lathe. It went on to embellish many fine chests, cabinets and tables.


During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, walnut was a popular material in England and the barley twist was seen produced in this buttery colored wood, largely during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14). It was revived during the Victorian era in oak, which is the wood it is most commonly seen in today (although fine Queen Anne pieces in walnut can still be found).


These barley twist candlesticks at GasLamp Too are a versatile collector’s item. They blend wonderfully in a rustic or masculine setting and bring a sense of richness to a room.


One cannot tackle the topic of British influence without speaking of Queen Victoria, who assumed the throne at the age of 18 and had an enormous effect on society and artisan works. In addition to being youthful she was pretty, which meant that everything the young queen wore became an instant trend.  


The Victorian era of jewelry is typically divided into the Romantic Period from 1837 to 1861, the Grand Period from 1861 to 1880, and the Aesthetic Period from 1880 to 1901. It was during the Romantic Period, when the queen’s husband was still alive, that romantic design in jewelry flourished.


One of the romantic trends that emerged during this period was that of the hinged bangle bracelet; women sometimes donned two and three at a time. Currently at GasLamp Too, Booth T-140 features a wide array of such bangles (photo, above right).


Often hinged, these bangle bracelets were made of sterling silver, gold or gold plate. In England, they were often made of rolled gold that produced reliefs of motifs that were popular in Romantic Period jewelry, including flowers, leaves, birds and scrolls. Some even had buckles. They remained popular into the early 21st century, often given as tokens of love and inscribed as such on the inside.


It is no secret that many lovers of antiques are also Anglophiles. Who can blame them? There is so much beauty that emanates from that small island country, it seems to be forever rich with inspiration.  









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