Whitehall Blog

History Revealed in a Lap Desk for Travel

Every gentleman and lady of the late 18th to the early 20th century travelled with mounds of luggage, among the pile the essential “lap desk” or “writing box”.  We came back with a great selection and they have just been posted on the website under New Shipments.  One I really want to share with you because the history has slowly been unravelled.

Exterior of c. 1830 Rosewood Staveley Family Lap Desk

Exterior of c. 1830 Rosewood Staveley Family Lap Desk

This by first observation is a c. 1830 rosewood lap desk of exceptional richness with fine brass bindings and escutcheons.  The interior is classic with three hidden drawers, black leather surfaces, etc.  There is also a full length drawer that pulls out of one end.  But what is intriguing always is any inscription on the top inset brass panel:  This one has a Stag’s Head, at gaze, cabossed (in heraldry terms).  Inscriptions are:  God’s Providence Is Our Inheritance  and  “Ut Aspirat Cerves”, roughly “As A Stag Aspire”.  This is shown in the next photo.

Staveley Family Crest

Staveley Family Crest

For those who have used Fairbairn’s Crests you know it seldom leads to one definitive family only for a crest–sometimes fifteen or more share a crest.  In this instance, only the Stravely family has such a crest!  But much more exciting is what still resides inside the lap desk:  one letter, one note in a beautiful Spencerian hand, and a stamp to impress the family crest and a monogram into wax seals for letters, the monogram “TKS”.  The note is a set of instructions given with the desk, or so it appears, leading off:  “To releave the secret drawers etc etc”.  Very useful as the three small ones have an unusually tricky mechanism that would otherwise require hours to unravel!  And I love the word “releave” rather than release, as it is indeed of course pressure that is releaved or released by pressing a certain spot and the trap cover springs out.

The letter has an address:

Miss Stravely

Old Slenningford Hall

Ripon,    Yorks  (Yorkshire)

Here are the notes and the stamp:


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And here the blessings of the modern age come to the fore.  I began to research the family history of the Straveleys, of Old Slenningford Hall, and of Ripon, Yorkshire.  Looking for family history c. 1830 I discovered that Thomas Kitchingman Straveley, born in 1791, was the head of the family at this time–the initials under the family crest are his.  (The family held lands of modest value and a handsome Hall as their seat dating to the 1500′s, so not of the landed aristocracy, the family was a highly reputable Yorkshire family.  of immense importance to our mystery is that Thomas was elected to the First Reformed Parliament, December 11, 1832.

In many ways this was the most important political change in England since Magna Carta and The Glorious Revolution. It doubled the voters of England and gave power to the newly industrialized cities.  Here is a short history from Wickipedia:

The 1832 Reform Act was the most controversial of the electoral reform acts passed by the Parliament. The Act reapportioned Parliament in a way fairer to the cities of the old industrial north, which had experienced tremendous growth. The Act also did away with most of the “rotten” and “pocket” boroughs such as Old Sarum, which with only seven voters (all controlled by the local squire) was still sending two members to Parliament. This act not only re-apportioned representation in Parliament, thus making that body more accurately represent the citizens of the country, but also gave the power of voting to those lower in the social and economic scale, for the act extended the right to vote to any man owning a household worth £10, adding 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000. As many as one man in five (though by some estimates still only one in seven) now had the right to vote.

For many conservatives, this effect of the bill, which allowed the middle classes to share power with the upper classes, was revolutionary. Some historians argue that this transfer of power achieved in England what the French Revolution achieved eventually in France. The agitation preceding and following the first Reform Act (which Dickens observed at first hand as a shorthand Parliamentary reporter) made many people consider fundamental issues of society and politics.

The novel Middlemarch, by Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) is set in the 1830s and mentions the struggle over the Reform Bills, though not as a major topic. Eliot’s Felix Holt, the Radical, set in 1832, is a novel explicitly about the Great Reform Act.

This was made by one of London’s finest box makers–it is labeled by him–in business precisely during this period.  Could it be that the lovely hand reporting the secret drawers information was a gift of Thomas’ wife Mary Claridge (married in 1820) to her husband for use in his new and important official work as a Member of Parliament?  While we can spin romance–such a joy of this business–we do know definitively now who owned this box, who made this box, who inherited the box–the Miss Straveley letter is 1928 so it was revered in the family for at least 100 years.  How in 2014 it slipped from family hands is a mystery–has it in fact been floating through other families?  If so, why keep the stamp?  Most interesting is the family is still wealthy, has a modern seat and its old hall, and has been a great benefactor of the church, our Thomas having built the 1840 Church of St. Mary The Virgin near Ripon in another village on the family’s lands.

While this ends our mystery, read on if you love history as I have included various historical snippets pertaining to both the owner of the box and the family’s continuing history:

October 9th (1891).

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, North Stainley, near Ripon, re-opened for divine worship by the Lord Bishop of Ripon. The portion of the church forming the present nave, previous to the alterations now completed, was a plain and unpretending structure with a flat plastered ceiling, a simple parallelogram, 36 feet by 24 feet, erected by the late Mr. Staveley in 1840. The additions to the church, as now existing, comprise a chancel 24 feet by 17 feet, vestry 13 feet by 8 feet, organ chamber and south porch 9 feet by 6 feet. The style adopted by the architect is simple work after the Decorated or Second Pointed of the 14th century. To obtain dignity to the chancel and preserve the general outline of the church, the architect has carried the ridge at the same level as the old nave. The stone work forming the original east window has been transferred to the west gable of the nave, which formerly was a blank, cold wall.

The new east gable to the chancel is lighted by a three-light window, with a similar one on the south side. Under the east window, inside, some plain stone panelling is placed, which forms a reredos with altar shell. The altar itself has been lengthened and raised. In the south wall of the chancel are double sedilia with credence and piscina. The new roof over the chancel is constructed of pitch pine, left clean with principal trusses, the intermediate spans being panelled throughout. The stalls and boys’ desks are of oak, and the floor is covered with rich tile paving. A chancel arch, with low stone screen separates the nave from the chancel, and the altar is raised five steps above the nave floor line. The flat ceiling has been removed from the nave, and pierced panelling inserted in the four trusses to the roof, whilst the soffits of rafters are all panelled in clean pitch pine to accord with chancel. The chancel is built over the Staveley vault now closed, and the monument to the late Mr. Staveley now stands against the south wall of the nave. Great and reverent care was taken of the few bodies disturbed by the work, and the whole work was carried out by faculty after the Chancellor had held a special court at the church. The entire cost of the chancel has been borne by Miss Staveley and Miss Lee, of Old Sleningford Hall, as a memorial to Mrs. Staveley, of Old Sleningford Hall, who died in 1881.

FURTHER RESEARCH

Public Displays of Staveley Arms  (I was unable to transfer the photos of the arms in the stained glass windows, but it is pretty much self explanatory–to investigate further, just Google Straveley Coat of Arms, Thomas Kitchingman Straveley, etc)

Ripon, Yorkshire: The ‘Staveley’ window shown at left in Ripon Cathedral displays the arms of Sampson Staveley (1605-81 – Stainley line) and Thomas Kitchingman ‘Staveley’ (Hutchinson), (1780-1860) in adjoining panes.

Hunmanby, Yorkshire: There is certainly an heraldic shield (stags heads caboshed etc.) on the alabaster monument in Hunmanby church to the Staveley family of William and Rosamunda Staveley (b. 1705) of Bridlington, though it is not totally clear if this was part of the original memorial or later restoration. There is also one on a memorial in Pocklington Church to the memory of Walter Staveley (1701-1797) and his wife Alice (1710-1773) of the Bridlington line. This tablet was erected by their wealthy ‘grocer’ nephew, Walter of Beverley, but I was intrigued to find (on personal visitation!) that the stags heads shown are not caboshed but ‘couped’ (side on and cut of at the bottom of the neck). The background is argent, the lozenges and chevron sable and the stags heads are ‘or’ which is the blazon of the original North Stainley arms although the stags head device is of course different. However I have concern that this use of arms and the Irish motto (Fidelis ad Urnam) was perhaps erroneous as there is no record at all of the Bridlington family of this era ever having had a grant of arms except their illegal use by them in the 17th c. They may well have been misled later by the Irish connections in the 18th Century as to their lineage! Or yet again there just maybe more here to this story than is readily apparent at the moment. My only real conclusion over heraldic links generally is that they tend to confuse rather than clarify things!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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